Open-source “MMO for makers” aims to crowdsource manufacturing design

Software developers have long been able to collaborate through community sites like those based on Git and Apache Allura to contribute code, synchronize software builds, and track issues around a project. And games like Minecraft allow people to collaborate in building virtual environments with embedded behaviors—including “mods” that leverage the games’ simulation capabilities to interact with other objects in a virtual world. Now, an open-source Web platform originally designed with Defense Department funding could let communities collaborate to build more tangible things—like tanks, planes, and consumer appliances.

Called the Digital Manufacturing Commons (DMC), and sponsored by a collection of universities and major manufacturers through UI Labs’ Digital Manufacturing Design and Innovation (DMDI) Institute, the platform puts design, modeling, and simulation tools in reach of collaborative teams of all sizes, and allows designs to be “compiled” and tested like software projects before being prototyped in the physical world. If it gets traction, the software could open up the rapidly growing “digital manufacturing” space to allow even the smallest maker teams to partner with the largest manufacturing and distribution companies, allowing gadget-makers to scale into global players.

At this week’s Big M Manufacturing Conference in Detroit, GE and UI Labs—a research center funded by a public-private partnership to help advance manufacturing technology—announced the roll-out of the Digital Manufacturing Commons, which GE Research Global Technology Director for Manufacturing and Materials Technologies Christine M. Furstoss said is “like massive multi-player online (MMO) gaming meeting the real world of manufacturing.”

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