Ken: Good day, and welcome to episode 219 of our Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. Today, I am pleased to host Andrew Lamb, Chair of the Internet of Production Alliance, dedicated to revolutionizing manufacturing through decentralized and distributed networks. Andrew is on a mission to enhance traditional mass production with the concept of production by the masses. For over two decades, he's focused on international development aid and humanitarian disaster relief, venturing into areas that globalized supply chains find challenging to access. His work has revolved around localizing solutions by harnessing the power of 3D printing, digital fabrication, maker spaces, and conventional manufacturing techniques. These innovations have produced critical humanitarian aid items in response to conflicts, natural calamities, and ongoing crises. Andrew is at the forefront of building the essential infrastructure and initiating systemic changes necessary to facilitate distributed manufacturing. His multifaceted role encompasses consulting with and advocating for governments and donors, influencing the global maker movement, collaborating with national manufacturing and engineering organizations, and setting industry standards, codes, best practices, and guidelines. Andrew contributes to multiple foundations, including the Appropedia Foundation, and presides over two companies: Massive Small Manufacturing in the United Kingdom and Distributed Manufacturing in Kenya. These enterprises reflect his dedication to reshaping manufacturing landscapes globally and locally. Andrew earned a Master of Engineering from the University of Cambridge. Andrew, welcome to our Digital Thread podcast today.
Andrew: Thank you so much; it's a real pleasure. Honestly, thank you for these podcasts as well. I'm very grateful for the insights you bring.
Ken: I appreciate that. Look, we've taken as of the last year or two to talk about our focus as Momenta moving from digital industry to industrial impact. Many Industry 5.0 initiatives had us thinking about the outcomes and the impact. When I started to understand- and I think it was the EU Commission, the gentleman who leads Industry 5.0 there who referred me to you, I realized the value of impact in the sense of how you're creating that, and so I've been long since waiting to have this conversation with you. You'll be a great addition to the lineups of people we've had. We call this the Digital Thread podcast, so what would you consider your digital thread?
Andrew: It's about open, distributed, or decentralized systems that empower everyone. I was born in 1982, so I've seen the way things- I experienced the way things were before the internet and then after the internet. I found the internet quite inspiring because it's open, enabled, distributed, and decentralized systems to emerge. That sense of transformational empowerment of empowering everyone is the promise of open distributed systems.
Ken: I like that analogy. What's happened in the digital space you're looking to recreate in the physical space of manufacturing? Certainly, that's a great mandate to have. After graduating from Cambridge, I noted that one of your early defining roles was CEO of Engineers Without Borders. I hadn't heard of the organization before the conversation with you. I'm interested. What is the organization and your focus?
Andrew: It's a wonderful organization. It changed my life and the lives of many thousands of engineers, but also people in developing countries all over the world. It started as a student club. I was struggling with my engineering degree; I was having difficulty with all of the maths and not much application. The millennium development goals were very much in the zeitgeist at the time. There was a student club called Engineers Without Borders that wanted to share some of the skills that we were learning in lecture halls, to bring water and energy and agriculture, food and all sorts, to bring those sorts of technologies, to bring access to that technology to people living in poverty. It started as an idea like Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières, where you share the skills and bring access to technologies. But over time, it became very much about the engineers themselves. The universities train us to be engineers, but there was a sense in which the world was not linear. The world was not- things didn't always go to plan, so we needed to be not just engineers, but we had to become engineers without borders to deal with the complexity we experience in the world. They started getting involved in engineering education, so we did a lot of work around engineering education reform. Engineers Without Borders is working hard to change the definition of what it means to be an engineer, looking at concepts of global responsibility so that any new technology, any new infrastructure, or building or car that is built is responding to the challenges that we're facing on this small planet. For me, the important moment with Engineers Without Borders was looking at the question of scale. We know how to solve the world's problems: access to water, growing food, and renewable energy. It's a question of how you reach scale, and we came up with this idea of decentralized networks of appropriate technologies that local people can maintain, and that led to the concept of massive, small change. Rather than doing big infrastructure projects like building a power station, we would try to build networks of renewable energy supplies and microgrids that people could maintain and operate. That's when I got into the difference that that sort of systems approach could make in people's lives.
