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Lean Manufacturing

London Tech Week: The Maker Revolution?

It was meant to be simple; at a trendy old street events room, we’d be talked through a new paper about “Industry 4.0” and the maker revolution. The Deloitte report, , “Making in an Industry 4.0 World,”  looks at how big the current “maker” economy is and how it can help the UK, and in turn the UK can become a major making hub – a stark reversal of the traditional “let’s manufacture everything cheap out East” mindset. Here East CEO Gavin Poole – whose company commissioned the paper, said its purpose was to “help inform public debate” around making. But there’s problem from the off: how do you define a maker?

Haris Irshad, an analyst at Deloitte, had this very problem. There is no set definition of a maker; it could be someone with a 3D printer, someone who codes a platform, someone who customises current products. They could work from their garage, in a shared workspace, solo or in a startup, for cash or for the love of it. His report’s “conservative assumptions” claim that the makers are directly responsible for 130,000 jobs and indirectly support around 150,000 more, totalling a Gross value added (GVA) of around £15 billion. But straight away there’s a problem; can you define a community in the same way you define traditional companies and value? For the next hour, instead of really talking about what makers can do for the economy, or even each other, the discussion revolves around what is a maker. “It’s a huge movement that’s incredibly diverse with a huge range of motivations,” says Irshad, who admits that because the movement is still in its nascent stage the report is his “best guess.”

Community vs Corporate

Right from the off, Tony Fish of FabLab disagrees with the paper, and is clearly someone who sees making as a calling rather than a job to be measured. “Makers are doing it because they have a passion,” he says, before explaining that in his labs there are people who might only come in once with a very personal idea that they have no interest in taking to market, while other startups might use it as their base for a local niche of a few hundred people.

The panel are asked how much it matters to be local – with space at a premium in a city such as London, do people need hubs, clusters and maker labs close by? And resounding the answer is yes. David Saxby of Architecture OO explains that the whole concept of maker labs can be boiled down to three steps; socializing, learning, and then making. “It isn’t about trying to replicate corporate structure, it’s not about the next billion dollar company,” he said. “It’s about how every library can have a making lab.”

Mike Cain, Dean of Loughborough University’s London campus says that some big companies are embracing concepts of the maker community, for example Nike offering personalised clothing, again that raises the question of whether a big company should be counted amongst the maker community, whether its processes or a mindset. “We will never change the ways of large corporates” says Knyttan’s Hal Watts, adding that “they’re profit led companies that make profit-lead decisions” as opposed to ones that might be better for people. Watts highlights that there’s a difference between a maker and startups that use digital manufacturing, explaining that they may feed into each other, but they are very different.

So in one respect, the launch of a paper on making might have stirred plenty of debate. But what it can actually offer the UK was left largely untouched, and it’s probably created more questions than actual answers.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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