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Open Source Manufacturing Startup
  • Tux Lab wrote on Mar 27:

    I am looking for partners to form an open source manufacturing
    startup. The goal is to build a fiscally sustainable and socially
    responsible manufacturing company that will provide a nurturing
    workplace and give back to other open source/non-profit projects.
    What we manufacture is not as important as how we manufacture because
    we will rely on open source software and the open source model of
    fiscal and intellectual transparency. This way the end users will
    know exactly what they are buying.
    I want an alternative to products, though beautifully made, are
    shrouded in secrecy and made by people who are deliberately kept from
    learning and expressing their views. I can see the benefits of
    globalization and free trade, but with the rise of authoritarian
    capitalism I don't know if the current model of manufacturing can lead
    to a freer world.. True, cheaper consumer products do empower the
    masses but if cheaper products made in authoritarian countries means
    higher unemployment in democratic countries that strengthen the hands
    of the few who profits and better arms the few who rules, I don't know
    if that is a net positive for those of us who cares about freedom.
    Right now the startup is just a concept with some machines and a small
    space at I think there are enough equipment to help
    get us started. On my own, progress has been slow and it's going to
    be a long journey. I'm still in the learning phase of just about
    everything from FreeCAD, to python, to Ruby/Rails, to machining and
    welding. Eventually every keyword for this group, open source
    manufacturing, engineering, automation, abundance, post-scarcity, open
    source distribution / transport, CAD, CAM, CAE, mechanical, open
    source hardware design, will apply.
    The first stage will mostly be learning the various open source
    software and basic fabrication techniques. We'll start with simple
    products and with every iteration we will build our products bigger
    and better. Along the way we'll formulate our marketing plans and
    build our own automation and robotic tools. As we progress we will
    start filling in the details.
    Anyway, if anyone is interested in forming an open source
    manufacturing startup, please let me know. There are some physical
    limitations due to fact that the space is located in Los Angeles, but
    I look forward to a multinational open source conglomerate :) 
  • 40 Comments sorted by
  • this going to be a business or a non-profit? I can help with the concept development and networking and stuff like that.
  • I was thinking of a profit distribution of  1/3 tax, 1/3 donate back to other open source/non-profit, and 1/3 for capital investment.   Given the state of our country, if there's profit I don't mind the tax because the free air I breath is paid by someone else who came before me.  

    I don't know if the above plan is sustainable.  Regardless, the company will be financially transparent so its books will be open for all to see.   
  • for now - what kind support you need?
  • I like to find some people to tackle the various basic fabrication skills.    For example, learn how to use FreeCAD to design a simple widget that can be cnc machined.  Learn how to use open source CAM to machine the widget.  Learn how to use open source FEA software to analyze the widget.  Learn how to use KiCAD to diy simple pcb that can be combined with the simple machine widget.    Maybe document what we've learned so other can follow.    These are some basic open source manufacturing skills that I think everyone can use.

    Hopefully, as a group, the learning process will be faster and easier.  Too keep everyone interested, we can pick a simple project, ie a LED desk lamp or simple headphone amplifier, something simple that we can actually manufacture with whatever tools we current have.
  • Maybe we an find an existing open source project that needs a component CNC'd.
  • You might want to check your local Hackerspaces to find people with similar interest in your area.

  • I visit the local hackerspaces from time to time, but I think open source manufacturing is too esoteric for most hackerspace crowd.     There's a philosophical underdone to open source manufacturing that requires a lot of upfront non-fun investment in time and effort with no real immediate tangible return. . . . or maybe I don't know how to "package" my ideas. . .      Just starting out, there not enough resources for specialization so we all have to be generalists.    However, most designer/programmer and not interested in the machining and fabrication, while most machinist and fabricators are not interested in design/programming.    Add in the open source aspect, and the learning curve becomes even steeper. . . . .

    That's the challenge I face.    There are enough equipment to get started but the human element is still missing and I'm pretty slow at learning the various basic open source tools.
  • So, you're saying you went to a hackerspace in Los Angeles and asked if anyone wanted to work without pay and nobody seemed interested?

    Open Source doesn't mean slave labor ;-)

    You may have more luck advertising your project as a Communist Utopia...
  • I am looking for partners, not interns.  Also it is not a communit utopia.   It's open source capitalism.  I am providing as much equipment as I can afford, and we will learn open source manufacturing together.  It's a fiscally and intellectually transparent venture so if you don't like how it is run, you can take your knowledge and build better operation.    That is the open source way. 