Ken: The analogy, of course, Doctors Without Borders, typically would imply geographic borders, right? I love that you took this up to talk about the conceptual borders that our engineering profession typically fits within large infrastructure projects traditionally done by a top-down hierarchical engineering organization or construction. So, it's very interesting how you approach this overall. I know you've contributed your leadership to several humanitarian organizations: UNESCO, World Bank Group, and RedR in the UK. You're also focused on engineering-related endeavors in each of these cases, so truly applying engineering skills into the geographic border, if you will, opportunities. What attracted you to this intersection of humanitarian goals and manufacturing skills?
Andrew: I'm someone who's motivated by anger. I'm not motivated by love. Like, I'm very much a person that's- I want to solve problems. I find it difficult not to solve a problem. If I ever encounter these problems, I feel motivated or angry about it and want to do something about it. There's a lot to be angry about, about the inequalities that we have on this earth. The incredible inequalities that we have, even in our towns, wherever we may be, let alone across the continents. But for me, there was a really obvious thing that I felt like the international development and aid communities had forgotten. How is a country supposed to develop if it doesn't have engineers? What we've seen in Asia is an enormous investment in the 60s, 70s, and 80s in engineering, manufacturing, and education, and we're seeing the fruits of that investment now. But in many countries, technical and engineering, education, and manufacturing skills are left behind in favor of other programs. That has increased many countries' dependency on aid because they cannot make things themselves. It's trying to solve the problem of poverty, of resilience to disasters. Now, the humanitarian system has a paradigm where we are exacerbating problems. If there is a major crisis or disaster, we often import supplies and give them away for free, which depresses the local markets. I've been in factories that were not destroyed necessarily by a hurricane but were destroyed by the aid response by giving away free stuff that was donated internationally, rather than buying locally made things, and lost business because of the aid response. In some ways, I was angry about how the aid sector can have unintended consequences. The thing about manufacturing is that manufacturing is changing with a business model, and that's why I've chosen to focus on the manufacturing sector at this point in my life.
Ken: It sounds like a good lead into the Internet of Production you founded in 2019. What is the origin story of this organization? What is its focus?
Andrew: It's in digital fabrication digital manufacturing, and the archetype is the 3D printer. For someone in the humanitarian sector or aid sector, as I was, I came across it because of the Maker Movement to make spaces, people with 3D printers, and people able to make things. Honestly, if you're an aid worker in a remote part of the Himalayas in Nepal, as I was after the 2015 earthquakes, it is incredibly difficult to get a spare part. But if you could make your own and then use that 3D printer to make the next thing- a medical device perhaps, and then the next thing, perhaps something to connect water pipes together, you can use digital fabrication to embrace this economy of scope approach. But those remote communities don't need economies of scale; they don't need mass production. They need many different things, ideally available on demand, and that's hard with a globalized supply chain. We got into transforming supply chains- and Field Ready, the organization I was with, co-founded the Internet of Production, which was all about trying to create networks of local manufacturers and makers to fulfill large orders because of this question of scale. Again, the scale of the problem was so big that 3D printing one medical device at a time would only get you a little. Now, it could save a life, that 3D print- I know that we've done 3D prints that have saved lives, but how does it scale? The question when the Internet of Production emerged- where you could create networks of local manufacturers in the same way and share hardware designs in the same way that the Internet shares knowledge, information, and content and can enable people to produce their knowledge and information and content and share that with the world, we were going to try and do the same. But we realized that the infrastructures for distributed, decentralized manufacturing didn't exist. The infrastructures we have in the manufacturing sector have been defined. The way we work in the manufacturing sector has been defined by the first industrial revolution and mass production, and that has brought enormous benefits and enormous quality of life and being able to create incredibly complex products very, very cheaply. But it doesn't get everywhere. The effect is that it's making wealthy people wealthier and leaving more and more people behind, so if we can decentralize and distribute manufacturing through the internet of production with open infrastructures, then it'll empower everyone to be able to realize their recoveries from disaster but also to determine their development and start their businesses and livelihoods and be less dependent on aid.
