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What a timely post! As economic and ecological challenges abound, open hardware can play a big role in solving so many problems.

Just recently read about Makeblock project http://www.makeblock.cc/ from Shenzhen, China who are making aluminum extruded based platform for construction of machine tools and robots. This will enable economical machine usage.
Love your blog.

Kris De Decker


@ Abhijit: what a timely comment... Very interesting project, I have added a link and a picture in the article.



When I look at OpenStructures from the point of view of someone building at home, creating the building materials from what is available today, it looks like there is a lot of unnecessary hole drilling.

However if materials are manufactured, that additional effort and cost may not be very expensive. Once drilled, the part can be reused, which is very good.

The system does not look like it can be used to build weather-proof or waterproof structures. No glues, tapes or sealants means that the constructed items need to be used indoors, or they need to be made of weather proof materials.



Hi, could a Low-Tech Magazine reader tell me how to access the part of Low Tech Magazine that has those 100's of articles on 3rd world agricultural projects? I found it once but can't seem to find it now. Thanks,

Kris De Decker


@ John, I think you mean this one:


@ Paul, because OpenStructures is an open modular system, anyone can produce parts, including parts made from weather proof materials.



Thanks the one I was looking for was on that page- the compilation by Alex Weir.Thanks so much it's a fantastic source of information. I really enjoyed the article on the Chinese wheelbarrow a few issues ago and I thought either you(KD) or Lowtech magazine readers might be interested in a book By Daniel Sheets Dye on Chinese lattice window design. There are 100's of intricate designs. Check it out!



Thanks for the great overview. I think compatibility is crucial, so I collected some dimensions. One should consider reusing the 8mm LEGO grid which is also used by Makeblock and Gridbeam with standard M4 screws. LEGO is also used in Robotics and one can easily switch to Open Hardware when using the 8mm grid and M4 screw standard. The base 4×4cm square of OpenStructure fits at least to some degree (4cm = 5x8mm) but I am not sure about their propsal to divide each square and where to put assembly points. MakerBeam is 10x10mm with a 3mm gap for M3 screws and OpenBeam is 15x15mm with a 3mm gap and a smaller gap (1.6mm?). For small electrical circuits one should also be aware of the standard 0.1 inch / 2.54mm grid and for large constructions one should know pallet and ISO container sizes.

Tim Collins


The danger is that this technology ( or non-technology) is open to a large company's gaining control of the manufacturing processes of the standard components and creating a monopoly over production of ANYTHING. One has to look at this with the eye of a business baron who doesn't have the interests of the whole in mind. That is what he's programmed to do.

Ed Norris


Golan Levin and his team put together a system to connect 10 different constructor toys (Lego, Duplo, Krinkle, Tinkertoys, etc), which is a way to open those closed systems.


Of course, no one can sell these adapters for legal reasons but you can 3d-print them yourself.

Steve Hinton


Great post! I envisioned something like this for the Inventing for the sustainable plaet experiment where everything was made of modules, and brands were design only companies with licensed workshops making adn distributing their goods made of standard and recycled parts. Workshops did not sell goods but they sold the function and repairs were included.




As a USAian who grew up using both imperial and metric units, I love how metric handles scale transitions better than imperial (going from inches to feet, etc), but one thing has always bugged me about it: base 10 sucks. Inches use of base 12 encourages elegant ratios (1/3rds, for instance), and the use of base 2 subdivisions is extremely useful while working.

By starting with a 4x4cm grid, Open Structures is solving one of my problems with metric. I hope it can gain some traction here in the 'states and we can finally put our clumsy non-standard measurement system behind us, while maintaining some of its better points.



This is an excellent topic and I have been a big user of 80/20 components. The design flexibility of the system makes it quite easy to use. I would also point out that one can impress the OpenSystem methodology to an extent on 80/20 if one follows a few rules.

I would point out one other thing that has made Linux and its sister projects a success is legality. One could certainly have an open system but be legally hampered if the designer/developer/mfr places legal restrictions in your way. It would a near critical requirement that any development of a open systems manufacturer have a clear legal framework that is open source-like in understanding.