  • Are you suggesting that interns want to be paid but professionals will work for free?
  • tux, without any prior knowledge of Manufacturing you are going to have quite a time starting an OS Manufacturing company. There are very few OS solutions to software problems in this industry. There isnt even a free DNC software for Windows. As far as attracting talent without a guarantee of compensation, you will need to better understand your audience. Many engineers and most Machinists are conservative minded individuals. I dont know a single Engineer willing to give away their time and most Machinists do not have prior knowledge of open source projects or extra time. Many guys I have met do not even know what GNU/Linux is. Try to understand that while you definitely have an idea, it does not sound like you have a definite plan. Personally, I would need you to have a much more tangible set of goals. There arent open source alternatives to machine tools, hand tools, or most common fixturing. To remain open source you will be rolling your own open source solutions and that will have to be your product. With the current alternatives you will not be able to be competetive against even a small machine shop using proprietary solutions. I dont want to beat you down or anything but there is a whole lot you need to be considering here.
  • It's important to clarify whether or not it will be for-profit or non-profit. There are effectively no case studies describing successful for-profit open source technology. You'd be breaking new ground.


  • It's a learning process.   I don't think it is going to be easy.    Most machinist are not open source users and most open source users are not machinist.  I hardly quality as either.   However, I still want to give open source manufacturing a try.    Learning to draw in FreeCAD/LibreCAD is not easy and for a while I seriously thought about buying a seat of Solidwork/Inventor and a better commercial CAM package.   However, I would much rather work and promote the open source movement than to be a cog in some proprietary product world.  

    Right now I have a choice.  I have a space with a few US made cnc machines and I have the flexibility to share my resources with other like minded people who wants to learn about open source manufacturing.    The various US made equipment are standing by.    However, my pocket is not deep enough to sustain this type of cash burning hobby, much less to hire a crew of engineers to figure out open source engineering.

    I hope I can find others interested in open source manufacturing and form some sort of a domestic manufacturing venture.  If not, I'll still go at it at my own tortuously slow pace. . . .

  • tux -
    tell us what is your idea - what are you going to manufacture?
    What you know already , what you want to learn exactly, what kind of problem you have to solve to achieve your nearest aim.
  • Yeah, do you have anything more specific than "I want to make stuff?" Unlike software, hardware needs to consider cashflow as integral to the project. Even prototyping something physically costs money, unlike software which can usually cost only pizza and sleep. So, where the money comes from needs to be part of the very first steps as the concept develops. Is it going to be a hobby? Is it going to be contract work? Is it going to be run on donations?

    My suggestions is to find an existing company/group that is doing open source work and manufacture hardware for them on a contractual basis. Everyone who committs to open source as a philosophy tends to want to help exand the number of open source resources, so they might use you even if you're a bit slower and more expensive.

    On the other hand, maybe you don't want to be a manufacturer so much as an educator/innovator. You could develop and troubleshoot open source manufacturing processes and tools, then if they work you could sell them. Maybe ask around to see what small-scale manufacturing stuff people would pay for. Like a PCB assembly line for all the guys who like to make prototype electronics. Or a modular machine shop so people can start with a lathe, then turn it in to a mill, without buying an entirely new machine.

    I dunno, man. I have to speculate because you haven't said what it is you want to do.

  • My goal is open source manufacturing in the US or other democratic countries.    At this time, i am not too concerned with I am going to manufacture because I haven't solve the how to manufacture part. 

    I can write gcodes for the cnc mill and router but still I just barely getting into cnc lathe.  I can MIG weld and am in the process of setting up a TIG welder and it's associated accessories, ie cart, welding table, and etc.  Software wise, I am learning FreeCAD, but I am start to explorer how to start writing modules for FreeCAD to help contribute to a workable CAM.    I also starting to explore the various open source FEA software.     There's also modifying my website to better document and keep track of the projects.   On the electronics side, I am exploring ROS with arduino for some future automation possibilities. . . maybe a mini automated type ii anodizing  setup.   I haven't started on KiCAD or Fritzing for electronic layouts and pcb prototyping yet.

    These are the things that are on my mind and I probably missed a few.    Manufacturing is a vast and complex field that touches on various disciplines.   Just starting out, everyone is a generalist and there are so much to be learned.  It will be easier if each person tackles a specific area and we all share what we've learned to speed up the learning process.   Each project takes time, and learning each new tool takes time.   On my own, I can maybe build a open source bicycle, but together a group of people can build an open source car, that's truly open source from design to manufacturing.  It's sort like Ubuntu vs Debian and PostgreSQL vs MySQL.    All are open source and I like all of them but I prefer Debian and PostgreSQL for philosophical reason.
  • What are you offering/suggesting then that OSE isn't already doing/planning on doing?
  • I think there is a reoccurring theme to this thread.   What I want to manufacture? and is it Non-Profit or For-Profit?