Ken: Do you have some examples of notable wins that the Internet of Production has had?
Andrew: Sure, they're not necessarily the winds of the Internet of Production as such, in the sense that an alliance of organizations is currently creating the Internet of Production, so the wins of our members using the ideas and the infrastructures of the Internet of Production. Some examples are from companies like Kijenzi, a Kenyan company that uses 3D printers. It's like a 3D printer farm to manufacture either one product at a time for local health centers or tens or hundreds of thousands for automotive companies. This is on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. You could also consider adopting some of the data standards we've created. We had a data standard that we nicknamed Open Know-How. You might have heard of Open Data or Open Knowledge, but Open Know-How was trying to embrace the challenge that know-how is hard to share on the internet. It's often in the form of videos, so you might see YouTube videos about how to make something, how to fix something, how to repair something, or you'd see these TV shows that are all about DIY or even making food or whatever- the cooking shows. Know-how is hard to share digitally, except with video, so the purpose of the Open Know-How standard was to make it easier to discover know-how existed, well-documented designs, or hardware, whether proprietary or open-source hardware. Several platforms have adopted this data standard because it helps not to reinvent the wheel and not spend all that time redesigning something already existing. We also have a map of the machines. You can go to map.internetofproduction.org, and we're building a map of the world's machines. It's an ambitious goal, but it highlights to the world what manufacturing capabilities exist even in places we don't expect. But the biggest win was the pandemic response. We saw millions and millions and millions of items of PPE being made in maker spaces, in Fab Labs, by people in their own homes, and provided to local markets. This morning, I visited the Fab Lab fabrication laboratory in Kigali. I'm currently in Rwanda. The Fab Lab here played a crucial role in producing 2 million face shields under contract with the Rwandan government and various supermarkets. This initiative was particularly vital as Rwanda found itself at the bottom of the hierarchy when it came to acquiring PPE during the pandemic response. However, distributed manufacturing stepped in. It's challenging to quantify the number of lives this intervention may have saved, but it is indeed extraordinary. The pandemic response highlighted the fragility of supply chains and emphasized the necessity for increased resilience and more locally distributed manufacturing. Resilience is achieved through networks, and that is precisely what we're working to build.
Ken: It's interesting as you were talking about the historical manufacturing industrialization, originally around sources of propulsion or energy. Rivers, per se, cotton mills, and such. Then, around where there was supply, think mines, metallurgy, etc. Of course, demand, but demand has always been the one that's been the most flexible in that, given that we've had global supply chains pulling from Asia to send to North America for generations. But the piece that was missing in all of that- soon, we could decentralize energy. Well, and we've done that. Ultimately, that has already happened: decentralize the supply. In many of these cases, especially with circular economy approaches, the steady supply of metal or materials for 3D printing is generally available pretty much anywhere. Demand, you can sell decentralized. As you said, skills or know-how were the one thing we still need to do a better job of decentralizing. Ironically, that's what the internet has, at least from a digital infrastructure perspective, provided the infrastructure to do, so I can see how all of this is coming together. I liked the fact you keep iterating about resilience. Clearly, the pandemic would have shown the pecking order of demand in terms of who gets what. I remember some of the battles over PPE during that time, even between "modern Western European countries," right?
Andrew: Remember that to win those battles, we as populations paid way over the odds of what would normally have been. Sure, we could afford it. We've got enormous national debts in the West, but we can afford to incur those debts, perhaps. But we are going to suffer for it, as well. We could learn from countries that haven't benefited from globalization to the same extent about how they responded to the manufacture of PPE to inform how we might respond to future pandemics and supply chain failures, making things locally. I think that's where some ideas and conversations in the manufacturing sector are going these days.
