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The transformative promise of the Maker Movement

Eva Clemente's picture
All around the world, an increasing number of individuals calling themselves “makers” are transforming the “Do-It-Yourself” culture. The nascent Maker Movement, as this digital fabrication community is named, has started to show a transformative impact by merging the potential of the Internet (bits) to physical things (atoms) in a highly open and collaborative fashion.
 
3D printers
Examples of 3D printers.
Chris Anderson, the former Editor-in-Chief of Wired magazine, suggests we could be on the cusp of a new industrial revolution given that we all sit on chairs, drink coffee from cups and shelter under a roof. The Maker Movement is gaining traction from the apex of the political sphere – the White House – as well:  on June 17, President Obama proclaimed the National Day of Making, with actions to support Makers across the country.
 
The Maker Movement has a wide variety of economic and societal benefits. It spurs innovation by democratizing sophisticated technology, empowering people to produce complex designs or create rapid prototypes. It is also transforming the landscape of education by promoting student enrollment in courses that help them pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, including at the University-based FabLab in Nairobi. Moreover, Maker spaces are urging cities to evolve from mere mass garbage production centers into true innovation factories, creating entrepreneurial solutions to urban challenges, like the Smart Citizen low-cost sensor kit developed in FabLab Barcelona to measure air quality.

Another interesting area where digital fabrication can have a real impact, particularly in the developing world, is in low-cost prosthetics using 3D printing. An Argentinian mother contacted a local Maker community that adapted an existing open design, creating a prosthetic hand for her disabled son, which she could afford at $200 (versus $40,000 for the conventional one). 

This all sounds promising, but it has also its downside. While 3D printers can use various materials as ink, glass, nylon, clay and even food, the most-used ink material is plastic, mainly because it is the cheapest. Since approximately 50 percent of garbage in our oceans is plastic waste, this poses a significant dilemma on 3D printing: should we be adding more plastic to the planet?

Fortunately, this concern has already found an answer: 3D printer ink from recycled plastic. Initiatives like Canada-based Plastic Bank or Amsterdam’s Perpetual Plastic are addressing this issue turning plastic waste into new products that leverage Makers’ tools. Moreover, Plastic Bank aims at reducing poverty by working with local communities in areas with a high concentration of poverty and plastic pollution to foster entrepreneurship. http://youtu.be/oAdv-oRtS9Y

Can you imagine the great potential of cool Maker creations helping reduce plastic waste by recycling and repurposing? It’s truly a revolutionary idea.
3D Printing from Recycled Ocean Plastic