Last week, I gave a talk to Seattle's local Dorkbot contingent. The meeting was awesome: around 90 dorks, all ages and backgrounds, all talking fab. What more could you want? The talk was about the state of the Digital Fabrication Ecosystem today, and I think that this topic is hugely important to the development of Humblefactories in the future, particularly because digital fabrication puts more power in more people's hands. Mark Ganter gave a great talk about his Open3dP powder printing formulas. Willow Brugh also gave a great introduction to Jigsaw Renaissance in Seattle -- you can read more about why she's a maker here. And, Matt Westervelt from Metrix Createspace in Seaettle gave a demo of a Makerbot makerbotting. You can download the slides of the talk in PDF form here (or browse them above), but there are plenty of links that I couldn't include. Read on for a more thorough linkfest and discussion.
The current digifab ecosystem is extensive, and exciting. This excitement come from the ability to make accurate, functional, relatively cheap, multiple objects. Even more exciting, is the ability to share these objects -- the success that any maker has within an open digifab system can immediately be rolled out to as many participants as want it.

Like any ecosystem, digital fabrication can be divided and grouped into a phylogeny of individual technologies for easier undertanding. For our purposes, we will talk about:

  • Creation of a digital design
  • Translation of that digital file into something fabbable
  • Fabrication of that file, where the bytes of the file are replicated in atoms
  • Proliferation where the file or object is shared throughout the digifab community.
Before the message of this post gets lost in the following avalanche of links, I want to close with a reminder: Open digital fabrication could be the next big thing to change to world (Chris Anderson certainly thinks so). And open fabrication is certainly a primary tennet of Humblefacture. But, the fabrication is only freeing insofar as it is open. And these technologies will only remain open if enough people get behind them. So get out there and make some stuff! Design a part. Print it out. Most importantly, SHARE it with others, and tell them how you did it. And if you want me to add anything to this list, pleae let me know in the comments, and it shall be done.

The following is by no means an exhaustive list, just a jumping off point. Feel free to add additional suggestions or lists in the comments.


2D:Open Source: Inkscape, QCAD
2D: Proprietary: Illustrator, Autocad LT, Eagle CAD, etc.
3D: Mesh: Open Source: Blender, Wings3d, Art of Illusion
3D: Mesh: Proprietary: Rhino3d, 3DS Max, Maya, etc.
3D: Solid: Open: BRL CAD, HeeksCAD
3D: Solid: Proprietary: Solidworks, Proengineer, Solidedge, etc.
3D: Math: Open: OpenSCAD, TopMod, Sage

Cleanup: Open: Meshlab, Blender
Unfolding: Open: Sketchup Unfolder
Unfolding: Proprietary: Lamina Design, Rhino3d
Toolpath Generation: Open: Skeinforge, Pleasant 3D, Sketchup Slicemodeler

2D: Patterning: Ink: Laser Printer, Inkjet Printer
2D: Patterning: Other: CNC Embroidery, Hektor paintbot
2D: Integrating: compu-knitting machine, CNC wire bender
2D: Cutting: Knife: Vinyl cutter, Craftrobo
2D: Cutting: Router: Open PCB cutter, Shopbot, etc.
2D: Cutting: Laser: open laser engraver, cutting laser, metal cutting laser
3D: Carving: Blade: CNC router, CNC mill
3D: Carving: Hot Wire: CNC foam cutter
3D: Layer addition: Sheet: CNC router, CNC mill
3D: Layer Addition: Extrusion: Reprap, Makerbot, Stratasys
3D: Powder Prints: Ink Binder: Z Corp, etc.

3D: Powder Prints: Sintered Binder: Ceramic, Glass, Metal "prints"
3D: Powder Prints: Heat Beam: Selective laser sintering, Candyfab
3D: Light Cure: Stereolithography, Objet printer
3D: Self Assembly: Pipette Robot, DNA origami

Swap Meets:,
Fabbers:, 100K Garages,,
Hacktories: Too many to list. Check out for those near you.


Erik de Bruijn said... @ February 15, 2010 at 1:07 PM

Hi Dominic,

I like you slides. They cover a lot of ground and there are many good examples. I think RepTab (Open Source plasma-torch developed at Factor @ Farm) could still be added.

I haven't heard your talk but it would be very interesting to discuss what the effects are of users developing solutions for themselves and sharing the development workload (in communities) allowing more elaborate and complex challenges to be solved by heterogeneous groups of people with the correct understanding of the problem domain and use context.

Contrast this with a traditional model of product development for a market, where common denominator choices are made to suit the scaling charateristics of mass production, moreover the choices are made based on imperfect and limited information. This is a threshold that is often too high for the more radical innovations.

Increasingly, with and emerging open commons and improving means of communications, it becomes cheaper and can be more efficient for people to develop their own solutions or do this in communities. This mode of production becomes viable for more and more products and is becoming more significant over time. The way our products look like can change over time. And of course hybrid modes (which can be especially successful) will emerge.

I hope this was remotely comprehensible?! ;)

v8media said... @ February 18, 2010 at 12:27 AM

Just wanted to thank you for your part of the fab talks. I'm so geeked about all of this stuff. I'm currently working on 3d models for a car mount for my 1956 Chevy Bel Air, as well as an iPhone case that will snap onto the mount and then be rotatable. Once I get a working version in plastic, my intended goal is to be able to get some of these milled out of aluminum to sell.

My 3d program of choice has been Form•Z, which works very well for architecture, as it allows text entry and it allows easily changing the snaps so that I can do 1' accuracy when in a wide view, and then switch down to 1/16" in a zoomed view. Makes it so that I can very quickly model the massing for an object or building facade as well as the more detailed parts of the model.

I don't have the new version yet, but they've added the ability to export files directly for 3d printing. Another cool feature that it's had for a long time is the ability to print out foldable objects, including tabs for the purposes of gluing! Here's an example of the foldable output you can get, although this was modified a bit to make it work a bit better:

Here's a link to the video from the dorkbot meeting. You are videos 2 & 3.

dustynrobots said... @ April 6, 2010 at 1:10 PM

I think Alibre Design deserves a mention in the "3D Solid: Proprietary" category. They have a free version, Alibre Design Xpress, and the next level up (Alibre Design Standard) is only $197. And unlike some other free or student editions, it can be used commercially. It's also thousands of dollars cheaper than the ones you have already listed but still very capable. Additionally, they have donated some licenses to at least one open source project I know of: The Open Prosthetics Project ( I think their company philosophy is in line with your work - their goal is to provide "full parametric CAD technology to anyone that needs it, versus only to those in the relatively unique financial position to afford traditional CAD systems."

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