Homebrew Industrial Revolution

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Book: The Homebrew Industrial Revolution. Kevin Carson. C4SS, 2009

URL = http://homebrewindustrialrevolution.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/contents/ (free download version)

Overview essay = http://c4ss.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/C4SS-Desktop-Manufacturing.pdf

Book Description

The Homebrew Industrial Revolution is based on a series of research papers on industrial history I did for Center for a Stateless Society.

In writing Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, I found myself most engaged in researching the material on micromanufacturing, household microenterprises, the alternative economy, and the singularity resulting from them.

A major part of the material in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution is drawn from Organization Theory, but was imperfectly tied together and developed there. I attempted to draw these themes together into my first C4SS monograph, and then found myself developing them in a series of followup papers. Those papers gradually took shape in my head as a book.

One theme is the rise and fall of Sloanist mass-production in light of Mumford's paleotechnic/neotechnic periodization and his theory of the cultural pseudomorph, and the rise of networked manufacturing as (in the words of Michael Piore and Charles Sabel) the rediscovery after more than a century of how to integrate electrical power into industry..

Another is the contrast of Sloanism to the leanness, agility and resilience of the alternative economy, with low overhead as the central conceptual principle around which my study of the latter is organized. Large inventories, high capital oulays, and high overhead have the same effect on mass-production industry that shit has on a human body bloated by constipation. The higher the fixed costs required to undertake an activity, the larger the income stream required for a household or firm to service that overhead; the enterprise must either get big or get out, and the household must have multiple sources of full-time wage income to survive. The alternative economy, on the other hand, operates with almost no fixed costs, so that almost all its revenue is free and clear and it can survive prolonged periods of slow business. Because it's organized stigmergically, with modular open-source designs, innovation costs are spread over the widest possible product ecologies with a minimum of transaction costs. The alternative economy is breeding the rats in the nests of corporate dinosaurs.

Key Citation from essay

Kevin Carson:

"The conditions of physical production have, in fact, experienced a transformation almost as great as that which digital technology has brought about on immaterial production. The “physical production sphere” itself has become far less capital-intensive. If the digital revolution has caused an implosion in the physical capital outlays required for the information industries, the revolution in desktop production tools promises an analogous effect almost as great on many kinds of manufacturing. The radical reduction in the cost of machinery required for many kinds of manufacturing has eroded Stallman's distinction between “free speech” and “free beer.”

Clearly, the emergence of cheap desktop technology for custom machining parts in small batches will greatly lower the overall capital outlays needed for networked physical production of light and medium consumer goods.


The importance of modularity for physical peer production

"Modular design enables a peer network to break a physical manufacturing project down into discrete sub-projects, with many of the individual modules perhaps serving as components in more than one larger appliance.

According to Christian Siefkes,

- Products that are modular, that can be broken down into smaller modules or components which can be produced independently before being assembled into a whole, fit better into the peer mode of production than complex, convoluted products, since they make the tasks to be handled by a peer project more manageable. Projects can build upon modules produced by others and they can set as their own (initial) goal the production of a specific module, especially if components can be used stand-alone as well as in combination. The Unix philosophy of providing lots of small specialized tools that can be combined in versatile ways is probably the oldest expression in software of this modular style. The stronger emphasis on modularity is another phenomenon that follows from the differences between market production and peer production. Market producers have to prevent their competitors from copying or integrating their products and methods of production so as not to lose their competitive advantage. In the peer mode, re-use by others is good and should be encouraged, since it increases your reputation and the likelihood of others giving something back to you.... Modularity not only facilitates decentralized innovation, but should also help to increase the longevity of products and components. Capitalism has developed a throw-away culture where things are often discarded when they break (instead of being repaired), or when one aspect of them is no longer up-to-date or in fashion. In a peer economy, the tendency in such cases will be to replace just a single component instead of the whole product, since this will generally be the most labor-efficient option (compared to getting a new product, but also to manually repairing the old one).

Siefkes is wrong only in referring to producers under the existing corporate system as “market producers,” since absent “intellectual property” as a legal bulwark to proprietary design, the market incentive would be toward designing products that were interoperable with other platforms, and toward competition in the design of accessories and replacement parts tailored to other companies' platforms. And given the absence of legal barriers to the production of such interoperable accessories, the market incentive would be to designing platforms as broadly interoperable as possible.

This process of modularization is already being promoted within corporate capitalism, although the present system is struggling mightily—and unsuccessfully—to keep itself from being torn apart by the resulting increase in productive forces.

