Manufacturing in R.I., Chapter 5: Makers Bring Energy to Manufacturing

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by | Mar 30, 2015

We have retooled Rhode Island’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership center this year. Polaris MEP is poised and ready to better support smaller manufacturing companies in the state. Ninety-five percent of the state’s 1,600 manufacturers have fewer than 100 employees, and 74 percent of them have fewer than 50 employees. That is small.

But there is another category of manufacturers that have a strong influence and impact on our environment. What about the “tinkerers” and the “makers”? Are they manufacturers? Will they grow up into manufacturing companies? Will they inject life into manufacturing companies that need it? Or is this a passing fad made up of hippies?

Adweek called the maker movement “the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers.”

It is seen as a group of creative thinkers looking to design and build cool gadgets, share them with others in their “faires” and enable aspiring makers to then create with their own ideas.

The maker faires are truly fun events (including the Mini-Maker Faire in Providence, now it its seventh year) that brings together large companies (like Hasbro Inc.) and small innovators, and then brightens up children’s lives with 3D printers, soldering kits and more.

Maker faires are influencing education initiatives like hands-on learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, also known as STEAM. In 2013 more than 530,000 people took part in more than 100 maker faires, energizing their communities worldwide.

Physical “making” by micro-manufacturers is the new frontier. “New technologies such as 3-D printing and electronics assembly allow anyone with an idea to build it. Data can become objects – and everyone nowadays has access to data. This means the extraordinary democratization of information which the Internet has enabled is about to be mirrored by the democratization of physical creation,” said Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and previous editor of The Economist and Wired magazines. The maker community in Rhode Island provides affordable access to CNC machines, laser cutters, 3-D printers and other advanced tools of production.

Organizations including AS220, Tinker Bristol and the Mini-Maker Faire are our local change agents. They have started a grassroots innovation process that is moving into mainstream corporate culture using lighter, nimbler and more accessible tools with which to innovate. They are changing the paradigm, and that is good.

In the final chapter of this story, we will cover military and defense-industry growth.

Post also published on Providence Business News.

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