Ken: In some sense, we often talk about this reshoring trend. Now you hear it quite a bit, especially relative to North America and Europe. In some sense, it is an outcome of the pandemic and severed supply chains. It's also very geopolitical, as you can imagine, too. But it's interesting that within that is a sourcing strategy we often hear about within this reshoring initiative, and that's about for X by X. You typically hear it as in, "I'm a manufacturer, so for what I'm going to make for China, I'm going to make in China," effectively. That's a guideline about where you should be effectively sourcing your materials and products from. To what degree do you see Africa benefit from the reshoring trend and, more importantly, this 'for Africa, by Africa' approach?
Andrew: The impact of the Internet of Production will be biggest where supply chains are at their worst. Globalized supply chains are at their worst in places with small populations in remote areas or places with low levels of income or resource-constrained places. Globalized supply chains serve London, my hometown, very well. It doesn't necessarily serve these islands off the coast of Scotland very well, and there are certainly rural communities across Africa and small populations with low purchasing power that need to be served better. I think Africa is going to benefit because it has incredible latent talent, and what's interesting is that that talent is mobilizing itself. You see these young African entrepreneurs teaching themselves manufacturing and making skills, digital design skills, hardware and product design, and learning about business models. It fits into a narrative of 'Made in Uganda,' 'Made in South Africa.' There is a political moment taking place where that's beginning to converge. There are still institutional systems, not least helping these people with things like cash flow so they can invest in machines, just practical things like that. There are still institutional barriers that need to be overcome so that it can unleash that talent. One of the things I'm passionate about- I'm involved in the project called The Make Project, which is about African and European makerspace ecosystems. Some amazing, innovative products are being manufactured in Africa, which should be on the European market. But rather than shipping them, we need to connect the designers in African countries with the makers and the manufacturers in Europe to share the designs digitally, but also to make sure that the original designers get paid for their work and labor. The Internet of Production will enable that. There's an opportunity for Africa to leapfrog the industrial revolution we've had in the West. But let's take a moment to recognize that manufacturing, in general, depends on natural resources that exist in Africa. There's an opportunity here for African countries to mobilize their young people to use their resources to transform their economies and the opportunities for people across the continent.
Ken: Thank you for the reminder about the natural resources; we were contrasting earlier about the supply and availability of raw materials. Africa certainly would rate very high, and the West has taken advantage of that for centuries. Let's shift gears a bit and talk about the Smart Manufacturing Initiative. Specifically, over the past decade or so, you've had Industry 4.0, now Industry 5.0 digital thread in the US, a great little initiative called Shoestring Digital Manufacturing in the UK that I like. How would you compare and contrast your efforts to these? Where's the Venn of how all of these can work together?
Andrew: The Internet of Production idea is- I would conceptualize it as horizontal; it can be for the individual maker or the biggest industrial manufacturers. It's about not necessarily scaling up production but scaling out production, so massive numbers of small manufacturers working across a network. In that sense, it's horizontal. It might have an identical product being made by 200 different organizations on the same contract because those manufacturers are local to the demand. You could have this sort of horizontal-type approach, and I would characterize the different manufacturing initiatives as more vertical. Certainly, I've seen a lot of vertical integration of supply chains since the pandemic. Still, there's the idea that supply chains are, at the moment, just that- linear, vertical supply chains, and what we are trying to create is supply networks and some ways of manufacturing that are more resilient in the form of supply networks. Industry 4.0, I think, to contrast with that, ultimately, was about better matching supply to demand. There's a lot in the concept of Industry 4.0 around digital systems and more automated systems that allow you to customize to the individual customer.
That is still seen as something you would do through a single platform, for a single factory, or through a single toolchain, whereas I'm thinking more into the production about spending that across that single toolchain. With Industry 5.0, the contribution to society and welfare would certainly be there because, essentially, it shares the love. The network- this would be bringing manufacturing contracts to small manufacturers, local to where the demand is, rather than having to compete with imports. That isn't just a social motivation; this is about making money as well. This is about being properly compensated for your labor. But you have a slightly more level playing field because the product cost isn't the shelf price for many people, particularly in more distributed or remote communities. The bulk of the cost of the product is the supply chain cost. If you're buying a pen or a piece of stationery or something, and it's being shipped over from India to here in Rwanda, then most of the cost of that product is in the supply chain, which creates an enormous opportunity to be able to compete if you can manufacture locally. With digital thread, it's about these- that's about vertical networks and supply chains. I've been watching the Shoestring Project with great interest, not only because it's one of the inclinations at the University of Cambridge but because it's about helping smaller manufacturers embrace digital technologies in the manufacturing sector, just as the large manufacturers have. We are quite aligned with that. But in that case, much of that has been focused on upskilling manufacturers in wealthier countries and not necessarily integrating them through networks. I hope the Internet of Production can add something to these manufacturing niches.
Ken: There's a good Venn between a lot of those. On Shoestring, interesting enough, I thought there was a leapfrog effect that Africa, certainly with the telecom revolution, experienced once already. The ability to go over legacy 2G or 3G networks and go right for some of the longer-range high-speed ones, mainly because they didn't have the legacy to worry about, in some sense. The challenge with Shoestring is that they're dealing with largely manual production manufacturers, at least in their home market of the UK, who have the same amount of legacy. In some sense, there might be another leapfrog ability for Africa, particularly around the digitization- as you say, 3D printing shared design files know-how, and things like that. But I do like Shoestring in the sense that it is distributing know-how to your point. It's the battle of the long tail.
Andrew: That's important. As you know, manufacturing any product takes an enormous amount to do well, and doing it in a way that makes a profit takes a lot of effort and specialized skills. I think those sorts of projects, like the Shoestring Project, need to happen worldwide. I hope our alliance can find ways to mobilize resources for those sorts of initiatives in the future.
Ken: I fully agree. I know you're the chair of Fablab Winam, a vibrant maker space in Kisumu, Kenya. Can you tell us a bit about that, the impact that you're having there?
Andrew: Fabrication laboratories were a type of maker space that emerged from MIT and Fablab Winam- it's the local name for the town of Kisumu. What's interesting about Fablab Winam is that it's a developing country maker space that isn't in a capital city, and many maker spaces you'll see are in big cities in developing countries. But Kisumu is not a big city; it's a medium-sized city. It may be the third largest in Kenya, third, or fourth. What made it interesting to me is a place where we can learn about how we can bring maker spaces and manufacturing capabilities to new kinds of markets around the world. The impact of it is on skills and livelihoods. Whether they were making things during the pandemic or making PPE for local health facilities, we're seeing young women who perhaps haven't had the chance to finish school now go into the space and make things and learn new skills. It's a remedial education service. But we're also seeing engineering students taking formal education courses coming into the Fab Lab because they're not allowed to touch the machines in their formal education courses. They're not allowed to use the machines for demonstrations. If you're being cynical, they are to show visiting guests. They're not necessarily to be used by the students to be creative and to prototype things. One thing that attracted me to Fablab Winam was the founder of it, Martin Oloo, and he's become a good friend. He's here with me in Kigali on the trip. He's not a maker, necessarily. He's not an engineer. His background is in social work, so he created Fablab Winam as a new way to tackle some of the problems he discovered in Kisumu while working with the government. That's just fascinating, and it shows the remit of the impacts of Fablab Winam.
Ken: What a great story and what a great learning laboratory, especially given the fact that, as you say, it's not in a major city there. How does somebody learn more about the Internet of Production and some of your other efforts?
Andrew: I think the Internet of Production website. It's internetofproduction.org. It's the place to go to learn about the alliance. We're about to launch a rebrand; that may have happened by the time the podcast comes out, and we're going to get some more stories of the thinking that goes into it out into the world. But the best way is to speak to some of our alliance members or speak to us, and we can introduce you to some of the alliance members. We have a pretty good awareness of what's happening in many different parts of the world, so if you're looking for someone interested in doing Internet of Production-type things in your local area, we can help find someone. Do reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm also interested in engaging people in the alliance, so please get in touch and see if you're interested in joining.