As Eric Hunting argues, the high costs of technical innovation, the difficulty of capturing value from it, and the mass customization or long tail market, taken together, create pressures for common platforms that can be easily customized between products, and for modularization of components that can be used for a wide variety of products.

And Hunting points out, as we already saw in regard to flexible manufacturing networks in C4SS Paper No. 4, that the predominant "outsource everything" and "contract manufacturing" model increasingly renders corporate hubs obsolete, and makes it possible for contractees to circumvent the previous corporate principals and undertake independent production on their own account.

- Industrial ecologies are precipitated by situations where traditional industrial age product development models fail in the face of very high technology development overheads or very high demassification in design driven by desire for personalization/customization producing Long Tail market phenomenon [sic]. A solution to these dilemmas is modularization around common architectural platforms in order to compartmentalize and distribute development cost risks, the result being 'ecologies' of many small companies independently and competitively developing intercompatible parts for common product platforms — such as the IBM PC. The more vertical the market profile for a product the more this trend penetrates toward production on an individual level due [to] high product sophistication coupled to smaller volumes.... Competitive contracting regulations in the defense industry (when they're actually respected...) tend to, ironically, turn many kinds of military hardware into open platforms by default, offering small businesses a potential to compete with larger companies where production volumes aren't all that large to begin with. Consequently, today we have a situation where key components of some military vehicles and aircraft are produced on a garage-shop production level by companies with fewer than a dozen employees. All this represents an intermediate level of industrial demassification that is underway today and not necessarily dependent upon open source technology or peer-to-peer activity but which creates a fertile ground for that in the immediate future and drives the complementary trend in the miniaturization of machine tools.

In other words, the further production cost falls relative to the costs of design, the greater the economic incentive to modular design as a way of defraying design costs over as many products as possible.

Hunting added, in an email to the Open Manufacturing list, that this process—

“the modularization of product design, which results in the replacement of designs by platforms and the competitive commoditization of their components”— is the reason why computers, based on platforms for modular commodity components, have evolved so rapidly compared to every other kind of industrial product and why the single-most advanced device the human race has ever produced is now something most anyone can afford and which a child can assemble in minutes from parts sourced around the world.

Michel Bauwens, in commenting on Hunting's remarks, notes among the "underlying trends... supporting the emergence of peer production in the physical world," the ‘distribution’ of production capacity, i.e. lower capital requirements and modularisation making possible more decentralized and localized production, which may eventually be realized through the free selfaggregation of producers.

Modular design is an example of stigmergic coordination. As defined in the Wikipedia entry, stigmergy is

- a mechanism of spontaneous, indirect coordination between agents or actions, where the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a subsequent action, by the same or a different agent. Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, apparently intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even communication between the agents. As such it supports efficient collaboration between extremely simple agents, who lack any memory, intelligence or even awareness of each other.

The development of the platform is a self-contained and entirely self-directed action by an individual or a peer design group. Subsequent modules are developed with reference to the platform, but the design of each module is likewise entirely independent and self-directed; no coordination with the platform developer or the developers of other modules takes place. The effect is to break design down into numerous manageable units."

The Homebrew Revolution and the Multimachine

Kevin Carson:

"When it comes to the “Homebrew” dream of an actual desktop factory, the most promising current development is the Fab Lab. The concept started with MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms. The original version of the Fab Lab included CNC laser cutters and milling machines, and a 3-D printer, for a total cost of around $50,000.

Open-source versions of the Fab Lab have brought the cost down to around $2-5,000. One important innovation is the multimachine, an open-source, multiple-purpose machine tool that includes drill press, lathe and milling machine; it can be modified for computerized numeric control. The multimachine was originally developed by Pat Delaney, whose YahooGroup has grown into a design community and support network of currently over five thousand people.

As suggested by the size of Delaney's YahooGroup membership, the multimachine has been taken up independently by open-source developers all around the world. The Open Source Ecology design community, in particular, envisions a Fab Lab which includes a CNC multimachine as "the central tool piece of a flexible workshop... eliminating thousands of dollars of expenditure requirement for similar abilities" and serving as "the centerpieces enabling the fabrication of electric motor, CEB, sawmill, OSCar, microcombine and all other items that require processes from milling to drilling to lathing."

It is a high precision mill-drill-lathe, with other possible functions, where the precision is obtained by virtue of building the machine with discarded engine blocks....

