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Some links about me. Many of my 3D designs are free. I also post on Google+ and in another blog, oz4.us
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Make it yourself: it can be better than what the industry sells you!

I got one interesting abrupt remark related to my hobbed bolt. The idea was that it was both difficult, and may be ridiculous to make one's own crappy part nowadays, while you could buy one, shiny, made on an precise and industrial machine. But who's the chicken and who's the egg? And which is better really? I think the answer is worth a post on its own here and there
The Aeolipile, may be the first steam engine.
It was certainly made "at home" by an early "maker" in Grece.
Since the business angels were not ready (cheap slaves were found everywhere),
we lost almost two thousand years before re-discovering it!

An age of steam(punk?)

3D printing at home let you feel like you are in the steam age: as an individual, it is still possible and somehow easy to explore variants and improve things. You can understand all of your robot or 3D printer, and you can have access to the full source code and components. You are free to follow what other people did, but what is extraordinary is that there seems to be a lot to discover and improve in this field, without the need for a highly specialized education nor a lot of money.

I see a parallel with the DIY drone thriving community : ten years ago, a 4-rotor camera-equipped flying machine was almost science fiction, and in any case it was so expensive that no one in the community could tinker with them. The few who could buy one would not try to disassemble it, risking their warranty and ruining the closed-source device. But as soon as the price dropped down, gyroscopes became cheap and so, all sorts of incredible improvements were made, just because they can be made easily and because there are a lot of people that explore a lot of possibilities.
A fully autonomous drone: this was science fiction only a few years ago,
and you can now build your very own variant, yourself and cheaply. Source: arducopter
Many big companies are dealing with patents and stupidly put their money in their lawyers more than in their research. This gives room for individuals to innovate and amaze the world, possibly also because they just don't care or even know about the patents or copyrights in the first place!

By the way, isn't this an excellent proof that patents slow down innovation, so they do not make your life better? As soon as something is in the hands of hobbyists, everything seems to accelerate.

Reciprocally, I flee away from any bragged "exclusive technology". This is complete counter-productive marketing bullshit to me. For example, why does Apple try to fully ban competitors out of the market instead of even letting them buy a licence? The stupid "exclusive" stuff tells nothing about the product except that the company makes profit on your back, and that you will get no improvement through competition. I still favor Google smart strategy here, even if, as a friend says, "when the product is free, you are the product". While I certainly do not trust them entirely (as a general rule: never trust a businessman blindly!), at least I get it much cheaper than those companies that innovate once and then protect their "intellectual property" instead of innovating more.

The hobbyists simply do not work like this, they do not ask for money nor exclusive rights, and they manage to do incredible things for the community. Most probably simply because they do not think about money nor business plans nor executive summaries before they innovate and share. They get broad recognition, and this really is the big thing. It even helps get interesting jobs or create companies.

Do it yourself: learn, be an inventor, be known?

Designing and testing your own experiments makes you think, understand and learn more: you get richer this way. I am a self-taught mechanics, who really knew not much beyond, say, motorbikes engines may be before diving in the 3D printing world. Same in electronics. I even started computing before school (well, before I took the longest path possible in this field). I also like cognitive science and artificial intelligence... Mechatronics is then a graal since they mix all these fields - but what is new is that I can afford to play in this field, because my toys are now much much cheaper than ever!

For sure, I could buy tons of robots, but it is much enlightening to create or simply reproduce something as half as "intelligent" as any "closed box" I can get for a few bucks. Sometimes you find an improvement that nobody thought about, or that someone did half-way, or "wrong" (it is always according to the point of view or the needs). So it gets better with time.

For sure, you can buy a "closed-source" printer that would work straight "out of the box"... as advertised, because I do not believe this at this time. Or you can make one from scratch, but this is very hard without prior experience and only the hardcore hobbyists manage to do so.

But there are all the shades in between: you can buy a kit and start tinker with it, until you feel confident you can try a new design. There are tons of variations around the common printers, but still, smart people come with outstanding designs all the time: if the rostock is becoming commonplace to you, check the morgan or even the recent PiMaker or the Simpson! And what is amazing is that all these were designed by individuals, not big companies...
Rostock 3D printer with three pairs of legs
Morgan 3D printer with two arms
PiMaker 3D printer, with a rotating bed
Simpson 3D printer with, huh, oh, what a beast!

You can make parts that work better than the market!

Making something yourself certainly does not mean it will be bad. It may even look crappy but work very well. Think about it twice: the companies that make and sell stuff want to produce lots of items with consistency, reliability... and lowest cost.

Hence, there is room for better precisely crafted hand-made parts. And even when they do not look as perfect of what comes out of a machine, it certainly does not mean they will no work fine.

For example, my bolt is efficient enough to strip the hard Teflon tube itself when I lock it tightly, which is a behavior I never experienced with a commercialized bolt so far. Now, yes, it is ugly... but it is efficient and quite easy to make! So long for the fundamentalists of lathes and milling machines, or for the dumb consumerism ;)

Shiny machined bolt vs crappy hand-made bolt? Beware!
Neither the look nor the price are indicators of efficiency nor reliability.
And there is always this dreaded planned obsolescence creeping behind  most of that is sold. Here it is well resumed by Marcus : "But what is that professional equipment ? It is something what is build so that it holds somehow together in Warranty time and then, hm like everything you need expensive spare parts. With DIY equipment You have the control over how well it is built.". A solid point that works also in the [farmer's!] fields. Be sure to check his shredders and others ideas!

Get a life and have fun! You will kill the system :)

It is also fun to make! May be some cannot make it, but it gives no good reason for them to tell anyone he cannot make it. For example, my bolt was willingly made with crude tools, because I wanted to know if it was possible, and also because others can improve on it or make more beautiful ones. I have no problem with people that prefer to buy shiny milled bolts, unless they tell me my bolt cannot work better than their purchase. I just love when people achieve outstanding results while bypassing the marketing system: marketing is mostly becoming a pollution that could play no significant role in the DIY community. Real community-tested efficiency is a much better proof.

There may be a paradigm shift here in the industry, where hobbyists invent new things that the market sells afterwards: most of the big companies cannot afford the responsiveness while they "risk" too small a profit in the first place! They just miss so many inventions that are left to you, and instead they try to convince they are worth with their marketing more than their R&D.

Post something popular on instructables, or ifixit, achieve something, even minor, that is featured on wired (thanks Kai and your Laywoo!), or hackaday... and you may feel much better than only getting a lot of "selfish" money by working for a big company.

Seriously, most of the "big innovating" companies just expect you to create more profit, often for the benefit of shareholders who do not care much about your own life, nor even the company product as long as it sells well for a while. They do not even think about helping the community or how you feel really.

Actually I did work for a big company and for a comfortable salary: it made one line on my C.V. and it helped me pay my house... but it was not my most pleasant years because the company failed miserably to produce anything in years, while it was initially sitting on a pile of gold (which one? Palm!). And better not tell what you think and try to improve something: the managers are the masters and know how to rule a company. They do not want you to pinpoint where something is wrong. A colleague at the time pointed me to Atlas Shrugged, and it certainly is quite a good read in this regard (even though there are extreme libertarian points of view I fundamentally disagree with).

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