Makers, Hackers, Fixers…. or are they all just “Innovators?”



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Sometimes, the technology solutions that SAL seeks for its corporate clients have their origins with the lone Inventor community. These guys, possibly ex-tech directors themselves, often understand particular industrial problems well enough to believe they can find a solution. Working on such a solution usually means developing an innovative idea or approach and then iterating prototypes, to refine a practical, robust solution. One of SAL’s key activities therefore is to know where these inventors “hang out” and it’s this activity that has stimulated me to investigate the developing world of Makers, Hackers and Fixers. Or maybe I should be calling them collectively, “Innovators?”

I initially visited The Centre for Sustainable Design in the University for the Creative Arts in Surrey, http://www.cfsd.org.uk. The Centre (CfSD) has built world-class knowledge and expertise of sustainable innovation and product sustainability and a one-day conference it ran in June offered a window into this developing community.

So who are Makers and Hackers? Makers are individuals in a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of the DIY culture. Usually male, 25-34 years old and well educated, typical interests enjoyed by Makers include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. There is considerable emphasis upon new and unique applications of technologies, and members encourage invention and prototyping. There is also a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively. With the advent of 3D printing technologies Makers are people who now see a 3D printer as a “factory” to make things in their own personal prototyping workshop. Much like a modern desktop printer is akin to a print shop for small run print jobs in your home office.

Hackers are slightly different but only in their focus. The old definition of a Hacker being a nerdy and spotty individual, bedroom based, with long hair and intent on breaking into NASA’s fire walled IT system does not pertain to this group at all. Hackers in many instances can be considered the same as Makers but as the title infers, they are more focused on software, code and programming issues.

Since Adrian Bowyer, of the University of Bath, invented the Reprap (Replicating Rapid Prototype) 3D printing machine http://vimeo.com/5202148 the use of lower cost 3D printing machines www.makerbot.com is driving more and more small scale prototyping and indeed manufacturing into the home or home workshop.