Factor e Live Distillations – Part 6 – Personal Fabrication

Today’s Factor e Live Distillations focuses on Personal Fabrication. We discuss our goals of establishing a robust and replicable, high-performance flexible fabrication facility for producing just about anything – while relying largely on local resources – and while participating as a producer in a global market economy.

This post is a good overview of the type of tools that are already available – today – and which could be put together into a high-power, digital fabrication package – the Open Source Fab Lab. While the tools are already available and significant development has already been done, their integration into a meaningful productive ecology is the remaining task – in terms of providing a useful toolset for Global Village construction. The Personal Fabrication package is perhaps the most important piece of the Global Village Construction Set – in that these tools are used to create supporting hardware and machinery – for tasks ranging from agriculture to wireless communications. We hope that this presentation will help you see for yourself the kinds of applications and power that is already available to anyone who chooses to use these tools, as a step towards taking advantage of these tools. As was said about one particular example of the available technologies – the 3D printer called RepRap – “Think of RepRap as a China on your desktop.”

– Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager, Google Inc., 8 April 2008.

Our work in general is aimed at building the infrastructure for real-life Global Villages – which you can replicate in whole or in part. You can also see our earlier presentation on the Global Village Construction Set. To support this work, join the 1000 True Fans – 1000 Global Villages campaign – by committing to $10 per month for 24 months. Here is the PayPal subscription button, where you can use either PayPal, credit card, or bank account to commit to the subscription.

Here is the transcript and supporting links for this video.

Welcome to Factor e Live Distillations – part 6. I must begin by saying that we are flooded with various quality feedback. One thing that became clear is that a number of people are offended by speculation of societal outcome – when we talk about post-industrial economies, distributed personal fabrication, and peer-based economies in general. The fact is that we are talking about an emerging phenomenon. It is about change. Change is the essence of life itself, but it is also scary for most people. We found out that talking about the possibilities – of a transformative economy – is controversial and quickly turns sensible discussion into irrational babble. This is distracting, so to avoid this, we thus accept that we should not talk about religion or politics at the dinner table –about Transformative Economics.With this said, we will stick to simply describing our program, and letting you make most of the conclusions on the societal outcomes.Today we will talk about our program of personal fabrication – a state of art, flexible production facility – that we will house in the workshop that you saw in the last video. In this workshop, we will produce tractors, CEB presses, steam engines, and just about anything else related to the infrastructure of globally-interlinked communities.

As another note of explanation, we keep talking about ‘we will do this’ and ‘we will do that.’ The proper way to interpret that – in order to state clearly how YOU’re benefiting from this work – is to include YOURSELF in the ‘we will do this’. This is because our fundamental goal is to enable YOU or anybody to do the same. How? We are opensourcing the techniques. Then bringing down the cost to the lowest possible, for either DIY production – as well as developing business models that can work within a market economy. We will help people build the necessary infrastructure – first by opensourcing the related tooling – and by providing training materials and hands-on courses. Our basic goal is to train producers. We will also sell parts and kits. I have not mentioned this yet, but our workshop is open for use to our True Fans. That’s one of the ways we’re giving back. So if you’re traveling, you can consider visiting us as part of a productive vacation. We will also be offering master fabricator training – free to Fans, and at a fee to non-supporters. To make the economics work out, the trainees will actually produce real products as part of their training, and these products can be exchanged for value. This is why you should subscribe with the trivial amount of $10/month – to see this happen sooner rather than later. We’re sharing the development risk, and we actually believe that there’s at least 1/10000 of 1% of the world’s population that believes in this enough to become a supporter.

This is a mouthful – we know – and we’re not going to be able to do that by ourselves. One critique we receive is that we’re talking of all types of ‘future’ things. No, this is to be done right now – if you volunteer with us. If we find the people, what you see described below is all to be done NOW, using proven technologies, most of which are already open source to a significant degree.

Back to the topic. Personal Fabrication – flexible workshop. Here is our program, listed in logical steps.

Install a metal-melting furnace with about 300 lb meling capacity per hour.

Cast structural steel frame tubing for LifeTrac.

Cast frame for CEB press.

Cast steam engine blocks. Use RepRap 3D printing in plastic, both to recycle plastics and to create molds for casting of fine parts, such as bushings and hydraulic motors and pumps. “Think of RepRap as a China on your desktop.”

– Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager, Google Inc., 8 April 2008.
Building on this beautiful quote – I say – “Think of RepRap as an open source China on your desktop. “

Brief economic analysis shows that our labor in this is worth about $1000 per person per day – in a basic foundry – in turning scrap metal to useful parts. We are really talking of reducing the cost of the CEB machine, tractor – down to the cost of scrap metal plus labor, plus fuel, which is only about 2 gallons per hour for this particular case above. Our Foundry budget is between $100 and $1000 for the above case.

For structural steel, we may be able to use castings directly – such as frame of LifeTrac. For a steam engine, we would have to use a lathe to bore out the cylinder. The Mutlimachine is an existing open source tooling platform – see video.

The Multimachine is a universal machining tool – which relies on the fact that in any maching operation, either the tool or work piece rotates. The multimachine allows this, and it is very flexible. We are considering an even more simple turning lathe. Combine our rotor mounting that we’ve experienced with the LifeTrac rototiller –

with a concrete bed with bolts –

then add an xy table, tool post, and chuck – and we’re done. The motor is already available as part of LifeTrac infrastructure.

That covers an industrial lathe. 20 hp of motor is enough to turn railcar wheels. We can make our shaft pretty heavy, and 2 1/4” bearings at Surpluscenter – $21 each. 2 of those, some metal, a $70 cross slide, and for $300 you have a heavy duty, 12” lathe. See Bill of Materials on our steam engine page – where the steam engine will be the first application of the lathe.

Now, a similar procedure will be used to fab a production drill press and milling machine, at similar cost. Once again, LifeTrac hydraulic powered. To this, add CNC drive and LinuxCNC as the OS control software.

Next, move on to the torch table. This is a CNC XYZ table for cutting metal with an oxyacetylene torch or a plasma cutter. There is already a DIY plasma cutter on Instructables. On our torch table, progress is still lacking – as we’re still finishing the workshop to house this. The torch table is designed for us to cut all the metal from stock – and in conjunction with casting, it provides robust fabrication capacity.

Now with the above, we’re looking at 20 hour fabrication times for the CEB machine, and 40 hour fabrication times for the tractor kits. This is exciting – optimizing production, opensourcing designs – so that someone could build the same fab infrastructure, download a design, and cast or cut all the same parts. This is distributed manufacturing at its best, and we think it’s just around the corner for everybody – who wants to do this..

Last on the fab front – there is electronics. Take a small, very precise version of the XYZ table, and you can etch circuit boards from copper-coated circuit blanks. (There are many examples at Then use a micro drill press to drill holes for components, and you can fabricate circuits of all sorts. This is relevant to solar turbine controls, steam engine controls, inverters, chargers, wireless bridges, and many other devices.

Also, the micro drill press is used for drilling the itty bitty hole in the Babington burner, which we aim to use with the solar turbine, steam power vehicles, space heating, and the foundry.

Good open source 3D drawing software with a manageable learning curve is still needed – as far as I know. Blender is perhaps the best one for 3D drafting and modeling – but it’s hard to learn. We did our sawmill design with Blender. Here is a sample of the x-axis track done with Blender:

To recap briefly – if we perfect our ability to melt metal efficiently, print casting molds, and cast useful parts, then we have created the capacity of producing about $1k of value per person in one day. We combine that with subsequent computer assisted machine shop, ans well aas circuit fabrication – to produce just about anything that another foundry, master fabricator, assembly plant, electronics fabricator, etc – can produce.

We can thus make anything form plows to cars, engines and pumps, bridges to wireless bridges, and the like. We are pioneering not the concept, but the implementation. Once this is done, open source designs become available to everybody, and such a fab workshop itself can be reproduced at the cost of scrap metal plus labor. Then – any person who wants to do this can engage in effective production – with minimum barriers to entry. We’ll let you make the conclusions on possible applications. Among the crew at Factor e Farm, we call this Casting a New Civilization at the cost of Scrap Metal.

That’s a brief overview of the goals for the next 2 years. Help us make this happen, and give us some useful feedback if this is also important to you. We are looking for advice on all of this.

We’ll be defining a rigorous collaborative development procedure in a future episode. This procedure is geared at creating a meaningful, open source product development effort that builds on the efforts of a large developer pool.