    What I want to manufacture? 

    Go back a few posts and I wrote "Too keep everyone interested, we can pick a simple project, ie a LED desk lamp. . ."     Keep in mind that it's really about learning the various open source software.  So I'll be design in FreeCAD.  Material will probably be aluminum because it's cheap and easily machined.   I will design to fit within the limitations g-codes and the existing cnc machines.   I'll keep the design simple, two rods with the led lamp and a base on opposites of the elbow.   Once I have the preliminary shape  I'll want to use some sort of open source FEA software to figure out the optimal diameter of the rods and heat dissipation of the LED lamp to figure out how to incorporate a heatsink into the aluminum head.  

    Then there's the electronics components.   I can prototype with Arduino but I will still need to design build some sort of a power supply and incorporating an AVR 8bit chip instead of using an arduino for the dimming and maybe some sort of a thermal protection circuit.   That will require learning about circuit design, KiCAD or Fritzing, pcb milling, and depending on the chip being used,  rudimentary c or assembly language.

    I am at the learning FreeCAD phase.

    Regarding if it's Non-Profit or For-Profit?

    If the company has total fiscal and intellectual transparency where everyone from the janitor to the ceo has access to the same information and are free to start their own similarly fiscally and intellectually transparent open source manufacturing companies in democratic countries, I don't think it will matter if the company is for profit or non-profit.   I've seen enough to know that the only guarantee for "fair" profit is when everything is fiscally transparent regardless of for profit or non-profit moniker. 

  • What are you bringing to the table in terms of skills, resources, or finances?
  • Metz - don't be so critic, pls

    this topic is just abut how develop situation  to prepare real startup. None sad it's easy. Obviously skills and resources are the real base for it - but before it you must  have willingness   - and this is what you can kill in this case.

    Tux - (I'm asking cos I interesting in activity - not just for pleasure to took - however I'm living in the UK)
    What is you monthly costs for workshop, how many hours you going to spend on developing this model, have you any reserch on market, how you plan marketing and sell this products?
    I assume that led lamp is just example  ;)

  • The cost is the 3 Haas CNC, the infrastructure to get them up and running, ie electrical subpanel, wiring, air compressor/dryer, pneumatic lines and etc, plus rent and utility to house everything.    The plan is fairly traditional.  Build small, build simple, and iterate to slightly bigger and better.  Rinse and repeat.      Same thing with marketing, find niche market and start small. . . and actually I do want to build a LED lamp. :)
  • Is this led light your college project?  ;)
    I'm asking about monthly cost to estimate how much you have sell to cover an expenses.
    Market is market and you have manufacture this products that has demand for it.
  • Lol, wow you guys are a tough crowd.    Right now, I only worry about learning open source tools for open source manufacturing and documenting the process  regardless of success of failure, so others who want to follow can have a slight head start for the next iteration of open source manufacturing.  No point reinventing the wheel every single time and it will be nice to have a tutorial to follow.   For example, I am a Debian user and when I look at cealinux the first thing I wonder about is how can I run it under Debian instead of the Ubuntu live cd and where are the tutorial to learn the cool and seemly powerful open source tools.   It'll be nice if such tutorials exist right now.

    Yeah I know, it's a long process and an overkill but that's learning the basics and hopefully we'll all have fun along the way. 

    I don't even worry about marketing the LED lamp.  The worst case is everyone participated in the manufacturing process gets one.  So we only made a few.  No big deal, at least we learn the process for the next project.   That's just the reality of business.  Not every product will be successful, but success or failure, it should be a learning process. 

  • so, how you going to pay your rent, cnc mill, electricity bill, stuff for projects, etc,etc?
    I thing it's nothing bad in producing nice, clever things that you can sell and have  little reward for cover you costs and living  :)
    Aim for production is how to make good product and minimise the costs of production. 
  • The first step is just the learning process so a lot of the details can be over look, ie build a few led lamps that only the developer will want.   

    The first post is fairly long, but I stated my philosophical motivations and a brief overview of what I want to accomplish which is something potential partners will want to know.   If someone wants to empower the world through manufacturing in authoritarian countries, then this manufacturing startup is probably not the right one for that person. 

    The first project I'm working on is fairly simple and I'm beginning to see the error in choosing 304ss over 303ss.

  • Okay, so it's a hobby.

    If you can start to contribute more/better software that will be a real help to the rest of the community. hell, just contributing to the FreeCAD documentation would be awesome. I've barely figured out how to do anything with it.


  • I want to move beyond just a "hobby" hence the first post, but let's not go over the same cost and what to make part because at this point, those are fairly irrelevant.    We're just going around in circles. 

