How the Rise of the Maker Movement Is Impacting Manufacturing

Slow, deliberate, precise, and methodical. Corporate, hierarchical, well-funded, and well-equipped. All of these adjectives accurately describe the typical corporate research and development (R&D) process.

Rapid, creative, impulsive, independent. Custom, collaborative, resourceful, efficient. Now, these adjectives describe a movement that’s shattering R&D norms: The Maker Movement. This increasingly popular approach to innovation champions quality over quantity and ingenuity over procedures, and it achieves progress with a think-outside-the-box approach.

What Is the Maker Movement?

The Maker Movement is an umbrella term encompassing skilled individuals who make things, more or less independently, rather than within the confines of traditional centralized locations. The Maker Movement refers to a broad swath of creativity:

  • A parent making a toy for his child out of wood, glue, and cardboard is a toy maker.
  • A person digging a hole and planting a seed is a garden maker. 
  • A computer whiz or designer who creates a commercially viable product outside of traditional production channels is a technology maker.

The Maker Movement is not subject to stringent rules or time-consuming must-follow procedures. Instead, it refers to the deconstruction of the traditional centralized manufacturing model. Rather than churning out mass quantities of mass-produced items on exorbitantly expensive machines accessible to a select few, the Maker Movement champions small-batch production of specialized, high-quality goods using affordable, accessible tools. The Maker Movement is, in a sense, an artisanal and highly efficient approach to making things ranging from the simple to the highly complex. With the right tools, cooperation and collaboration, anyone can be a maker.

Similar to the communal, collaborative, co-working spaces that have sprung up in small towns and major cities nationwide, collaborative “maker spaces” are changing the concept of creating. In schools, libraries, and buildings of all types, makerspaces encourage people to create.

Will the Maker Movement Usher in an Industrial Revival in the United States?

The Maker Movement signals a shift toward new U.S. manufacturing opportunities, and technology is playing a huge role in this change. When most people think about manufacturing, they envision vast rooms full of heavy equipment and machinery, assembly lines, and smoke stacks — tools accessible to only huge corporations with deep pockets. In many categories of manufacturing, smaller and far more affordable devices are now capable of carrying out functions that used to be limited to factories.

Three-dimensional (3D) printers, laser cutters, soldering irons, milling machines and sewing machines are affordable tools that allow inventors themselves to create and revise prototypes on site. Thanks to easy-to-use open-source electronic platforms such as Arduino, inventors can add electronic functionality to their products without knowing coding or having a huge budget. A maker can purchase a pre-assembled Arduino microcontroller for less than $50.

With access to tools and knowledge no longer barriers to entry (Maker Faire gatherings encourage makers to share ideas), the Maker Movement is a hospitable environment for manufacturing start-ups. The Maker Movement has already launched a domestic manufacturing renaissance. Today’s makers are just less visible than the manufacturing factories (makers) of the industrial era.

How Can Manufacturing Engage the Makers?

As exciting and innovative as the Maker Movement is, makers who want their products and innovations to reach the masses are handicapped by the DIY, small-batch nature of their process. The Maker Movement encourages innovation, but it can’t accommodate mass production. That issue provides an exciting opportunity for traditional manufacturers to team up with the movers and shakers — the makers.

Tweaking traditional manufacturing processes to accommodate the maker community promises to create new revenue streams for manufacturing facilities. There are already notable examples of public-private partnerships encouraging the Maker Movement. Autodesk, a software corporation that describes itself as “making software for people who make things” allows educators and makerspace partners to use its CAD software free of charge.

The cities of Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, have launched the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement (BEAM) to increase exports of local firms’ goods. BEAM provides grants to local makers (i.e., companies with less than 20 employees). Why? Its research indicates that makers who export their products grow faster and withstand economic downturns better. The program helps makers create more of what they make and ensures that their products reach the masses.

Educational institutions of all sizes are also embracing the Maker Movement as a way to provide students with marketable skills needed to excel in a maker-based manufacturing environment. Houston Community College, for example, launched a 20-machine 3D-printing lab, a.k.a. a makerspace, to teach students prototyping.

Just as the Internet revolutionized communication, the Maker Movement promises to continue to revolutionize manufacturing, create new U.S. jobs and boost U.S. manufacturing revenues. This era of manufacturing isn’t driven from the top down by corporate executives dictating what gets made. Rather, the new era of manufacturing is driven from the group up by talented, creative and resourceful individuals. 

Traditional manufacturers have a choice. They can embrace this inevitable paradigm shift and take steps to collaborate with and accommodate the needs of today’s makers. Or, they can continue doing business as usual and eventually find themselves surpassed by the new generation of makers, rather than kept relevant because of it.

Goldin Peiser & Peiser has extensive experience working with small to mid-sized manufacturers in the United States and abroad. Contact our professionals to discuss ways to make your manufacturing business more profitable.

Note: This content is accurate as of the date published above and is subject to change. Please seek professional advice before acting on any matter contained in this article.

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