The central feature of the Multimachine is the concept that either the tool or the workpiece rotates when any machining operation is performed. As such, a heavy-duty, precision spindle (rotor) is the heart of the Multimachine—for milling, drilling and lathing applications. The precision arises from the fact that the spindle is secured within the absolutely precise bore holes of an engine block, so precision is guaranteed simply by beginning with an engine block.

- being developed by the Iceland Fab Lab team, RepRap, CandyFab 4000 team, and others—then a CNC mill-drill-lathe is the result. At least Factor 10 reduction in price is then available compared to the competition. The mill-drill-lathe capacity allows for the subtractive fabrication of any allowable shape, rotor, or cylindrically-symmetric object. Thus, the CNC Multimachine can be an effective cornerstone of high precision digital fabrication—down to 2 thousandths of an inch.

Interesting features of the Multimachine are that the machines can be scaled from small ones weighing a total of ~1500 lb to large ones weighing several tons, to entire factories based on the Multimachine system.

The CNC XY(Z) tables can also be scaled according to the need, if attention to this point is considered in development. The whole machine is designed for disassembly. Moreover, other rotating tool attachments can be added, such as circular saw blades and grinding wheels. The overarm included in the basic design is used for metal forming operations.

Thus, the Multimachine is an example of appropriate technology, where the user is in full control of machine building, operation, and maintenance. Such appropriate technology is conducive to successful small enterprise for local community development, via its low capitalization requirement, ease of maintenance, scaleability and adaptability, and wide range of products that can be produced. This is relevant both in the developing world and in industrialized countries.

The multimachine, according to Delaney, “can be built by a semi-skilled mechanic using just common hand tools,” from discarded engine blocks, and can be scaled from “a closet size version” to “one that would weigh 4 or 5 tons.”

More generally, a Fab Lab (i.e. a digital flexible fabrication facility centered on the CNC multimachine along with a CNC cutting table and open-source 3-D printer like RepRap) can produce virtually anything—especially when coupled with the ability of such machinery to run open-source design files.

- Flexible fabrication refers to a production facility where a small set of non-specialized, general-function machines (the 5 items mentioned [see below]) is capable of producing a wide range of products if those machines are operated by skilled labor. It is the opposite of mass production, where unskilled labor and specialized machinery produce large quantities of the same item (see section II, Economic Base). When one adds digital fabrication to the flexible fabrication mix—then the skill level on part of the operator is reduced, and the rate of production is increased. Digital fabrication is the use of computer-controlled fabrication, as instructed by data files that generate tool motions for fabrication operations. Digital fabrication is an emerging byproduct of the computer age. It is becoming more accessible for small scale production, especially as the influence of open source philosophy is releasing much of the know-how into non-proprietary hands. For example, the Multimachine is an open source mill-drill-lathe by itself, but combined with computer numerical control (CNC) of the workpiece table, it becomes a digital fabrication device.

It should be noted that open access to digital design—perhaps in the form a global repository of shared open source designs—introduces a unique contribution to human prosperity. This contribution is the possibility that data at one location in the world can be translated immediately to a product in any other location. This means anyone equipped with flexible fabrication capacity can be a producer of just about any manufactured object. The ramifications for localization of economies are profound, and leave the access to raw material feedstocks as the only natural constraint to human prosperity.

Open Source Ecology, based on existing technology, estimates the cost of producing a CNC multimachine with their own labor at $1500.62 The CNC multimachine is only one part of a projected “Fab Lab,” whose total cost of construction will be $2,000.

- This equipment base is capable of producing just about anything—electronics, electromechanical devices, structures, and so forth. The OS Fab Lab is crucial in that it enables the self-replication of all the 16 technologies.

Automated production with CNC machinery, Jakubowski points out, holds out some very exciting possibilities for producing at rates competitive with conventional industry.

- It should be pointed out that a particularly exciting enterprise opportunity arises from automation of fabrication, such as arises from computer numerical control. For example, the sawmill and CEB discussed above are made largely of DfD, bolt-together steel. This lends itself to a fabrication procedure where a CNC XYZ table could cut out all the metal, including bolt holes, for the entire device, in a fraction of the time that it would take by hand. As such, complete sawmill or CEB kits may be fabricated and collected, ready for assembly, on the turn-around time scale of days.... The digital fabrication production model may be equivalent in production rates to that of any large-scale, high-tech firms.

- The concept of a CNC XYZ table is powerful. It allows one to prepare all the metal, such as that for a CEB press or the boundary layer turbine, with the touch of a button if a design file for the toolpath is available. This indicates on-demand fabrication capacity, at production rates similar to that of the most highly-capitalized industries. With modern technology, this is doable at low cost. With access to low-cost computer power, electronics, and open source blueprints, the capital needed for producing a personal XYZ table is reduced merely to structural steel and a few other components: it’s a project that requires perhaps $1000 to complete.

