Self-help group leads the way
Joel Leonard discovers how one person is making a difference to manufacturing in New Zealand, building a small movement of innovators who help others.
New Zealand has a long history of people making amazing things in their sheds, garages and workplaces. However, it has been difficult to find the people doing the making, unless you were directly involved you might not know what is going on in your own neighbourhood – not to mention the next town or city down the track.
In 2010, Richard Fortune set about learning more about 3D fabrication. After setting up Makers.org.nz (MoNZ), he started a group in Wellington to meet like-minded people with whom he could share battle stories.
As it turned out, there were quite a few people who were keen on discussing 3D projects with each other – the Wellington Makers Meet-up was borne (via http://meetup.com).
Projects began with the crowd-sourcing of funds for a Makerbot MK6 3D printer, and with that the maker meet-ups took on a new dimension. Members shared 3D printing tips and members of the public got to use the machine at no cost.
In the first year alone, 90 people got to use the printer and learn more about the technology.
In 2011 MoNZ focused on setting up a Makerspace, so that members had a dedicated place to meet. Since then, Wellington has seen the establishment of the Wellington Makerspace, a design studio/makerspace focusing on teaching younger makers how to create.
In parallel with this, MoNZ established links with maker-spaces in other parts of New Zealand.
Universities were the next obvious connection, with students in two faculties studying product design in Wellington, making connections with area specialists made perfect sense.
Becoming part of New Zealand’s first university-based maker society, the League of Makers, the Colab181 group, began working on projects together.
It wasn’t long before they were building 3D printers themselves, mainly of the open-source RepRap variety, from there the sky was the limit; DIY laser cutters, desktop CNC machines, 3D printed lathes, roto-molders and all sorts of fun contraptions.
Such is the strength of the maker movement in New Zealand that in 2012 Massey University invested in setting up the first Fablab in Australasia. And that same year hosted the world FAB8 event, with participants travelling from all over the world to share digital fabrication techniques and projects.
Also in 2012, MoNZ sponsored the development of the MakerCrate, a Makerspace in a shipping container, that could be reproduced anywhere in the globe for under US$15,000, which could serve to establish a viable maker community anywhere.
The MakerCrate is currently deployed in Christchurch, acting as a hub for Maker activity.