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Fab Labs Or Gigafactories? Or Both?

Does everything need to be produced in a gigafactory? What is the place for a microfactory, or fab lab? In a chapter in a recent book, Dr. Paul Wildman makes the argument for cosmolocalisation — global design produced locally in fab labs, not gigafactories. He talks of the need for respecting the humanising influence of craft, where peer works with peer for the development of their own humanity and the salvation of the planet.

“We are talking about distributed EV design manufacture and use via collaborative local production from a shared global design commons,” he explains, as one example.

Open Motors is presented as an example of what can be done. It is an open source small scale HDM (Harmonised Distributed Manufacturer). The company is a craft-oriented electric vehicle manufacturer as a counterpoint to the corporatization of EVs with Giga everything. Is this perhaps a better alternative to the alien dreadnought?

This stands in contrast to his opinion of Arrival, which appears to have started this way but is now moving towards the gigafactory model. Arrival is certainly doing innovative EV work, but it can be seen as a co-option of the micro into the macro — the micro is aggregated to the giga level. In this regard, “going Giga” first could be argued to be more ethical from a peer-to-peer perspective. He is suspicious of the backgrounds of some of the names involved — General Motors, Hyundai, BlackRock. These are all huge corporations that are doing some good work yet are the opposite of craft.

So, could we use a fab lab to build a fab car? A fabrication laboratory (fab lab) is a small-scale workshop equipped with tools that can make almost anything. A fab lab empowers individuals to create devices tailored to local needs. The fab lab movement is closely aligned with the DIY movement, open-source hardware, peer-to-peer craft-based maker culture, and the free and open-source movement. It shares philosophy as well as technology with them.

Fab labs have been used in remote areas where it is cost prohibitive to ship bulk goods. With a fab lab, you can make collaboratively most of the things that you need on a day to day basis.

Open Motors is building and marketing the Tabby Evo. It is presented as a vehicle built with the craft philosophy in mind — free to use and share with open source for those interested. Tabby sells a base upon which any entrepreneur can build a vehicle, thus enabling more startups. Open Motors is described by one of its founders (Yuki Lui) as a “bottom up democratised system network of localised micro manufacturing.” Is this perhaps a fab car?

Tabby Evo has started a revolution, empowering networked local entrepreneurs. By using distributed manufacturing and assembly, collectively, they have created a flexible innovative design and production chain. Make it together, simple and strong. The Tabby Evo is specifically designed for the TaaS (Transport as a Service) market.

Wildman suggests the Tabby is a “for instance” of our world benefitting from craft, where the crafty, local, small-scale designer or manufacturer can use technology and shared design on a “global commons” with CAD-CAM manufacturing “locally” and sustainably. Fewer transport miles are required for distribution. And thereby our hobbies can help to help heal the planet.

Fab labs or gigafactories or both? In my mind’s eye, I see a cyber rider visiting the crafter cottagers and collecting the products of their fab labs to combine into the fab car of the future.

About: Dr Paul Wildman: Wildman is a retired crafter and academic. He was director of the Queensland Apprenticeship system for several years in the early 1990s and is enthusiastic about demonstrating the importance of craft, peer-to-peer manufacturing, collaboration, and “our commons” in social, economic, and technological innovations such as EVs. Paul is long on Tesla and trying to prove a Fox Terrier can be trained. See Paul’s crafter podcasts here.

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David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].


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