Born in Caracas in 1982, Tomás Díez is the co-founder of Fab Lab Barcelona, and is now launching the Fab City Research Laboratory within the IAAC. A town planner and master in digital architecture and manufacturing, Díez is the main curator of Maker Pro at In(3D)ustry From Needs to Solutions and an advisor on the content of this event, which takes place on 21-23 June at Fira de Barcelona’s Montjuïc Exhibition Centre.
Question: First and foremost, can you tell us what Maker Pro of In(3D)ustry From Needs to Solutions is all about?
Answer: Maker Pro is a physical and mental space that comprises a series of activities for visualizing and experimenting with the true potential that individuals and communities will have in the future of manufacturing; these so-called ‘makers’ are impelling a new productive model in our cities. The accessibility of new advanced digital manufacturing technologies through Fab Labs, makerspaces and hackerspaces have turned this into a creative movement on an international scale, which some people are calling the maker movement. With Maker Pro we want to emphasise that the maker movement cannot have an impact unless there is a commitment to the social, economic and environmental circumstances of its milieu, and for this reason we are bringing some of the best local and international representatives of this phenomenon to hold workshops, talks and exhibitions at which we hope the traditional industrial sector will see the potential of local production and people’s empowerment, which will to hand-in-hand with a new way of doing business, which we can see will be a big challenge for industry.
As the co-founder of the Fab Lab of Barcelona and now the driver behind the Fab City Research Laboratory, is Barcelona the right place for promoting advanced additive manufacturing?
As far as I’m concerned, Barcelona is THE place where we should be pushing a new productive model for cities, and through initiatives like the Fab Labs, Ateneus de Fabricación and makerspaces that we’re already seeing in different neighbourhoods, we’ve got first-hand evidence of how these technologies are being adopted by citizens. At the same time, Barcelona has companies and universities that are developing 3D printers, new interactive technologies, educational programmes and biotechnology research (which will be the future of digital manufacturing) on different scales, from SMEs up to big corporations.
Furthermore, Barcelona is a city with a high level of citizen participation and an urban planning and architectural culture that is a global benchmark, such as the urban planning model devised by Cerdà and the sometimes controversial Smart Cities. We’ve got the ‘perfect storm’ to drive forward a city-based productive model that is unique in the world, and events such as In(3D)ustry From Needs to Solutions will transmit this message through its content. I personally believe in this city project, and at our lab we’re making sure that this will be transformed into genuine projects for society.
Does Barcelona have its own ecosystem for promoting 3D printing?
As I said earlier, we have a productive system for digital manufacturing on various levels, with the participation of the public and private sectors and civil society. I prefer to talk about advanced manufacturing or digital production. 3D printing is the most widely-known technology, perhaps the tip of the iceberg in relation to other technologies that are changing everything, and those that are yet to come in relation to new materials and biotechnology. We need to see Barcelona as a social, productive and complementary ecosystem, where we have schools, universities, local governments, SEMs, big corporations and research institutes all committing to 3D printing and digital manufacturing, but with an important social content, putting an emphasis on citizen empowerment.
We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past through new technologies that either don’t reach society or make it dependent, and I believe that Barcelona is making a difference in this respect. We hope that Barcelona not only hosts events based on the future of manufacturing but also becomes a seedbed of initiatives that bring technology closer to society, and that it forms part of a global network of knowledge on urban problems.
Will advanced additive manufacturing open the doors to a new economic and industrial model?
We can’t just focus on advanced manufacturing; first of all, we need to give it a proper definition. There is nothing advanced about manufacturing products with 3D printing that end up causing more pollution than existing processes, and there’s nothing advanced about using new technologies to repeat business models of the past that involve extreme exploitation with mass commercialization as their only goal; we need to relate advances with the generation of value.
Industry needs to rethink the way it relates to society in a new context, where there is a flow of knowledge and production media are more accessible to the general public, and where added value will prevail over simply making money. Manufacturing is an important part of the new economic model, but so is society, especially in terms of the role it fulfils in this new paradigm.
Complementing this with other new technologies such as blockchain (on which the digital currency Bitcoin works) will give rise to unpredictable consequences in relation to the current way we do business, generate projects and create companies; it is a prediction we’re taking full responsibility for making, and in this case we’re not alone. Our role at the laboratory I manage is to make knowledge accessible to these technologies and transform them into genuine projects that will reach society. We want this to be a model that is repeated in other cities and be a catalyst for this new, green, open and collaborative social revolution.
You are involved in the organization of In(3D)ustry From Needs to Solutions, the new event that Fira de Barcelona is devoting to advanced additive manufacturing. What point has this technology reached? Are we witnessing a new industrial revolution?
3D printers that use FDM as a process are already available in high street stores. The internet is full of courses and tutorials to learn how to scan, model and print objects. Schools are adopting mini Fab Labs and courses on applied creativity. Universities are bringing this knowledge to different disciplines, from fashion design, architecture and the motor industry to history and even philosophy.
The key to all this will be sharing knowledge in open code, as this will accelerate innovation processes, which have already emerged from laboratories protected by the copyright laws of the industrial sector of the past. This is not something we’re making up: Tesla, Intel, Roche and other big corporations are putting their money on this model; we are changing the fundamental structures of society, and our economy and its permanent crisis is the next target.
And finally, what do you think In(3D)ustry From Needs to Solutions represents for the 3D printing sector?
Advanced manufacturing is much more complex than 3D printing. I think my main role at In(3D)ustry From Needs to Solutions is to bring this integral vision of society, city and technology, and we are doing so through the team headed up by Miquel Serrano. I believe we’re generating a new discourse based on the future of industry, connected to its cities and above all with an absolute responsibility towards the habitat in which we live, and in which we still have many future challenges, as climate change is evidently having an impact on the way we live.
Barcelona is the ideal scenario for us to continue being the benchmark in digital manufacturing that we have been for the last few years through the Fab Labs network and the Fab City project.
Barcelona, May 2016
Eduard Pérez Moya