The Maker Movement
The Maker Movement - Current Understanding and Effects on Production

This paper was presented at The XXVIII ISPIM Innovation Conference - Composing the Innovation Symphony, Austria, Vienna on 18-21 June 2017. The publication is available to ISPIM members at 

We have made a summary on the research carried out at the Wildau Technical University of Applied Sciences, Germany.
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Below you can read the main conclusions about the research carried out by:
Prof. Dr. Dana Mietzner Dr. Frank Hartmann
You can dowload the full paper  link

The Maker Movement has been passing through a period of formation as a new form of production roughly since 2005.
In this study we investigate the Maker Movement and explore emerging diffusion paths in social and innovation practice.


Embedded in the digital world, a new phenomenon that is innovating the way we work, learn, produce and consume, the Maker Movement, has emerged and has been attracting increasing attention since 2011. There are first indications that the movement is at the beginning of its institutionalization. Whereas the first Maker Faire took place in 2006 in San Mateo with just a handful of exhibitors and visitors, it was followed nine years later by an event that attracted more than 99 makers as exhibitors and no less than 130,000 visitors. In 2013, worldwide there were nearly 100 Maker Faires, in 2014 there were approximately 150 Maker Faires (MakerMedia, 2016, 2). In the same way, the number of established FabLabs worldwide is an expression of the increasing institutionalization of the movement. If the first FabLab was founded outside the MIT in 2003 in Boston, in 2012 there were nearly 100 FabLabs (Gershenfeld, 2012), at the beginning of 2016 there were 618 and in September of the same year already 711 FabLabs (FabFoundation, 2016) . Finally, the increasing use of two of the platforms ascribed to the Maker Movement is mentioned. Thus, for example, the platform Thingiverse recorded in year 2012 “merely” 25,000 published designs, in 2013 they were 100,000 and in 2014 as high as 400,000 objects with 21 million downloads (MakerBot, 2016). On the platform 3D Hubs, which supplies 3D prints to makers as an intermediary, there were still 32,000 printers registered in 2016 in more than 150 countries. In this year alone, 5,350 printer owners printed 714,300 objects by order (3DHubs, 2016). The prevalence of the idea is also evident in the establishment of Maker Spaces in specific institutions, originally not belonging to the Community.

The focus of our study is on answering the question of whether and in what way the Maker Movement will influence the prevailing production system?, which is currently developing towards Industry 4.0.
To answer our research question it is necessary to better understand and systematically describe the nature of the Maker Movement and to identify its interactions with the existing production regime (areas of possible impact). For this purpose, we conducted a media content analysis on the Maker Movement in US-American, British and German media in 2015/2016.

The ‘content’ refers to words, meanings, pictures, symbols, ideas and themes (Neuman, 1997, 272-273). Because media has the power to affect and reflect certain developments and events, we can explore how certain events and phenomena occur and disappear in the media, in what context they are discussed and placed or how their importance may change over time.

Understanding of the Maker Movement 

The predominant general opinions expressed in the media regarding the Maker Movement are initially summarized in the concept of a modern, democratic culture of innovation that builds on the open availability of a number of digital production technologies, including specially developed software that empowers the general public to create new products and further develop and manufacture existing designs. In particular, these digital technologies include 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, software tools and, more recently, affordable scanners.

Furthermore, an important role plays the question of who the makers are? To facilitate better understanding of the Maker Movement, views found in the media are classified in into certain groups of actors of the movement. A first group of makers is described as hobbyists who create and produce things at home and make use of new technologies such as the 3D printing. The condition for this is a corresponding low threshold technology that can be operated easily, so that millions of hobbyists the world over can conquer the digital production terrain for themselves. Whereas many tinkers are fascinated about the challenges of making, for others what is more important is the compulsion to develop and implement something better, that is functionally and / or in terms of design custom-made, at acceptable conditions, for example, something relevant to sustainability or social compatibility, that is the driving force of making.

At the boundary between hobbyists, i.e. individuals, and organizations, there exists a new generation of industrial designers, engineers and even doctors in the context of makers, who prepare themselves for the future professional life by utilizing the new maker technologies. However, there is also the assumption that the technical threshold continues to abate so that in principle anyone can become a designer. The digital production probably changes also the relationship between designers and users of the design. In such a scenario, designs will be less dependent on finding producers for implementing their ideas. In view of the available production technologies, they are in the position to produce prototypes themselves and to sell their work directly.

A second group of actors in the Maker Movement are organizations of various types. Their special ability of innovation is seen in its open architecture that enables other non-traditional actors to participate in top-grade development projects and continue to develop them further. Non-commercial recognition but participation is here the main driving force for the dynamism of innovation, combined with less bureaucracy due to decentralized structure and flat hierarchies (Bauwens, 2005, Al-Ani, 2013). But even companies of the classical bearing are actors of the Maker Movement. Thus, for example, 3D printing is regarded as a driver for the emergence of a so-called cottage industry of entrepreneurs, for whom business opportunities come forth, since they have the access to small scale manufacturing. Enterprises of the Maker Movement can be distinguished from these “core enterprises” of the Maker Movement that are often startups by individual makers based on their new ideas and products. They either develop and market the technology for makers or operate platforms to support the development and marketing of the products of makers.