  1. Sam Rose

    Haha! This is kickass. I love the beginning. Yes, people should stop talking about “transformative economics” and start *DOING* transformative economic activities. Problem is that so many people want to perch themselves as “thought leaders”, and this is why there is so much babble: People know that there is a change coming, even happening right now, and there could be a lucrative career in talking, writing, and punditry, for those people who capture the “memes”, and are seen to be the expert.

    However, this unfolding change is *NOT* going to be like the rise of the internet in the 1990’s. It’s not going to be a spectator sport. The talkers will be eclipsed by the doers.

    Thanks to Marcin for having the gumption to help set a new tone, and help remind people that the building blocks for *doing* something are right here in front of all of us. And, that we no longer need to wait around for experts, “thought leaders”,and mass media to tell us how and what we should be doing, and why. Going forward, those who *do* transformation will lead; and there is potentially room for everyone to do so.

  2. Evil Rocks

    Ah, the Bab. I’m working on a furnace right now that (heh) doesn’t take the high-efficiency approach of the Babington, but rather uses a venturi and a shop vacuum to aerosolize waste-oil from a nearby Chinese restaurant and push it into the combustion chamber. I’m working up a propane burner to preheat the combustion chamber (because oil requires oodles and oodles of heat before it’ll kick over into combustion in liquid form).

    I’m doing all this with the goal of eventually building a steam-heat system for the warehouse that houses Watershed, an emerging community of artisans, fabricators and craftspeople.

  3. mb21

    Wow, your videos have greatly improved! I guess that’s a reaction to my comment (as far as I know you might have read it…)

    And yeah, that stuff looks really interesting and promising. I wonder how low you can push the price for this whole equipment (raw material mainly) and how easy it will be to piece together. If everybody would have such a FAB-store next to the local supermarket to just drop by with your design you did at home on your PC… *dream* 🙂

  4. Sam Rose

    Marcin, as we discussed in email: use BRL-CAD for actual CAD drawings. Blender is good for sketches, but BRL-CAD, or other solid geomtery modeling is needed for translation of designs to CAM. Perhaps more development of BRL-CAD is needed, or training for those using it. There is a learning curve for sure, but it is worth learning. Worth the time investment. Also, perhaps if we can build a set of stakeholders, we can raise some funds and get several developers involved in adding drawing capability to BRL-CAD or other solid geo model CAD, like OpenCascade (BRL-CAD developers are very receptive to supporting this type of development).

    Also, it is worth comparing RepRap with there is a consensus among some that fab@home is more robust/usable than RepRap. However, by the same token, RepRap could probably be made to be much better with some development. One of the problems with Fab@home is the software, which only runs on Windows Fab@home seems to be a superior design, so it could be worthwhile to put some time and money towards development of open source, cross platform software to run it. This is something that I could look at developing this year.

    Also, on the software front, progress is being made on

  5. Marcin

    Sam, please describe the Skdb project briefly in layperson terms. It seems that there’s good potential there in terms of collecting a wide range of hardware design components – in such a fashion that they can be turned into meaningful devices.

  6. Elmo

    You should chech out for opensource hardware designs. I’ts new, but there’s already a peristaltic pump and hardware for Reprap, among others.

    And about reprap vs. fab@home: Reprap feels very vibrant, and the fact that it’s strictly opensource and the (many) software is used on all major os’, speaks for itself. One major designed aspect of reprap over others is self-replication which should soon translate to even more widening the price gap, in favor of reprap (price to be a factor of ten lower than the factor-made fab@home).

    One last idea. Do you have connections with hackerspaces or hacklabs (or “fablabs”)? You should at least find the one closest to you and talk about co-operation. Why not list yourself as one on the wiki, I’m sure it would draw attention from likeminded people!

    Elmo, great comment. Yes, we’re all for replicability. On your suggestion – since you’re a True Fan – go right ahead and post us in one of the nearest hacklabs. We are in Kansas City area, Missouri.

    Right now we’re busy publishing the Distillations, so we have not yet gotten far with the marketing stage – regarding marketing to other audiences outside of the inbred Globalvillages/Openfarmtech/Global Swadeshi + etc crowd. We appreciate any marketing help – and we are keeping track of possible audiences at and the Category of the same name.

