Virtual Toloka: Distributed Manufacturing[edit | edit source]

Although there is no generally accepted definition, distributed manufacturing can be understood as a decentralized approach to production that enables smaller-scale manufacturing much closer to the end-user, often leveraging recent breakthroughs in production and infrastructure technologies - such as repositories for (open source) designs, and easily accessible (digitally controlled) machines in makerspaces. Products are designed, produced, and distributed through a network of local or regional manufacturers, rather than being manufactured at a centralized location and shipped to customers. Distributed manufacturing thus has the potential to reduce costs, lead times, and environmental impact while enabling the production of customized or small-batch products tailored to local needs and preferences.[1]

The best-known example of globally distributed manufacturing remains the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Covid-19 pandemic, when traditional globalized supply chains faced challenges in meeting the increased demands for PPE. Makerspaces, community workshops, and even individual makers with laser cutters and 3D printers stepped up to respond to the urgent demands for essential items. Open-source designs for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) were sourced locally and produced on-demand, playing a crucial role in meeting the increased needs of frontline workers and healthcare facilities: Face Shields were made locally to protect healthcare workers all around the world.

Distributed manufacturing is now emerging as a compelling solution to address the interconnected constant crises of the anthropocene, such as climate change, resource depletion, land degradation, water shortage, food insecurity, and socio-economic inequality. The Tolocar project adopts a similar decentralized approach to address supply chain gaps, and support innovation and production in Ukraine. By sourcing adaptable designs, connecting Ukrainian makers to international networks such as GIG the Global Innovation Gathering, and establishing both mobile and stationary makerspaces, the project helps to create a more resilient and versatile production ecosystem.

Large industrial organizations with highly efficient global supply chains often struggle to envision and implement distributed manufacturing, while small-scale operations face challenges due to the availability and cost of technology as well as the need to trust open source machines. The Tolocar project serves as a successful pilot, showcasing the effectiveness of local initiatives, mobile makerspaces, and open-source technologies in facilitating knowledge and technology transfer, thus enhancing production capabilities where they are needed most. Especially in Ukraine, with its strained or interrupted supply chains as a result of the war, distributed manufacturing approaches can fill gaps in supply chains and production capabilities, provide quick and flexible responses to local needs, and support the establishment of a more resilient post-war innovation and production ecosystem.

Ukrainian makers are key actors in the digital and innovation ecosystem and face immense challenges due to the devastating impact of war. With makerspaces destroyed, internal displacement of makers, travel restrictions, and limited networking opportunities, the Tolocar project expands the scope for action of Ukrainian makers. The project not only works with makers on site, but also provides connection points to virtual maker networks on a national, regional, and global level. Existing hubs and networks can thus more effectively engage in the improvement of the humanitarian situation, civil protection, and the reconstruction of Ukrainian society and its innovation ecosystem.

While the physical production and building primarily occur on-site in Ukraine, the sourcing and support activities predominantly take place online. The project actively involves makers worldwide through a support project by GIG the Global Innovation Gathering, and the Tolocar Maker Academy. The enthusiasm shown by the global maker community to contribute remotely in support of Ukraine highlights the potential for virtual collaboration in advancing distributed manufacturing.

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Authors Victoria Wenzelmann
License CC-BY-SA-4.0
Language English (en)
Translations Chinese, Russian, Russian
Related 6 subpages, 28 pages link here
Impact page views
Created November 9, 2023 by Victoria Wenzelmann
Modified January 23, 2024 by Victoria Wenzelmann
  1. Lowe, A. S., Sipos, R., Wenzelmann, V., & Schmidt Fonseca, F. (2023). A Framework for Scaling Distributed Manufacturing in the Global South (v1_Manufacturing Change). Zenodo.
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