A general understanding of the Maker Movement must therefore acknowledge the contradictory relationship between individualization and collaboration. On the one hand, making is connected with a rather individualistic Do-It-Yourself attitude, but, on the other, the Do-It-With-Others approach frequently resurfaces in the discussion. Makers are clearly not just interested in creating and manufacturing things for themselves but also wish to collectively develop and exchange knowledge. Thus, describing the maker scene as a community is justified, and the principle of sharing can be considered another defining characteristic of the Maker Movement.

Under a social point of view, the Maker Movement is often associated with sustainability. It is often assumed to be not just as creative but also empowered and inclusive, following a paradigm of participative design. According to this understanding, the movement does not pursue an elitist approach to design but instead focuses on altering, modifying and improving available resources in terms of both designs and products.

Considered on a somewhat theoretical level, the Maker Movement is neither merely part of a protest movement based on mass collaboration nor the expression of a shift in attitudes, for example, toward the democratization of the production processes; it is a new form for the organization of production.

Summarizing that, the Maker Movement can be understood as a new social phenomenon based on the fact that modern digital manufacturing technologies and the development software meant for them as well as virtual cooperation and distribution platforms are accessible to people at a low-threshold and enable them. to create new products themselves, to further develop existing designs, to produce and distribute related products. It is an expression of a democratic culture of innovation, it develops with its new forms of cooperation and organization beyond existing industrial economic structures and forms a counterbalance to mass production.

Based on the media content analysis, we identified three main areas of interaction between the Maker Movement and the prevailing production regime.


At the same time, companies are continuing their path to open up innovation processes and sometimes to implement in-house creative spaces in order to enhance collaboration (Lo, 2016), maker demonstrate their ability to design, prototype, produce and sale new products by collaborating within new settings and sharing ideas.

Often self-rewarding is the mechanism behind such collaborative innovation processes. Maker do not firstly develop new products for existing markets but for their own use and sharing with others. Within these processes they are very highly motivated: usefulness, participation, fun, learning and creativity play an important role (von Hippel, 2017, 2)..

The Maker Movement is ascribed a highly disruptive character in relation to the economy as a whole. Because makers draft, share and manufacture their own designs and control their own property rights, they break away from previous modes of production, distribution and sales structures. Possession of and access to necessary resources plays an important role in this regard. In a certain sense, the Maker Movement has developed in deliberate opposition to existing economic structures and cultures of innovation. This is enhanced by the aspect of spatially decentralized production, which, in many cases, is considered a fully realistic alternative. Decentralization and localization of manufacturing processes are expected to gain in significance, and there is mention of a new type of artisanal manufacturing.

But the Maker Movement is also seen as an integrative component of the economy when considered in connection with entrepreneurship. This reflects the assumption that individual makers might later found companies to market their ideas, prototypes and products.

Another thread in the discussion of the impact on methods of production is the idea that in an Maker Movement-engineered future, people will purchase fewer things. Purchased products will be more expensive than before but will be more robust and will support local business. In parallel to this, the middle class will be reinforced by the Maker Movement’s revitalization of ‘manufacturing’.

The role of technology for makers

First and foremost, the additive manufacturing technologies must be mentioned here, which have 3D printing at the focal point (Petrikowski, 2015, Ford et al., 2016). 3D printing gives digitalization a new direction. the 3D printing technology is not only an ideal prototyping technology that is beginning to penetrate the production processes as a whole, but it enables nonprofessional people, more or less anyone, access to manufacturing processes, with simplified forms.

Other rather non-traditional technologies, which play a role in the Maker Movement, are microcontrollers. One of the well-known examples is Arduino, an Open Source microcontroller, i.e. a small circuit board, that can be customized to any project and application. Whether robots or quadcopters or a washing machine - using computers which can be freely interconnected nearly everything can be automated and controlled.


The Maker Movement is organizing itself in specific analogous und virtual spaces with different business models. 

The flagships of the Maker Movement, known as Fabrication Laboratories (FabLabs), are the leading examples of maker spaces. FabLabs are generally not profit-oriented companies. They are intended as open workshops and incubators for products, business models or start-up companies. The economic exploitation of the generated ideas and products occurs outside of the FabLabs. FabLabs use a wide variety of financing models

TechShops are equipped with a very broad range of production technologies that are made available to users in exchange for a subscription fee. TechShops are companies that are far better equipped than the average FabLab, offering full metal and wood workstations, plastics and electronics labs, CNC machines and countless software tools.

There also exist maker spaces that are not economically oriented, fully non-profit and open to the public. These spaces are often not institutionalized. Examples include repair cafés and hackerspaces. Another form of publicly available space is given by dedicated maker spaces in schools and universities.

More recently, libraries and museums offering spaces and technology have acquired a significance as locations of the Maker Movement.