Small-scale fabrication facilities of the kind envisioned at Factor e Farm, based on CNC multimachines, cutting/routing tables and 3D printers, can even produce motorized vehicles like passenger cars and tractors, when the heavy engine block is replaced with a light electric motor. Such electric vehicles, in fact, are part of the total product package at Factor e Farm."

More Excerpts

From the serialization in the P2P Foundation blog:

Chapter One: A Wrong Turn. First excerpt. Second excerpt.

Chapter Two: Moloch–The Anatomy of Sloanist Mass Production. First excerpt. Second excerpt.

Chapter Three: Babylon is Fallen. First excerpt. Second excerpt. Third excerpt.

Chapter Four: Back to the Future. One excerpt.

Chapter Five: The Small Workshop, Desktop Manufacturing, and Household Production. First excerpt. Second excerpt.


Via: http://homebrewindustrialrevolution.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/contents/

  • Introductory Material (pdf)

Part One–Babylon: The Rise and Fall of Sloanist Mass Production

Chapter One. A Wrong Turn, and the Path Not Taken (pdf)

A. Preface: Mumford’s Periodization of Technological History

B. The Neotechnic Phase

C. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Neotechnic Revolution

Chapter Two. Moloch: The Anatomy of Sloanist Mass-Production Industry (pdf)


A. Institutional Forms to Provide Stability

B. Mass Consumption and Push Distribution to Absorb Surplus

C. State Action to Absorb Surplus: Imperialism

D. State Action to Absorb Surplus: State Capitalism

E. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin (A Critique of Sloanism’s Defenders)

F. The Pathologies of Sloanism

G. Mandatory High Overhead

Chapter Three. Babylon is Fallen (pdf)


A. Resumption of the Crisis of Overaccumulation

B. Resource Crises (Peak Oil)

C. Fiscal Crisis of the State

D. Decay of the Cultural Pseudomorph

E. Failure to Counteract Limits to Capture of Value by Enclosure of the Digital Commons

F. Networked Resistance, Netwar and Asymmetric Warfare Against Corporate Management

Part Two–Zion: The Renaissance of Decentralized Production

Chapter Four. Back to the Future (pdf)

A. Home Manufacture

B. Relocalized Manufacturing

C. New Possibilities for Flexible Manufacturing

Sidebar on Marxist Objections to Non-Capitalist Markets: The Relevance of the Decentralized Industrial Model

Chapter Five. The Small Workshop, Desktop Manufacturing, and Household Microenterprise (pdf)

A. Neighborhood and Backyard Industry

B. The Desktop Revolution and Peer Production in the Immaterial Sphere

C. The Expansion of the Desktop Revolution and Peer Production into the Physical Realm

C1. Open-Source Design: Removal of Proprietary Rents from the Design Stage, and Modular Design. C2. Reduced Transaction Costs of Aggregating Capital. C3. Reduced Capital Outlays for Physical Production.

D. The Microenterprise

Appendix. Case Studies in the Coordination of Networked Fabrication and Open Design

  1. 1. Open Source Ecology/Factor e Farm.
  2. 2. 100k Garages
  3. 3. Assessment

Chapter Six. Resilient Communities and Local Economies (pdf)

A. Local Economies of Bases of Independence and Buffers Against Economic Turbulence

B. Historical Models of the Resilient Community

C. Resilience, Primary Social Units, and Libertarian Values

D. LETS Systems, Barter Networks, and Community Currencies

E. Community Bootstrapping

F. Contemporary Ideas and Projects

  • Jeff Vail’s Hamlet Economy
  • Global Ecovillage Networking
  • The Transition Town Movement
  • Global Villages
  • Venture Communism
  • Decentralized Economic and Social Organization (DESO)
  • The Triple Alliance

Chapter Seven. The Alternative Economy as a Singularity (pdf)

A. Networked Production and the Bypassing of Corporate Nodes

B. The Advantages of Value Creation Outside the Cash Nexus

C. More Efficient Extraction of Value from Inputs

D. The Implications of Reduced Physical Capital Costs

E. Strong Incentives and Reduced Agency Costs

F. Reduced Costs from Supporting Rentiers and Other Useless Eaters

G. The Stigmergic Non-Revolution

H. The Singularity


Appendix. The Singularity in the Third World

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