Advancements in technology and the very way we produce everyday items continues to build momentum and efficiency. Something that would’ve taken weeks and many man-hours to complete a century ago can now appear before the blink of an eye, and with the simple push of a button. 

What’s more, our knowledge base as a society has never been so easily accessible; or so widely shared. Joshua Pearce, an Engineering Professor at Michigan Tech University, is pioneering the availability of such knowledge. He shares instructions and blueprints for making things as complex as cars, security systems, and electricity, and as simple as toys, sporting goods, and clothes – free to anyone with internet access.

Expanded upon in his latest book “Create, Share, and Save Money Using Open-Source Projects”, here Joshua shares his insights into how everyone and anyone can utilise such information to create and accumulate wealth for all to enjoy.

Joshua Pearce, Engineering Professor, Michigan Tech University
Joshua Pearce, Engineering Professor, Michigan Tech University

Digital manufacturing technologies, like 3-D printing, have matured to the point you can use them in your living room. There has been an exponential rise in free designs for hardware released under open-source, creative commons licenses or placed in the public domain. This enables you to take advantage of a new paradigm: distributed manufacturing of all kinds of products released under free licenses that we call free and open-source hardware (FOSH). The availability of these designs has a large value to those with access to digital manufacturing methods. But how much value?

The easiest way to calculate wealth generation from a free design is the downloaded substitution valuation, which uses the number of times that an open-source design is downloaded times the savings from FOSH digital manufacturing (simply subtract the cost to make something from what it would cost to buy it). This savings is maximised for custom low-volume products such as scientific or medical equipment where the open-source cost is generally only 1-10% of the cost to buy it.

Example: Expensive Product

With a few real-world examples, everyone can see how they can make a million dollars of value.  The first is a case study to determine the value of an open-source syringe pump design we made in my lab.  The syringe pump represents a valuable tool, which may be government-funded for the acceleration of scientific innovation, but also has applications in education and medicine.

Michigan Tech student showing off her variant of the open source syringe pump.
Michigan Tech student showing off her variant of the open-source syringe pump.

The Figure shows a pump you can make using an open-source syringe pump library. The majority of the pump parts can be fabricated with an open-source 3-D printer, while other necessary parts are readily available, such as a stepper motor and steel rods. The design, bill of materials, and assembly instructions are globally available to anyone wishing to use them. You can use your cellphone to drive the device over WiFi. The original study on the syringe pump found that it is as good as (or better than) commercial syringe pumps.  The low-cost, open-source variety of syringe pumps, however, are completely customisable, allowing both the volume and the motor to scale for specific applications, such as any research activity, including carefully controlled dosing of reagents, pharmaceuticals, and delivery of viscous 3-D printer media.

So How Much Is It Worth?

The cost to purchase a traditionally manufactured syringe pump ranges from $260 for a single pump, up to $2606 for a dual pump. The cost of the materials for a single open-source pump is $97 and for the double, it is $154. The time to assemble either the single or double pump is less than an hour and can be accomplished by a non-expert. Assuming the assembler’s hourly rate begins at $10/hour because no special skills are needed, this provides savings for substituting the open-source syringe pump for a commercial one of between $153 for a single up to $2,442 for the double pump. Thus, the free pump designs saved the global community from over $64,000 to over $1,000,000 for the global community in the first month. A million dollars of value in a month! Not bad.

Performing even a simple extrapolation for a single year provides a total value between $778,000 and $12.4 million. It has been five years and the values of wealth actually generated by the humble pump have reached many millions of dollars. As the open-source syringe pump saves between 59%-93%, and it meets the standards for research it has first been adopted by scientific and medical labs all over the world.

Example: Consumer Product

Mega-savings are not limited to things that science geeks want for their lab – far from it. There are now millions of free designs you can download and replicate on any number of machines, like desktop 3-D printers. Consider the following specialty consumer sporting goods that might be of interest to the jock in you who likes weight lifting. Once you get strong, it gets more and more irritating to load/unload the plates.  To make your life a little easier, you can 3-D print a deadlift jack or an Olympic lifting jack, as seen in the Figure.

Deadlift Jack available on MyMiniFactory.
Deadlift Jack available on MyMiniFactory.

You can then easily strip and reload weights onto your bar when you are by yourself, allowing you to not have to lift the bar with one hand, as you struggle with removing the weight on the other side. It has been tested with up to 6 plates, which is 270 lbs on one side. This should be more than enough for all but the Hulk, She-Hulk, and a few Olympic-class or professional athletes. By printing out five puzzle-like pieces with about half a spool of filament, and snapping this together, you save yourself about $32 and 7lbs of weight from lugging a commercial metal version back and forth from the gym. Perhaps what is most impressive about this design is that it works with cheap plastic that you can print on any low-cost 3D printer. Stastica reports there are over 38,000 gyms in the U.S. alone. So even if each gym only prints one deadlift jack, the savings for the global fitness community is over $1 million.

These, of course, are just examples, but millions of other open-source hardware designs have saved the global community many more millions of dollars – each.  This is all possible because the number and variety of distributed manufacturing tools are proliferating. As more people gain access to 3-D printers and CNC mills, these designs will save even more money, while providing the global community with even more wealth. By each of us just giving a little of our time and effort, we can help hundreds of thousands of people. You can create a million dollars of wealth, as long as you share!

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