In addition to physical spaces, virtual spaces play a key role within the Maker Movement and have a strong impact. In particular, these spaces can host platforms for ideas, sales and financing, thus fulfilling the important function of enabler within the Maker Movement. Here it is worth to mention the so-called Community Platforms that provide and share designing tools and designing solutions. A prominent representative in the field of 3D printing is the platform, which has meanwhile over 900,000 members who regularly download 3D designs, share and process them. The platform 3D Hubs has established itself with far-reaching influence (“Uber of 3D printers”). It enables designers to identify matching 3D printers in the neighborhood or worldwide using which their designs can be printed against payment.

In the media, different aspects of the economic organization of the Maker Movement are discussed. According to the scholarly literature, a differentiation can be made between For Profit Organizations and Non-Profit Organizations, or Not For Profit Organizations, (Glaeser and Shleifer, 2001).

A number of distributors / enablers are For Profit Organizations and offer their services to makers. They include technology producers as well as distribution and service platforms.

Further economic activities in the form of the Profit Organization are the professionally operated 3D print shops, which implement individual designs and, therefore, put the principle of Mass Customization into practice.

Even the predominant section of the FabLabs, Repair Cafés and hackerspaces does not pursue a profit-oriented strategy, although FabLabs, for example, finance themselves by renting out their devices and space through contract work, training and advanced education. The objectives of the actors, who constitute the Not for Profit organizations, are mainly in solving socially relevant problems, and in imparting new skills and ways of tackling.

However, a large section of the actors of the Maker Movement can be attributed neither to the Profit, nor to the Not for Profit organizations, because they are not sufficiently organized. That is to say, there are no clear objectives and activities, rules and conditions for the membership in an organization. But still, these people are bound by a common idea of a new way of creating and producing.

Human Resources

At present, the topic of Maker Movement and the new ways of working still seem to be hardly of any importance in the media, although important aspects of this field have been taken up sporadically. First, what needs to be mentioned is the endeavor to strike a balance between work and life. Since makers often “work from home”, they can divide their work relatively flexibly. By offering their products over the internet, they control themselves as to how much time they invest in the production of their goods. This could imply a more flexible working and vanishing of boundaries between work and leisure, which would not only have positive impact. Critical approaches are also expressed here, based on negative experiences with processes of decentralization and flexibility in the field of knowledge production.

 A second aspect of the connection between the Maker Movement and work is taken up over and over, and it refers to the special abilities of makers which could meet the future requirements of work or, which could be acquired by using various forms of making (Martinez and Stager, 2013, Sheridan et al., 2014, Halverson and Sheridan, 2014, Hamidi and Baljko, 2015). This would be a contribution to training and recruitment of skilled workers of the future. These new ways and means of producing are closely associated with the opportunity of following not only instruction manuals for manufacturing processes, but of developing physical products in an independent and individualized style by improving one’s own or others ’designs

Conlusions and Prospective on Future Research

Following the adapted and heuristic model by Geels and Schot, on which this qualitative content analysis based, the Maker Movement can be understood as a niche innovation, in the sense of a social innovation which is in its initial phase of propagation .

The analysis has shown that the Maker Movement is at the beginning of its institutionalization process. It can be understood as a bottom up movement that has developed beyond the existing production regime and challenges it.

In Germany large-scale industries mainly drive this evolution, such that until now the Maker Movement has not been recognized as complementary or even competitive. Nevertheless, numerous indications in the media suggest that large corporations integrate technologies related to the Maker Movement, like additive manufacturing. In the public media, there are practically no contributions that systematically discuss the relationship between industrial production and Maker Movement

In the area of innovation, there are new products, applications and business start-ups of the Maker Movement, which must prove themselves in the context of the prevailing regime and influence it. They can develop substitutive or complementary effects at different levels, from immediate product substitution to modified economic structures. What is obvious with regard to the relationships with the economy is the fact that the movement is becoming institutionalized through start-ups. As small enterprises, craftsmen and freelancers tend to become strong due to the connection they have with the Maker Movement, it also appears to be a realistic option of their diffusion

The forms of organization of the Maker Movement enable the development of specific, flexible communities, where maker can unfold their potentials. They are an important prerequisite for the institutionalization of the movement and have regional (maker spaces) as well as trans-regional (virtual platforms) impacts. They are suitable models for future innovation processes in opening company and network structures.

The Maker Movement would therefore be understood as an association of collective actors, formed by numerous, spatially and virtually organizing maker communities. The differentiation of the relation between Maker Movement and maker communities would open up new perspectives for the understanding of the institutionalization of the Maker Movement as a whole, as their capability to strategy building will determine the extent to which it can challenge the existing production regime.

With regard to human resources,  the Maker Movement is constantly creating people with competencies which are demanded by the changing production system (Pfeiffer et al., 2016, Apt et al., 2016). In this way it is supporting the prevailing production regime and achieving impact. This is mediated by new forms of education and training. From the perspective of the prevailing production regime the Maker Movement is especially supported by digital fabrication technologies as well as platforms for organization and distribution. There are for example indications that the competencies acquired by makers in handling the new digital fabrication technologies and their ability for open collaboration even in “traditional” production enterprises are of interest and that the absorption of human resources by the existing production regime the Maker Movement will continue to gain significance.

Frank Hartmann y Dana Mietzner * - Wildau Technical University of Applied Sciences 
* Corresponding author 
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