A Hardware Network Effect Or: Why is Mifactori using a 3x3cm instead of the Open Structures 4x4cm grid

Another Mirror of a Post I wrote for the Mifactori Blog.

At Mifactori in the Hiebo Series and for our workshops we use the 3cm x 3cm grid (the „3erlin Grid“). But why 3cm x 3cm when there is alreadya great project with the same idea of circular modularity through an open and shared grid but that uses a different gird – the Open Structures Project is based on 4cm x 4cm. Why do we introduce a new grid producing parts that will be incompatible with the ones from Open Structures? Isn’t this working against the idea?

Here are three answers to this question:

1. Parts You Can Buy

The open source hardware definition asks you to use readily available parts that everyone easy can get their hands on. This is important because open source software you download, install and run within minutes. But hardware has to be built first. And a good way to make this easier is to use standard parts in your design everyone can easily get – buy in the next shop for example. The Open Structures project is around for more then 8 years but seems still stuck in a conceptual phase. None of the parts you can buy. When we wanted to play and work with the idea we had no chance to get Open Structures parts. But there were readily available parts we could get and got: “Heros Constructor” – the construction toy system for kids. It can be used for the same idea. But it has a 3cm x 3cm grid. So we got Heros and started experimenting and playing with it.

Images from our street art experiment project „The City Is Open Source“.

SONY DSC Reparieren-Zoom

birdhouse-installation-July-2015-DSC07325-e1438125072257 SONY DSC  Austellung-Wiedersehen-DSC08157

Standardize-The-City-_-DSC08379 bags-DSC08447-1

2. We Fell In Love With The 3cm x 3cm Grid + The Network Effect!

And by doing it we fell in love with the 3cm x 3cm grid. It is breathier then the 4cm grid. It is compatible with the international ISO/DIN standard for paper. It is intellectually interesting that it is derived from a toy kit. And when we started to manufacture own parts we got stuck with it. Because we experienced the expected network effect: With every new part the potential and usefulness of all the other parts in our workshop grows. We can build ever more and more things – because everything fits with each other. This is really amazing! A life network effect in our workshop :-)!

Own manufactured parts. There are more. Documentation will follow soon. 

  Mifactori Sperrmuell WS1 - CC-BY-SA - by Mifactori.de104 SONY DSC

3. No “one size fits all” in an open Circular Economy Future

And let’s get to the bigger picture: In a circular future do we have to use the same construction system for everything? Do you really want to live in a world, where everything is made following the exact same grid?

We do not. It is not a problem to have different and (partly) incompatible systems in parallel competing. As long as the systems and parts are open – Open Source! – so everyone can study them and plug in to the system and make decentralized use, growth and adaption happen for a system.

We can imagine places collecting and distributing old parts with a pile of 4cm x 4cm parts in one corner and another with 3cm x 3cm parts in the other giving out what people ask them for.

Network effects can come to play: People get what they already have and can connect to existing stuff. More common parts will be easier to sell. Evolution can do the job: systems that work well and are well spread will succeed, and evolve . . . (in theory at least)

And also we want to see people innovating all the time and invent, introduce and test new systems. Maybe as a general recommendation or expectation those innovators could use – if possible – materials in the beginning that are very easy, quick and cheap to recycle. So if the modularity on a construction level is not to set in action there is still “modularity” on a material level.

Summary; or tl:dr

We started at Mifactori with the 3cm x 3cm grid because that was the grid of parts we could buy in the market. We fell in also love with the grid later and live and work now with a growing pile of parts and the network effect attached to them. For a circular future it is not necessary that everyone uses one global system or grid. As long as the systems are open, inclusive and transparent we can expect or hope for other effects ensuring that reuse and circularity will happen.

3cm x 3cm - 3erlin Grid _3

The 3cm x 3cm „3erlin Grid“ 


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