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Design global, manufacture local: a fresh industrial revolution?

Imagine if globally designed products could radically change how exactly we work, produce and consume? Several examples across continents show just how we have been producing and consuming goods could possibly be improved by counting on globally shared digital resources, such as for example design, knowledge and software.

Imagine a prosthetic hand created by geographically dispersed communities of scientists, designers and enthusiasts in a collaborative manner via the net. All knowledge and software linked to the hand is shared globally as a digital commons.

Folks from across the world that are connected online and also have usage of local manufacturing machines (from 3D printing and CNC machines to low-tech crafts and tools) can, ideally by using a specialist, manufacture a customised hand. This the case of the OpenBionics project, which produces designs for robotic and bionic devices.

You can find no patent costs to cover. Less transportation of materials is necessary, since a large portion of the manufacturing occurs locally; maintenance is simpler, products are made to last so long as possible, and costs are thus lower.

The initial version of OpenBionics prosthetic and robotic hands. from

Take another example. Small-scale farmers in France need agricultural machines to aid their work. Big companies rarely produce machines designed for small-scale farmers. And when they do, the maintenance costs are high and the farmers need to adjust their farming ways to the logic of the machines. Technology, in the end, isn’t neutral.

Therefore the farmers opt to design the agricultural machines themselves. They produce machines to support their needs rather than to market them for a cost available. They share their designs with the planet as a worldwide digital commons. Small scale farmers from the united states share similar needs making use of their French counterparts. They do exactly the same. After a few years, both communities begin to talk to one another and create synergies.

Thats the story of the non-profit network FarmHack (US) and the co-operative LAtelier Paysan (France) which both produce open-source designs for agricultural machines.

With this colleagues, we’ve been exploring the contours of an emerging mode of production that builds on the confluence of the digital commons of knowledge, software, and design with local manufacturing technologies.

We call this model design global, manufacture local and argue that it might result in sustainable and inclusive types of production and consumption. It follows the logic that what’s light (knowledge, design) becomes global while what’s heavy (manufacturing) is local, and ideally shared.

When knowledge is shared, materials have a tendency to travel less and folks collaborate driven by diverse motives. The profit motive isn’t totally absent, nonetheless it is peripheral.

Decentralised open resources for designs may be used for a wide selection of things, medicines, furniture, prosthetic devices, farm tools, machinery and so forth. For instance, the Wikihouse project produces designs for houses; the RepRap community creates designs for 3D printers. Such projects usually do not necessarily require a physical basis as their members are dispersed across the world.

Finding sustainability

But how are these projects funded? From receiving state funding (a study grant) and individual donations (crowdfunding) to alliances with established firms and institutions, commons-oriented projects are tinkering with various business models to remain sustainable.

Design is developed as a worldwide digital commons, whereas the manufacturing occurs locally, often through shared infrastructures. Vasilis Kostakis, Nikos Exarchopoulos

These globally connected local, open design communities usually do not have a tendency to practice planned obsolescence. They are able to adapt such artefacts to local contexts and may reap the benefits of mutual learning.

In that scenario, Ecuadorian mountain people can for instance connect to Nepalese mountain farmers to understand from one another and prevent any collaboration that could make sure they are exclusively influenced by proprietary knowledge controlled by multinational corporations.

Towards cosmolocalism

This notion comes partly from discourse on cosmopolitanism which asserts that all folks has equal moral standing, even while nations treat people differently. The dominant economic climate treats physical resources as though these were infinite and locks up intellectual resources as though these were finite. However the the truth is quite the contrary. We reside in a global where physical resources are limited, while non-material resources are digitally reproducible and for that reason could be shared at an extremely low priced.

Moving electrons all over the world includes a smaller ecological footprint than moving coal, iron, plastic along with other materials. At an area level, the task would be to develop economic systems that may draw from local supply chains.

Imagine a water crisis in a city so severe that inside a year the complete city could be out of water. A cosmolocal strategy means that globally distributed networks will be active in solving the problem. In one section of the world, a water filtering is prototyped the machine itself is founded on a freely available digital design which can be 3D printed.

This is simply not fiction. There’s actually a network located in Cape Town, called STOP RESET GO, which really wants to run a cosmolocalisation design event where people would intensively collaborate on solving this type of problem.

The Cape Town STOP RESET GO teams draw upon this and commence to test out it making use of their lived challenges. To help make the system work they have to make modifications, plus they document this and make another version of the look open. Now other locales all over the world take this new design and apply it with their own challenges.

Limitations and future research

A limitation of the new model is its two main pillars, such as for example information and communication along with local manufacturing technologies. These issues may pertain to resource extraction, exploitative labour, energy use or material flows.

An intensive evaluation of such products and practices would have to take place from the political ecology perspective. For instance, what’s the ecological footprint of something that is globally designed and locally manufactured? Or,from what degree do the users of this type of product feel in charge of the technology and knowledge essential for its use and manipulation?

Now our goal would be to provide some answers to the questions above and, thus, better understand the transition dynamics of this emerging mode of production.

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