Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What is Open Source Hardware?
It’s an initiative to lower the barrier to access of production machinery, by reducing cost and enhancing availability. In its own way it similar to Linux, it doesn’t cost much and you can get it pretty much anywhere. With hardware the hope is that with the proper open design users can source components locally, make their own and assemble production machinery them selves.

In other words we are trying to design a machine equivalent to the entree level VMC (vertical machining center) in the states that runs you about 50k, and we are shooting for BOM cost of 20k or less. The machine will also be design so that you can build it your self, in your shop/garage. This can have an impact not only for American machine shops and hobbiest but also in parts of the world where the cost of acquisition of such machine is actually much higher.

Why is MFG doing this?
Various trains of thought have molded the idea; initially Mitch envisioned the possibility for MFG to be the catalysis that enables open source hardware to happen. Like any initiative of this kind it has to have an organizing body that sets the direction. We are hopping to leverage the rage of suppliers in our network to have access to components and sourcing information world wide

Mitch also envisioned a day when trade school students, instead of making practice parts and discarding them would instead practice making parts that could be assemble into a working machine. There are many ways in which the information embedded in the design package can be used but most importantly we want our user community to decide how they use this information. The is a radical departure with the way things have been traditionally. Manufactures of equipment tell you exactly how a piece of equipment should be used, and we are giving user ultimate modification power over the design so they can do what ever they dream up.

We have also considered that such a design can be a gift to our customers and that it would also broaden manufacturing capabilities around the world creating a larger market for MFG to act as a broker.

Why is this important?
Personally, I share a vision where personal fabrication and mass customization could become a reality, and I see this as the first step. Think computer main frames and printers, initially large expensive complicated machines that later became house hold items. Well I envision a day where you buy design or instruction sets for a personal or local machine to make something “custom” for you. In a way MFG is already doing that but we are not sharing designs. To go full circle we need not a one to many but a many to many relationship. Where a design embodied as an RFQ can be quoted by many suppliers and then purchased by many users. Today it’s one to many because of confidentiality agreements but under a creative common license we could do away with that requirement. At the very begging we have to prove that there is compelling opens source content to merit a business case and the infrastructure to deliver the information.

What are the challenges faced?
First we are trying to make this very low cost, initially 30-50% of retail value. And we want this to be something that a small, basically equipped shop can make. So we don’t have any economies of scale nor we use more complicated machines to make precision parts. In fact that challenge is two fold, it’s like buying a car by going to AutoZone, piece by piece it’s a lot more expensive, so we have to choose the components wisely. This has been hard especially on the controls areas, GE and other Taiwanese and German companies control this market and to buy a controller alone would blow our budget. So we are using Linux a PC and piecing together our electronics. And similar to a car that is designed to be put together in an assembly line, with special welding and assembly tools, most machines are made out of large castings and we have to do ways with that replacing castings with structures that 1-2 person crew can put together themselves.

We have found very innovative solutions to these challenges, many are our own inventions. We still have a few more challenges to solve but eventually sharing all this information and receiving the feedback is what I am the most worried about. Only when a critical number of users collaborate on the design, will it reach its full potential in cost, assembly and performance. Only then will open source machinery become a reality, right now we are trying to kick start it with an enticing project/proposition.

Where is the project today?
The project is currently under-way, we keep a blog and a facebook group that tracks our progress, feel free to join Open Source Machinery at:
Read my posts at:
Or review the projects wiki: