Reprinted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education. Excerpted from The Maker Movement Manifesto. Copyright 2014 by Mark Hatch. All rights reserved.
Computer numerically controlled (CNC) milling machines, along with 3-D printers and other computer-controlled tools like that laser cutter, plasma cutter, and waterjet have remade manufacturing over the last couple of decades.
Beginning in the early 1950s at MIT with the first development of a computer-tape, automatically driven, numerically controlled mill, there has been a steady rise of the CNC machine. Moore's law has helped to drive down the costs of the machines and totally revolutionized the design profession. The day of the drafting table's demise was predicted as early as the late 1950s and early 1960s. It took a while, but computer design has won out over drafting. With that, the ability to copy, modify, and produce has become much easier.
At first, these machines were extremely expensive and hard to use. A user had to learn an esoteric scripting language called G–code to make anything. With the development of easier-to-use software tools like Autodesk Inventor and even easier-to-use software like Autodesk 123D Make, the universal accessibility of design tools for making things has become a reality. You don't need to programing code or even know how to spell it. Some of this software is free. There are also online libraries of files that make parts so you don't have to do much at all to get started.
The ability to design and develop something in 3-D on a computer and then use various tools to produce it is stunning. With the development of computer cloud systems that allow users to tap into the power of networked computers on the Internet, the ability to do very powerful development is now at the fingertips of anyone with a computer and access to the Internet.
With more advanced tools like Autodesk Inventor, one can even model simulations, stress analysis, strength, wear, and functionality. Using a design software's materials library and a finite element analysis engine, it is possible to swap out different grades of steel or aluminum on the fly and rerun a 10-year wear simulation in minutes.
What has really changed the "control" aspect of innovation and creation or manufacturing in the last decade is a combination of the price and the increasing capabilities of software and enabling platforms. Until very recently, good computer-aided design software tool cost between $5,000 and $100,000. But not anymore. A TechShop partner, Autodesk, began making "consumer" grade versions of its software available free. This is the same core engine for which the company charges thousands of dollars. Sure, Autodesk has removed items like finite element analysis, but what does the average maker care about that? And if you really do need that, come in and use one of our computers; they have all the fancy, expensive software you need.
Just as wonderfully, free libraries of cool designs are popping up. Autodesk, through a website, is supporting a community of people uploading designs, and other sites support the open hardware movement and provide free designs. Thingiverse.com is great. You can download the files and modify them to meet your particular needs. Type "thingiverse unicorn" into your Internet search engine and go to the thingiverse.com site, and you'll see half a dozen unicorn designs that you can print on a 3-D printer or modify and then print.
The three most popular tools at TechShop are the laser cutter, ShopBot CNC wood router, and 3-D printer, each of which can be learned in a couple of class sessions. Our members routinely launch new careers after learning how to use the laser cutter or ShopBot, and we save tens of thousands of dollars at each location we build out by using the ShopBot to build furniture for everything from our flat pack front desk to signage and storage bins. (Flat pack is a method of using flat four-foot by eight-foot sheets to build desks, stools, chairs, and tables.)
What has happened over the last couple of decades is that the stepper motors and computer chips that control CNC machines have become so powerful and affordable that they are now being attached to amateur-level machines. The software is getting so easy to use that it's possible to go onto youtube.com or a software company's website and watch an instructional video, or take a simple introductory class, and begin making simple things within a week. This kind of rapid productivity has never before been possible.
In the past, if you wanted a small nightstand with a relief of your children's faces carved into it, you would have had to hire a craftsman to build it for you, or attempt to make one yourself, freehand. Now you can take some digital photos of your kids off your computer,run them through a filter to give them depth, convert them to woodcutting instructions for the ShopBot, and make the nightstand this weekend. At a maker-space, you can accomplish this with three classes to become familiar with the necessary equipment, some free software, and a little experimentation to make something that your children will want to keep for the rest of their lives.
The "control" aspect of this revolution is hard to overestimate. At the national level, the U.S. government's interest in advanced manufacturing as a competitive opportunity to bring manufacturing back to the United States is being driven by this capability.
The Maker Movement Manifesto: In the spirit of making, I strongly suggest that you take this manifesto, make changes to it, and make it your own. That is the point of making.
1. MAKE: Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create, and express ourselves to feel whole. There is something unique about making physical things. These things are like little pieces of us and seem to embody portions of our souls.
2. SHARE: Sharing what you have made and what you know about making with others is the method by which a maker's feeling of wholeness is achieved. You cannot make and not share.
3. GIVE: There are few things more selfless and satisfying than giving away something you have made. The act of making puts a small piece of you in the object. Giving that to someone else is like giving someone a small piece of yourself. Such things are often the most cherished items we possess.
4. LEARN: You must learn to make. You must always seek to learn more about your making. You may become a journeyman or master craftsman, but you will still learn, want to learn, and push yourself to learn new techniques, materials, and processes. Building a lifelong learning path ensures a rich and rewarding making life and, importantly, enables one to share.
5. TOOL UP: You must have access to the right tools for the project at hand. Invest in and develop local access to the tools you need to do the making you want to do. The tools of making have never been cheaper, easier to use,or more powerful.
6. PLAY: Be playful with what you are making, and you will be surprised, excited, and proud of what you discover.
7. PARTICIPATE: Join the Maker Movement and reach out to those around you who are discovering the joy of making. Hold seminars, parties, events, maker days,fairs, expos, classes, and dinners with and for the other makers in your community.
8. SUPPORT: This is a movement,and it requires emotional,intellectual, financial, political, and institutional support. The best hope for improving the world is us, and we are responsible for making a better future.
9. CHANGE: Embrace the change that will naturally occur as you go through your maker journey. Since making is fundamental to what it means to be human, you will become a more complete version of you as you make.
Mark Hatch is CEO of TechShop, a membership-based, do-it-yourself (DIY) makrerspace. It provides the digital and physical tools to make almost anything. TechShop members have made evertying from robots and a lunar lander to a successful iPad case and craft businesses.