Commons-Based Peer Production of Physical Goods

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* Paper: Commons-based Peer-Production of Physical Goods. Is there Room for a Hybrid Innovation Ecology? Peter Troxler, Square One, Rotterdam, The Netherlands



"This paper examines how in commons-based peer-production of physical goods a hybrid, privatecollective innovation ecology is developing. Using the Fab Lab community as the field of investigation, it collates three studies: a survey of Fab Lab business models, an interview study asking Fab Lab managers and assistants about the pain and pride of their Fab Lab, and a selection of cases describing innovation in Fab Lab projects. The paper finds that there is a desire and intention to establish a hybrid innovation ecology in the Fab Lab community, but that Fab Labs have not yet established business models that would e.g. replicate the known models from open source software. However, the studies indicated the possibility of such models. The paper finally puts the results in perspective to the free fabbing ecology, and the wider context of peerproduction of physical goods." (


Massimo Menichelli:

"The most complete research about the business models of Fab Labs so far comes from Peter Troxler, especially in his paper “Commons-based Peer Production of Physical Goods — Is There Room for a Hybrid Innovation Ecology?“ (presented at the 3rd Free Culture Research Conference, October 2010 Berlin). Troxler found that in the current Fab Lab practice there is no single business model and the literature about it is quite poor. Studying 10 Fab Labs (out of 45), Troxler discovered that the labs were primarily offering infrastructures to students, and they were relatively passive in reaching out to other potential users (general public, companies, researchers). Usually Fab Labs are hosted at schools, research or innovation centres or are independent entities: funding comes from outside, from public sources or from their hosting institution while revenue from sponsoring or from users so far remained the exception; however, Fab Labs are requested to become self-sustaining within 2 to 4 years, but none of the labs studied had yet reached this stage. Most of the Fab Labs had their own employees, and a few were run by a faculty of their host university or were supported by volunteers.

Fab Labs usually use their own Internet presence as a marketing strategy; few of them actively engage in PR, and these ones attract also non-students as users. Furthermore, they had so far created a limited innovation ecosystem with few network and industry partners and few, if any sponsors, which got used rather rarely. All labs indicated their main business model was providing access to infrastructure that users would have no access to otherwise, but most of then indicated that giving access to knowledge of the Fab Lab network and giving access to experts were equally part of their value proposition. Troxler pointed out then that there are two main business models (or value propositions) possible, namely Fab Labs providing facilities and Fab Labs providing innovation support.

Troxler further developed the concept of Fab Labs as innovation center within another paper, written together with Patricia Wolf: “Bending The Rules: The Fab Lab Innovation Ecology” presented at the 11th International CINet Conference, September 2010 Zurich. In this paper they identified four possible business models (Table 1.), among the intersections of open and closed intellectual property and Fab Lab as facility or as innovation support. Specifically, they propose the Fab Lab innovation ecology (a network of partners) as the most interesting, a Fab Lab with open intellectual property and aimed at facilitating innovation: more design thinking and stimulating innovation than just providing access and training. The primary clientele of this model are innovators, companies (particularly SMEs) and researchers, while the general public is not really important. Revenue will come from projects, services provided and partners engaging with the lab, rather than per hour or membership fees and possible sales of products or IP. The Fab Lab innovation ecosystem add the linking with a network of knowledge and experience to cheap manufacturing technologies, creating value by capturing experience and feeding it back into the network." (

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Author email at [email protected]