Saturday, February 7, 2009

Small Scale Manufacturing - Practical Resources

I had originally intended to discuss sources of practical knowledge in small-scale manufacturing at a later time. This week, however, I've been getting a lot of very good feedback from readers in the U.S. who are interested in small-scale manufacturing. Some of these people are even operating their own small-scale enterprises. So I thought I'd list the resources mentioned by these readers, in addition to listing a few other sources I have discovered.

First, there is the Open Source Machine site (, a source mentioned on another website by two posters who call themselves Fleam and Jokuhl. The Open Source Machine site is dedicated to providing potential manufacturers with small, easily-built manufacturing machines that can be made from recycled and reused parts. Plans for these machines are developed for free and published on the Web without copyright or royalty or intellectual property restrictions, so that anyone can use them. One of their projects is called the “MultiMachine,” described as “...a humanitarian, open-source machine tool project for developing countries.” The neat thing about the MultiMachine is that it provides many metalworking functions in one device that can easily be made from used vehicle engine parts. The Open Source Machine project site also has links to plans to build other machines, including plans to build an air compressor from scrap.

The Fab@Home wiki (, contains information on buying or building desktop-sized“fabs” (computer-aided manufacturing devices) that can “print” 3-dimensional objects. Some of these fabs have been used for making watchbands, bicycle chainrings and sprockets, and bottles.

Then there is the Open Source Ecology Wiki (, a site created by Marcin Jakubowski and others. Marcin has dedicated himself to advancing the field of open-source appropriate technology, and his wiki is a compilation of tools and knowledge useful to those who are trying to build safety nets to replace the present breaking economic arrangement. He also has a blog,, and there is a podcast interview with him available at,com_mojo/Itemid,182/p,39/lang,es/.

There is also a site run by “Greg in MO,” who left a comment on my first post on this blog concerning small-scale manufacturing. He has a garage business which manufactures clothes drying racks and hand tools. He has some interesting insights on simplifying the manufacturing process so that it can be in essence, a “cottage industry.” His site is

The Practical Action website ( is hosted by the Practical Action group, “...a development charity with a difference,” which focuses first on development of local peoples in the Third World, then on matching appropriate technologies to their needs. They have a lot of technical information available for use, covering such topics as climate change adaptation, agriculture, construction, crop and food processing, manufacturing, information and communication, waste and recycling, and much more.

Village Earth ( is a “consortium for sustainable village-based development,” whose website also contains links to many appropriate technology resources, especially those related to small-scale industry. Payment is required to access some of their resources, however.

The AfriGadget site ( is a blog which details the ways in which Africans are “...solving everyday problems with African ingenuity.” One post describes how an Ugandan woman made a homemade cell phone charger. Other features of this blog include its emphasis on “grassroots reporting” by Africans concerning African issues and African responses. These people are actually doing the things I detailed in an earlier post, “A Safety Net Of Alternative Systems – Citizen Media.” They also have posts on reuse of metals in the Kenyan ironworks industry, and the fabrication of hand tools.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the work of bloggers Jeff Vail ( and John Robb (, who examined the topic of small-scale manufacturing in great detail long before I did. (See by Jeff Vail and by John Robb.) Their particular focus is on the “fab” machines I mentioned above. My only concern with these machines and others is that new, ready-made machines of this type may be out of the price range of many Americans, who would be forced to build such machines from scrap and used parts if they wanted to manufacture things as these machines do – as 3-dimensional “prints”. I think, however, that I may have a solution to that concern, as follows:

There are plenty of old computers that are not being used anymore because constant “innovations” and “enhancements” to the proprietary products made by major commercial software vendors requires constant changes to the hardware people use. These “enhancements” rapidly render older machines obsolete. However, these old computers can be put back to use for a wide range of applications, if they are run using a Linux or open-source Unix operating system. They can also be programmed with open-source software to function as the controllers in a computer-aided manufacturing process. There are also old appliances being discarded even though they have perfectly good single-phase motors. The relays needed to operate such motors could be scavenged from old relay panels used with legacy programmable logic controllers that are replaced with new models in industrial plants. An enterprising tinker with a knack in computer programming and systems integration could make his own “fab” from an old computer and the motors from such things as a refrigerator, a house fan, a blow-dryer, etc. As long as the parts made by such a fab were not critical to life and limb (no cardiac stents or jet aircraft parts, for instance), the things made by such a fab would probably be perfectly adequate.

Of course, there would be the need for machine interlocks and kill switches to make the fab safe. This would not only be to meet codes and OSHA requirements, but to prevent the very real possibility of losing body parts in the works of the fab. An understanding of good machine safeguarding principles would therefore be essential. But it might be possible for someone to construct their own homemade fab for less than $1000.

1 comment:

kez & jeremy said...

thanks for these resources! We are a small scale manufacturer looking to connect with others in similar situations

thanks again.