  7. Nathan

    For example, a well thought out plan could save a hundred years of human toil.

    Yes, I too would like to know of this SKDB business Bryan tells me so much about!

    mb21 said:

    a FAB-store next to the local supermarket to just drop by with your design you did at home on your PC


    TechShop, a startup commercial fablab (and others like it?), may one day fabricate designs for a fee. I’d suggest having a chat with Jim Newton about that idea. Then strongly suggest to him with strong argument to support Factor e.


    Nathan, good suggestions. Please put us ( in contact with Jim Newton. Do you have his contact info? That’s an explicit opportunity that id definitely worth pursuing at present, not only for support, but for clarification of development needs regarding equipment performance, applications, and specifications. – Marcin

  8. Benni Bärmann

    Did you know FabLab from MIT? Maybe there is some kind of cooperation possible?

    Thanks for all your passion.

    @sam: please dont build a wall between “makers” and “thinkers”. we need them both and factor-e-farm does both, which makes it an interesting project.

    Benni, yes, we have some loose contacts. We are pushing the concept of the Open Source Fab Lab, which would cost about one tenth or less of the ~$100k price of the closed source counterpart, while including the metal casting as well in the open source version. If you have any particular pathways to collaboration in mind, please pursue them on our behalf – such that you also become involved in the actual development paths. This is open to everyone in terms of collaboration, and we encourage that – especially because that’s what will make the project succeed at integrating the availabe, but disconnected, components. – Marcin

  9. Nick

    For PC users looking for a 3d CAD that has full drawing capability, Alibre offers an unlimited trial of their design express, which is missing some of the features of the full version, but still seems to allow all the necessary stuff. Perhaps a short term fix for some.

    Sam how far off do you think it would be before BRL-CAD has the capability of doing drawings? 3d modeling is great and really an interactive way to design, but without the ability to project drawings it seems like a lot of time was sunk into design without much return.

  10. Marcin

    Sam and Nick, it is a good idea to be proactive as the project unfolds, and consider paying for open source development of the necessary, cross-platform solution – after we evalutate all options fully and then define our needs clearly. Please put the evaluation and needs info at

  11. […] Forwarded from Marcin Jakubowski. […]

  12. Justen Robertson

    This is amazing to see in action. I remember thinking almost a decade and a half ago when I was a freshman in high school and just getting into open-source and the hack mentality that someday these principles would be applied outside the software realm. Seeing the practical solutions presented is like living in a fantasy. I hope in the near future I will be able to sponsor or else somehow contribute to this project, or one like it. I have one criticism: in your video, the constant zooming in and out on the images was distracting and actually somewhat nauseating. I know that video production value is not a big part of your project, but some simple panning from point to point on the flow chart along with cross-fades to your example images would be easier on the eye, make more logical sense, and be more supportive of the dialog than the random wandering of the pov that you have here. I wish you the best of luck and will be keeping up with this.

  13. […] may have heard us talk about recasting civilization from scrap metal. Metal is the basis of advanced civilization. Scrap metal in refined form can be mined in abundance […]

  14. James

    I hear Both Fab@Home and RepRap mentioned, but I encourage all those posting to consider CubeSpawn in their evaluation, where the first two machines are ground breaking in their capabilities, neither was intended to provide much actual automation to a complete manufacturing approach. If you intend to leverage limited human effort, a machine designed expressly for automation, and designed with multiple operations in mind is a better fit with the SKDB concept.

    SKDB combines the concept of software versioning with repository management to hardware, so you get the advantages of automation applied to tracking revisions to a specific part in an assembly and an automatic way to resolve that the latest part version has (6) 1/4 through-holes in it (with the BOM changes that implies) where the old one had (2) 3/8 holes and (4) 1/4 holes – this provides an automatic mechanism that allows for incremental improvements in parts and BOMs to simplify designs and lower part counts.

    It’s a practical expression of the comment attributed to Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” if you are unfamiliar with the CubeSpawn look here: and SKDB is here:

  15. Daniel

    Regarding 3d cad software; the absolute best in my opinion (I’m a 3d animator by trade) is Rhino 3D. It’s very powerful, precise, and surprisingly easy to learn and use.

    Only problem is, not open source. The fully featured student version is €195.