    Documentation is already a given and was mentioned many many times.   My ruby/rails skill is pretty pathetic, but feel free to suggest a better way to document the process.

    The goal is to learn open source 3d CAD, circuit design/layout, FEA, and whatever open source software it take to design and build something.   What to learn together and speed up the process?  Great, let's figure out what we have, where we're at, and what we want to build.    The fallback project is a led lamp.  
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    April 2012
    Some simplified documentation on FreeCAD is available at  I documented the capabilities that I figured out during the development of CAD models for the OSE Steam Engine of last year.

    - Mark


  • it's  ok  now  ;)
  • @Sensor:

    Please ignore the last part of the URL: . 
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    April 2012
    Hmm.  That was weird.  I wonder how that got in there.  Thanks for the assist, Elifarley.

    - Mark
  • Warren Buffet once said that total historical investment in the automotive industry as of I believe the year 2000 netted very close to zero dollars. This was prior to the GM bankruptcy. He also stated that total historical investment in the aviation industry was negative. Furthermore, the US government issued tens of billions of dollars in loans to US solar companies. 535 million to Solyndra. 1.43 billion to First Solar. 1.6 billion to Bright Source Energy. And, the list goes on. Engineering projects are expensive and prone to corruption and failure for technological reasons. The losses are enormous. Yet, humanity benefits tremendously from the technological march. The financial benefits of patent protection and hoarding trade secrets
    are not sufficient to warrant large investments into technology. Furthermore, companies should not reap the benefits of risky loans at low interest(for the risk) while leaving tax payers with the risk of default.

    What is my point? All non-defense(or dual use) government funded projects should be open sourced and available for public criticism before grants are given or loans are issued. For something like solar energy, the whole world benefits from the spread of the technology. For every solar thermal or photovoltaic plant that the US or China builds, the whole world benefits from reduced CO2 emissions. Granted, manufacturing would flow to lower wage countries with good infrastructure, but manufacturing need not all flow to the same country, which would alleviate some national security issues. Countries such as Mexico and South East Asia would be well positioned to export to the US as well as China. In addition, the power plants themselves would be setup in the US, Spain, and other countries with solar thermal resources. This would allow the distribution of financial benefits. Furthermore, an open source license would encourage all countries to contribute to projects with the potential to obtain some benefit.

    Another area for open source projects is medical and agricultural equipment and chemicals.

    As a step forward, I believe model projects and licenses are required. I would propose the following.
    1.)Create a viral open source manufacturing license similar to the GPL. The license would basically state something like the following:
    "Whenever this widget is manufactured and sold, the recipient must be given all the mathematical and computational models, manufacturing drawings, and software with each widget sold. The information can be made available through a DVD or online."
    2.)Develop an Open Source Engineering Project Kit that would easily allow an individual or group to setup development servers, development machines, and manufacturing machines. Some of this already exists. For example, CAELinux may be a good choice for development machines. And, CNC Linux provides a good choice for manufacturing machines. A development server that deploys tools such as trac, svn or git, and ejabberd on a stable and secure platform like OpenBSD would be ideal. Scripts could be written to install all the necessary software.
    3.)Model projects would need to be started in areas such as solar thermal and medical devices. I'm considering starting a project in solar thermal.

  • Blade, that's an interesting analysis. I've been wanting to see more work done on analyzing open source from a financial and legal point of view, rather than purely technical. Do you have any additional resources?
  • Matt_Maier, as far as I know, there are no mature open source engineering projects outside software. Thus, any financial analysis would be conceptual in nature since no empirical data exists. The empirical data would come from analyzing patent law and public funding of R&D, but there would not be any basis with which to compare these things to open source engineering. I searched for an open source engineering license that was like the GPL license for software. However, I found no such thing. Thus, a first step in a more rigorous legal analysis would be to draft a sample GPL-like license for open source engineering/manufacturing. Once drafted, a line-item debate on specific points within the contract could begin. After the debate, a new version of the contract could be drafted and a new debate could begin.
  • Matt_Maier, if my comment above didn't answer your question. What type of resources are you looking for?
  • One example of a very large and successful open source hardware project is the Arduino.

    There are dozens of books on it, at least a dozen different manufacturers that make the boards, etc. Lots of people making a living working with Arduino in one way or another.
  • eukreign,

    Nice post. Arduino is a great project.

    Arduino is released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. Have people found the license to be adequate for the needs of open source hardware?
  • Arduino is really great, they are programming a Arduino to replace the proprietary board in my wife's dental chair cause the manufacturer went out of business and replacement parts for the controller are unavailable


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