Is Lake Geneva ready to make stuff again?

Globalisation only flows one way. At least that’s the experience of the last 30 years. Manufacturing fled Europe, looking for more and more economies of scale, making millions of identical objects for the cheapest possible price.

Mass manufacturing has changed the world, but every process comes to an end. When something becomes “the only way to do things”, innovation kicks in and find a alternative.

Open Source distributed manufacturing is that alternative. New, open source technologies have reduced the costs of machinery by a factor of tens to hundreds. Things that were complicated and expensive, like accurate positioning in 3D space, have become trivially simple and ridiculously cheap. The result is that it has become much less expensive to make individual customised objects – something that mass manufacturing cannot do at all.

FabLabs, like this one, are described as a place when you can make “almost anything”. We know what the things we cannot yet make are, and many of the projects in these spaces are open source machines to overcome these limitations. Just in the last two years we have seen machines for knitting clothes, printing fabrics, printing concrete, and laminating wood/carbon fibre composites, as well as DNA sequencers, projects to grow bricks, produce all sorts of energy efficient vehicles, and build your own energy efficient houses.

These projects are not developed by individual geniuses in their garages. The internet was designed as a collaborative tool, and has delivered magnificently. Local communities of people interested in making things have found each other online, and joined together to create physical spaces where they can collaborate together. These projects, in turn collaborate online in globe-spanning open source projects, creating amazing collaborative answers to problems that might not be solved in any other way.

Right now it’s not for replacing the things you can buy in the shops, more for replacing the things you cannot buy in the shops. How often have you searched and not found the thing you were looking for? Simply not been able to buy a spare part, or not found a table the right size in the right wood. Those are the sorts of things maker-spaces can produce using parametric design and shared resources.

In twenty years the very idea that you would buy something that is the same thing that any of your neighbours have will seem quaint, like Henry Ford’s “any color you like as long as it’s black”. You will be able to easily customise the object you want to suit your exact needs and have it quickly manufactured in your local fabrication centre. Or have a brand new thing designed just for you from scratch using open source tools, technologies and techniques.

Around Lake Geneva, this is a work-in-progress. On the 27th of June 2015, the makers of the Lac Leman region unified for the first time to put on the “Leman Make” Festival. At the start, we knew of two hackerspaces in the region. One year later we had dozens of local fabrication spaces involved in the festival, all of whom were making stuff right here.

Technology should be a slave, not a master. It’s time it stopped being exclusive – something for other people far away to master – came back home, and was made accessible to everyone. As children we were all taught to share, and it turns out that sharing really can change the world for the better.So the answer to the question “is Lake Geneva ready to make stuff again?” is definitely a resounding yes. We hope you’ll join in.

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