von Hippel and user centered innovation

When researching the distributed user-centered innovation process, I came across this lecture by Eric von Hippel (see below). Also, in my presentations I’ve quoted Eric von Hippel a couple of times. He researches how innovation driven is often driven by users and what the effects of that are. It is very applicable to what the emerging FabLabs and RepRap project are doing.

When extending the open source concept from software to ‘hardware’ (as in actual, physical things) von Hippel says the following:
“… In the case of open source software this is possible because innovations can be “produced” and distributed essentially for free on the web, software being an information rather than a physical product. In the case of the sports innovation example, however, equipment (but not technique) innovations are embodied in physical product that, to achieve general diffusion, must be produced and physically distributed. These activities generally involve significant economies of scale. The result, in the case of the windsurfing example and for physical products generally, is that, while innovation prototyping and field trial and refinement can be carried out by users and within user innovation networks, production and diffusion of the physical products incorporating those innovations will usually be carried out by manufacturing firms. …”
Source: von Hippel, E., Horizontal innovation networks – by and for users, Industrial and Corporate Change Advance Access, published May 16, 2007, p. 22

In 2007, the RepRap project was not well known (an still isn’t know to the average person) and had not produced many visible results. But right now (Q3 2008), there are more and more people printing 3D designs to actual physical objects and they are blogged more and more often adding to the publicity for RepRap. Also, thingiverse.com (a project initiated by RepRapper Zach Smith) allows 3D printable designs to be shared with the world, or downloaded for printing. Von Hippel acknowledges the trend of user being in control of designing and innovating objects and RP (3D print) service bureaus to offer manufacturing as a service. Along with that, RepRap now has the potential to really to reach every home that wants a 3D printer

“In a sense, hardware is becoming much more like software, up to the point where you actually fabricate an object,” von Hippel says. “That’s why you’re starting to see open source techniques in hardware. Design is largely going to shift out from manufacturers to the communities.”
Source: Eric von Hippel, MIT

In his talk I noticed a strong resemblance with C.K. Prahalad’s when it comes to turning manufacturing on it’s head. C.K. Prahalad, in his book “The new age of innovation”, argues that companies should service users so that they can innovate the products. In this co-creation process, where much of the innovation comes from the customer, it becomes possible to tailor products to the needs of a market segments as small as a single individual, while utilizing a global pool of service providers.

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1 Response

  1. I read the Guardian article about “building an open source world”, on which I have some comments about this.
    In the article this remark is made:
    “Open source hardware doesn’t have the same power as software if only because the final product, as opposed