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Stefano Micelli: let the makers start a cultural revolution in Italy

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When you try to understand how a movement like the makers started it is not possible to talk only in geographical or local terms.  It is true that FabLab and 3D printers come from the United States but Arduino – for example – was created in Italy. We tried to go beyond appearances by talking to Stefano Micelli, professor of International Management at the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice and a member of the scientific committee at the Maker Faire Rome.

Micelli is the author of the book Futuro Artigiano, (Future Craftsman) published by Marisilio Editori which looks at the transformation of the Italian industrial system. An article published on 29 May in CheFuturo!, entitled “The third industrial revolution needs a new generation of craftsmen” provoked intense discussion on the Web. We asked him to give us a snapshot of digital manufacturing in our country.Do the makers have a future in Italy?

“My role in the Maker Faire Rome is to find a strong connection between the Italian and American experience. It is obvious that we are not limiting ourselves to tackling a problem of location: that comes down to translating some jargon or finding the best way to communicate with American makers. The real challenge is another. The gamble is to show that the Italian industrial model can contribute to enriching the international arena. It’s an ambitious but feasible challenge. Italy constructed an industrial model similar to the one presented by prominent figures from the Makers movement long before many other countries”.

What model are you referring to?

“Often our industry is not the result of research and development funded by large companies but from a network based on the culture of know-how. The transformation of a craftsman into an entrepreneur offering their services on an international market. We can give our side of the story because we already know it and have tried and tested it. Some of our excellence is in machine tools and robots. Our competitive edge today is still linked to our ability to adapt and customise. Our innovation model has a lot to do with continuous experimentation and dialogue with end-users”.

Can you put tradition and technological innovation together? Can you give us some concrete examples?

“In many sectors of Made in Italy we have introduced technological innovations without doing too much advertising. Digital has already become part of our processes without too much fanfare.  Recently a famous wine producer Angelo Gaja told a university lecture hall how he had revolutionised his vineyards by using sensors and TV cameras. It is not true that wine producers have been standing idly by. They knew how to put instruments and technology to use in a great cultural project. The television camera per se does not represent a fundamental value. You need tradition behind it. Fortunately in Italy we have many people like Angelo Gaja”.

Despite everything Italian makers don’t have a lot of contact with Universities.

“That’s true, here there’s a problem of dialogue between universities and the world of research. In recent years we have debated the so-called reforms at great length, but we were unable to change the relationship between companies and universities. It is true that in the United States the first FabLab started in a university but the fact remains that there is a maker culture that is independent to the Academy and is making it on its own.  In Italy there are no strong relationships with universities but there is a strong link with cultural institutions. Many FabLabs started in Italy have a lot to do with cultural institutions whether they are museums or libraries. They are not abandoned realities”.

Ultimately what is missing in Italy for the makers?

“It has nothing to do with changing technology.  The link between the digital world and manufacturing already exists. What is missing however is the culture of telling, sharing and altruism. These are the elements that represent the original characteristics of manufactured goods but we were obsessed with professional secrets for a long time. Today I think it is up to the new generation to contaminate this industrial network and set off the virus of change. To dedicate time to others who know less. It must be an inclusive mechanism which declares its cultural premises. It is not a technological revolution in the strict sense, it is a cultural revolution”.

What will Maker Faire Rome be like?

“I will do my utmost so that those visiting Maker Faire have an idea of what Italy and Europe can contribute to this movement. There are lots of young people that interpret reality in an interesting way, others less young with lots of important experience behind them. I believe that there will be an opportunity to set up a dialogue that is not just a simple information exchange.  We want to avoid the franchising effect and build something with the Americans, so that they can appreciate the quality of our experience. No vindictive spirit, we are not defending a flag.  We want to enrich the dialogue and discover new roads together”.

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