Get ready for a manufacturing revolution, as the 'maker movement' goes mainstream

Innovation Hub

People have always tinkered, working on projects in their garages or basements. But now the “maker movement” is mainstream.

According to Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and the author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, the movement has brought about an “explosion of entrepreneurship and innovation.” But who are these “makers,” exactly?  

“Makers are basically anyone who's creative and interested in technology, and they’re interested in using the new technologies that are available to create devices and projects and products around them,” says Limor Fried, the founder of AdaFruit, an online source for the movement.

The movement is perhaps best known for its techie side, especially with the advent of new inventions like 3-D printers. But Anderson insists it isn't all high-tech tinkering and robots. “If you’re cooking in the kitchen, you’re making," he says. "If you’re gardening, you’re making.”

Innovations are giving people the ability to build more and more things at home, but the maker movement doesn’t signify the death of big box stores or retailers like Amazon. In fact, Fried says, the makers’ relationships with retail is much more symbiotic.

Many people “take off the shelf stuff — especially Ikea, which has a huge maker and hacker community around it — and then modify it by either 3-D printing extra pieces to make it more useful, or adapt[ing it] to your home,” Fried says.

The 3-D printing aspect of maker culture has paved the way for what Anderson of 3D Robotics sees as the next industrial revolution. Even if families won't need a 3-D printer in their homes, he says, for small business owners, 3-D printers are a game-changer.

“[Getting] from idea to prototype used to be super hard,” Anderson says. “It used to require machine skills and expensive equipment, and now it really is no more complicated than a regular paper printer."

"Instead of spending $30,000 on a prototype," Fried explains, "I can spend 30 cents.”

Even Amazon is getting into the 3-D printing business, but Fried says she's not concerned that the company's involvement will adversely affect the movement. “I do think Amazon is very smart to get into this," she says. "Maybe what they’re doing specifically isn’t the future, but they’re experimenting with it and they’re getting involved with it."

So will the maker movement really change our lives? 

Anderson says yes, comparing the movement's rise to the rise of the personal computer. Over time, computing power shifted from the hands of big companies to every household in America.

The maker movement, he says, is doing the same thing. "Any time you give the means of production to everybody, it changes the world.”

This article is based on interviews from PRI's Innovation Hub with Kara Miller.

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