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Grassroots innovation in low energy digital fabrication

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Rapid advances in open-source, small-scale digital design and fabrication technologies are opening up new possibilities for decentralised, networked, user-led manufacturing. A confluence of new technologies (e.g. the 3-D printing ‘revolution’), new business models (e.g. ‘personalised manufacturing’), and new social movements (e.g. ‘open-source, commons-based, peer-production’), are prompting claims about the ‘reconfiguration’ of production and consumption. For example, proponents talk about: a ‘third industrial revolution’, transforming the material world in ways analogous to ICT for information; the ‘democratisation of manufacturing’; ‘unlocking ‘grassroots innovation’; and ‘sustainable localised production-consumption loops’.

Growing numbers of individuals, firms, and civil associations are experimenting with digital fabrication within ‘maker-spaces’. These provide technologies, materials, training, and access to digital networks that enable participants to design and make a wide range of products, from jewellery to eco-houses, bicycles to wi-fi systems, and to encourage community-based projects such as up-cycling.

As yet, there has been no independent, social scientific analysis into the emerging possibilities in this area and their limitations, particularly for sustainable, low energy production and consumption patterns. Energy demand and sustainability issues are significant.

For instance, whilst digital fabrication could potentially enable local production, remanufacturing, and increased longevity in goods and services, it could also lead to throw-away, personalised manufacturing that intensifies energy consumption. Moreover, decentralisation may reduce scale efficiencies, and require more dispersed logistics infrastructures in raw material shipping.

Our aim is to understand why there is so much interest in these developments, what contending narratives are influential in digital fabrication, how they are shaping material developments, what low energy innovations are arising, or potentially could arise in this setting, and how these developments could be shaped in a low energy direction.

Visit the Grassroots Innovations website.

Project Documents

Low energy digital fabrication project outline (888 KB - pdf)

Project publications

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