In a world where mass customization and digital fabrication are already part of our everyday life, in a world where it is already possible to download a product data from the Internet, customize it according to our tastes, send the reworked file to a printer and get then the physical product ready to be used or to be assembled into something else, here come the makers!
Digital artisans, or “makers”, are part of a contemporary cultural movement that is a technologically based extension of the traditional world of DIY. It ranges from realizations of robotic devices, 3D printing machines, up to numerical control equipment. It also includes more conventional activities, such as processing metal, wood and traditional craftsmanship.
The birth of this digital craftsmanship subculture is closely associated with the birth of hacker spaces, or spaces for collaborative innovation. In 2009, there were over a hundred in the United States. Characters identifiable with this digital craftsmanship subculture can also be found in more traditional academic contexts as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to which we owe the origin of the so-called “fabrication laboratories” (FabLab), promoters of digital fabrication already back in 2001.
What are Fablabs?
They are gyms for inventors, creativity workshops, small shops that produce objects thanks to the new digital technologies. What the Economist called the “Third Industrial Revolution“, a new way to produce digitally and through last generation tools. FabLabs are open spaces, created to bring Digital Fabrication and the Open Source culture in a physical place, where machines, ideas, people and approaches can mix freely.
A fab lab is then a small workshop that offers customized services of Digital Fabrication.
The third industrial revolution refers to a series of transformation processes that affected the productive structure due to a strong drive for technological innovation. Looking into the near future some people already speak of Industry 4.0, the beginning of the Internet of things and services. This evolution will bring improvements in industrial manufacturing processes, in engineering activities, the use of materials along the supply chain and in general in the management of the entire life cycle of the product. Ultimately the smart factory, resulted from this revolution, will mean a whole new approach to production that meets the individual requirements of customers making the production profitable, besides creating last-minute changes in the production cycle of the industries in order to ensure the high levels of flexibility that a growing dynamic demand will ask.
The new generation of customization refers to the ability to decide how we want the product (personalizing it online just before the purchase), but it refers to the different versions of the same product. When it comes to mass customization, it actually really influences the shape and the design of the products: objects are then going to meet the individual needs while maintaining the efficiency of mass-production, in terms of lower costs. Metal Additive Manufacturing is taking part of this great revolution with a primary role, outstanding in its versatility and setting a new standard of boundless creativity.