Ken: Perfect, that's excellent. I always like to close this up by asking where you find your inspiration.
Andrew: There's a community I'm part of called The Global Innovation Gathering, and that brings together innovators from around the world who are quite amazing, extraordinary people. It's a community that embraces complexity and emergence, so it embraces failure, learning from it, and collaboration. That has been quite hard to find in my world over the last 20 years in the aid sector, where everything has been about projects and project management and is very linear- we have project management frameworks like the theory of change or logical framework that we use. I remember writing budgets where I had to get a quote for a flight three years in advance because it was a three-year project. It was madness. Honestly, I don't mean to suck up, I enjoy your podcast. There have been some amazing people here, and I always learn things from them. I'm interested in the complexity of cybernetics, so I'm involved in groups like the UK Cybernetic Society and follow the work of David Snowden and the Cynefin company. There's a series of books by an author, Matthew Crawford, in the US. I think in the US, it's called "Shop Class as Soulcraft." In the UK, the book is called "The Case for Working with Your Hands." The subtitle is "Why Office Work is Bad for You." It's a very thoughtful insight into the value of making things. Honestly, the biggest inspiration is the people I meet, their struggles, and their ability to innovate even in the most constrained and difficult circumstances.
Ken: That's wonderful. You certainly impacted so many people already, and I can see how you're scaling up to be even more. Andrew, thank you for sharing this time and these wonderful insights with us today.
Andrew: Thanks for this opportunity. It is a great opportunity, and it's an important moment for the Internet of Production because we are engaging with mainstream manufacturing more and more, and we want to make sure that what we do empowers everyone. You don't have to be a maker space in Kisumu to benefit from the Internet of Production. I hope your listeners will find value in what we're doing. Thank you.
Ken: Thank you very much. This has been Andrew Lamb, Chair of the Internet of Production Alliance, and, if I may say, a gentleman who truly represents industrial impact and the manufacturing impact we can all have. Thank you for listening, and please join us for the next episode of our Digital Thread podcast series. We wish you a momentous day. You've been listening to the Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. We hope you've enjoyed the discussion, and as always, we welcome your comments and suggestions. Please check our website at momenta.one for archived versions of podcasts, as well as resources to help with your digital industry journey. Thank you for listening.
Connect with Andrew Lamb
Andrew is inspired by:
My inspiration? It's this incredible community I'm part of: The Global Innovation Gathering. These innovators worldwide embrace complexity, failure, and collaboration, starkly contrasting my 20 years in the aid sector, which focused on linear projects. Momenta's podcast has been a game-changer, exposing me to amazing minds and fresh perspectives. Cybernetics intrigues me, and I'm actively engaged with groups like the UK Cybernetic Society.
"Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew B. Crawford is a must-read. This incredible book will make you rethink the significance of hands-on work and its profound impact on personal fulfillment and the well-being of society as a whole. Drawing from his own experiences as a motorcycle mechanic, Crawford eloquently argues for the inherent value, independence, and sense of purpose that skilled manual labor brings. However, what truly inspires me are the individuals I encounter along the way—their unwavering determination and innovative spirit in the face of adversity. It is their stories and resilience that fuel my passion and keep me motivated.
About The Internet of Production Alliance: Our alliance is dedicated to transforming the manufacturing landscape through innovative connectivity. We envisions a future where manufacturing is decentralized, empowering local communities and fostering resilience in the face of global challenges. By embracing cutting-edge technologies and traditional manufacturing methods, the alliance seeks to revolutionize the industry, providing solutions for conflicts, natural disasters, and ongoing crises. Through advocacy, collaboration, and the establishment of industry standards, the Internet of Production Alliance is at the forefront of facilitating distributed manufacturing and shaping a more sustainable future for the manufacturing sector. Get in touch!