The “maker movement” – a manufacturing boom fueled by the proliferation of less expensive and more widely distributed tools – is offering a taste of the economic panorama to come, according to the Deloitte Center for the Edge research organization in its report entitled “A Movement in the Making”. This report assures businesses will be able to find ways to participate in and even help shape this movement; which, in turn, promises to offer new paradigms and opportunities.
This process is already underway in countries like the United States, where businesses like General Electric have already implemented their own maker spaces because “they know that this could well give way to innovative possibilities. The same thing can be said for brands such as Intel and Autodesk who are also joining the movement, and I hope that it won’t be long before the same thing can be said for Latin America,” states Antonio Quirarte, founder of Hacedores.com, a community of makers looking to spread the word and further the DIY movement.
While there are numerous reports of the maker movement impacting upon businesses in developed countries, the same cannot be said for Latin America as they have very limited experience in this area – although the speed at which this movement is entering the region may well mean that this will not be the case for much longer.
It is difficult to say exactly how many maker spaces, hacker spaces or fablabs (small-scale workshops offering digital fabrication) there are in Latin America. Hackerspaces.org affirms that there are just over 120 such spaces in the region, with a worldwide total of 1,773. Fablabs.io states that of the 373 fab labs found around the world, 19 are located in Latin America. And it is thought that these figures will rise.
The Puebla FabLab highlights the transcendence of the movement. It opened within the Puebla campus of the Universidad Iberoamericana, located in the Design and Innovative Technology Institute buildings. The university’s laboratories have been concentrated into 8,500 square meters with the aim of promoting collaboration and an interchange of ideas between the various careers.
“Here you can find the equipment needed to prepare food, assemble furniture, design pieces of metal or automobile parts and even to produce digital animation,” explains Aristarco Cortes, Project Coordinator and Head of the FabLab.
This space is made available to students, and has also been opened up to businesses and the general public. This is with a view to “democratizing the technology,” Cortessays. He adds that businesses coming to this FabLab, looking to make a prototype, are given help designing and manufacturing it. The lab also offers courses for makers; teaching them how to use design software and machines.
“The institute includes both a business incubator and a social economics project incubator,” states the head of the Puebla FabLab. He believes that international funding will support businesses situated at the base of the pyramid – in other words, the micro and medium-sized businesses –enabling them to create products that will make them much more profitable and skillful within their respective fields.
A Question of Ingenuity
The movement’s motto is: ‘We are all makers’. Whether this comes from curiosity, a passion for inventing or simply, a need for a hobby, it could well be said that it is a natural element of human nature. The point is that today, we have at our disposal the modern technology and global economy needed to help us reach our potential when it comes to inventing.
According to Eduardo Andres Sabas, founder of The Inventor’s House in the city of Aguascalientes, Mexican ingenuity has always existed. “I believe that this is the underground Mexican maker movement”, he states, referring to the way in which people often invent and build extremely useful appliances in their home workshops.
Good ideas and ingenuity never fail. What is lacking is the ability to share, states Sabas. “Latin Americans don’t like to share their ideas. There are a huge amount of inventions being created in people’s garages; it’s just that people don’t want to share them or spread the word,” he observes.
And unless it is something extremely innovative,it’s rarely a completely new concept, Cortes from Pueble FabLab notes. “There is something known as collective intelligence,” he states. It often happens that when an individual starts making something, he begins to share the idea and realizes that several people are trying to do exactly the same thing. “It makes sense really, as we are trying to solve problems, and a problem you are experiencing is most likely being experienced by at least another 50 people; all trying to resolve it in their own particular way.”
According to Quirate from Hacedores.com, while it is true that the previous generations were quite reluctant to share, this is not true of the new generation – it is in our nature to share. “Makers look to invent a process or product, but above all, to share,” he states.
Quirarte believes other obstacles experienced in Latin America are related to education and information. This is where those heading up the movement should concentrate efforts; especially when it comes to making information available to interested parties and establishing contact with people who can help teach them.
Without a doubt, a reoccurring problem is the economy. Most of these maker spaces are financed by the monthly membership fees from individuals using the buildings and attending the hardware and software development courses on offer. They also make the most ofworkfares and other events, or, if they’re really lucky, outside funding.
Wazzabi.org, an Argentine maker community, claims a complete independence policy. According to Valentin Muro, one of the community’s founding members, they do not receive funding from any outside organizations, and there are no membership fees. “When we set up Wazzabi two and a half years ago, we wanted to make it a physical space. However, other makers encouraged us not to rely upon a physical space, but rather, to trust people. So we focused on generating events that would give us visibility and allow us to build a community,” he states. They also get involved in fund raising activities which enable them to offer their activities free of charge.
Jose Luis Gonzalez, CEO of Lightcone Investments, has provided financial support for several maker spaces in Guadalajara, Mexico, some of which have even generated projects that turn out to be lucrative, such as drone manufacturing. “I have seen how many of these makers really struggle financially; in contrast with other countries where these spaces have thousands of members,” he says. He also highlights the dynamism found in countries such as the United States, where industrial and computing equipment is replaced on a regular basis; giving the creation spaces access to donated machines and very cheap second-hand equipment.
“This movement has a snowball effect: the more we spread the word, the more people will want to get involved,” states Gonzalez. “If you have the right people doing the right things, businesses will start to take notice.”
According to Sabas from The Inventor’s House, it is vital people know exactly what you’re doing: which is where diffusion comes into play. Whether it be via courses, promotion on social networks, tutorials (face-to-face or via YouTube); it all plays an important part. “People we never thought it possible to reach are writing in to our blog, asking about things like Arduino, for example. Word gets around. Our webpage, as well as Twitter and Facebook have helped a lot when it comes to spreading the word,” he states.
The Effect on the Economy
According to Quirarte, the maker movement is greatly facilitating the learning process. “Children, well, anyone really; we all learn better by doing,” he states. Mateo Ferley Yael, another Wazzabi.org founder, agrees with this statement. He believes that the old method of imparting information is coming back into fashion; that of learning by doing. “The learning process is being passed around much more horizontally, something that could well be replicated in schools, where teachers freely admit that they can learn from the students and vice versa,” he states.
This will eventually have an effect on the panoramic economy. In fact, we are already seeing an opportunity to develop new ideas that could be of great use to certain businesses. According to Innovation Excellence, by 2025,in the United States, it is believed that the crowdfunding investment market could invest up to US$93 billion in maker projects, and that the 3D printing market could grow toUS$4 billion. Moreover, for every dollar invested in independent stores, 68are returned to the community.
“One of the movement’s objectives that isbeing considered in the United States, is to win back the manufacturing jobs that have previously been outsourced to China, and generate specialized manufacturing jobs,” explains Quirarte. “We too should look to replicating this model and start generating specialized, advanced manufacturing jobs in our own countries.”
While for many the movement originally starts out as a hobby, it can often result in successful businesses, states Sabas: “This is where the maker movement’s future lies: being able to create businesses. I have always held that hacker spaces are community research centers.”
According to Ferley from Wazzabi.org, they are supporting the creation of new maker spaces that should not be seen as competitors. New players entering the market should be seen as something positive. “If there are more groups and people spreading the word in Argentina, our mission is a success,” he states. “We want things to happen, and for more people to start questioning the way in which they learn and invent, even the way in which they consume and relate to their environment. Our objective is to sow seeds wherever we go so that this can happen,” he states.
For many, these spaces are boosting creativity, team work and learning, as well as helping search for the resources needed to expand. “This movement is sure to change the way in which many industries operate,” concludes Cortes from Puebla’s FabLab.