"He goes on to explain why he chose the metric system" should have been followed by "Well, there are only three countries that don't use it"

What an odd perspective, having to justify the dominant system of measurement worldwide!



In the same vein, You may also be interested in CubeSpawn, wich will soon be able to make any of the other systems mentioned in this article



Frequent self-builders will no doubt gradually amass significant stockpiles of spare parts to facilitate efficient construction. If there's any parallel to my childhood LEGO collection (and there certainly is) my ideal spares pile will have significantly more parts than are used in all of my existing constructions. And even then, each new project will have me wanting at least one new part. Not so bad if we're talking electronics and small appliances, but could be seen as wasteful (both materials and space) for larger systems. Trying to force a solution from a limited spares collection, however, will no doubt lead to innovative and/or whimsical results.

I like the parts warehouse idea, especially if stored resources are available for small, personal purchases. I'd also like to see a less-centralized approach that helps people looking to buy or unload spare parts find each other directly. We would also need to figure out how best to reintroduce modified parts to the re-use cycle. (e.g. cut to a non-standard lengths, covered in thick paint, etc.)

As long as things stay open, I'm sure redistribution will become very efficient, taking many different paths.



This is all very idealisic... people will spend a majority of their time making things that corporations can produce with much more efficiency and economies of scale. Corporations are the DIY projects of ambitious people... if I own a furniture factory, I can manufacture 100 beds in a day. Then I buy shoes from someone else, clothing from another, food from another. If the vision is for me to make my own furniture, shoes, clothes, AND food, then the vision is flawed. Specialization is a normal organic process. This vision of everything being self-made, based on a restrictive utopian grid system, is totally inefficient and impractical.

Kris De Decker



It seems like you have missed a part of the article. What you are talking about is dealt with under the header "Not everyone is a designer".

Alex @ Off Grid


I think the beauty of this is that it is naturally resistant to monopolization. For example, it could be argued that the metric system itself is a form of modular architecture - taken for granted yet used by many. The benefits of conforming to such an architecture are immediate and obvious. If someone had attempted to patent the metric system, it would not have flourished in the same way. These ideas are an extension of such open systems to the hardware realm.
Also, the use of such a system does not prevent specialization, it both encourages it and enables participation in it by all.
Another benefit is that there is little waste in such a system. Things would be more easily repaired - and dismantled objects have value in that they can always be used to make other objects - therefore very little is discarded.



No, I think you missed the gestalt of my post. I didn't overlook what you said, I just think it's incredibly naive.

In scenarios 1 and 2, people still end up "manufacturing" their own stuff at home or becoming systems integrators in their so-called free time. Most people don't even have time to clean the kitchen.

And scenario 3 simply describes what already happens: manufactures make products, sometimes using licensed designs created by someone else. Sometimes products get reused, refurbished, or repurposed. Sometimes they end up in a landfill.

I admire the effort and the intent but this is just the Modernist project all over again, with some new tech thrown in. The article makes reference to projects from the 1950s and 1970s. The ideas have already been tried, why didn't they work out?

Because then, as now, most people would rather buy stuff and get on with their daily lives, and when that stuff breaks, they'd rather pay an expert to fix it, instead of having to understand how every single object in their home works.

And because not all multinational corporations are evil machines trying to sell people stuff they don't need. Instead of thinking of a manufacturer as an evil empire bent on engendering a "throwaway society," think of them as teams of really smart people trying to solve technical and logistical problems so that you don't have to.



@Alex, I think the problem is with the current system is that it is on the verge of breaking down. Landfills are filling up, "low hanging fruit" resources are exploited, energy sources will be forced to go up in price due to environmental degradation.

These issues (and a host of others) will force a price on inefficiency and detrimental practices. Those prices will pass on to the consumer, who will look for alternatives.

Therefore it seems that this is an idea "just" before its time.

Usman A. Ghani


Excellent coverage and eye-opening as to why we need this in early ages. Thank God my parents got me Meccanos and encouraged assembly and disassemble to make other "products." Future engineers and R&D folks should read this article carefully.



Well, that is interesting idea but I don't think that it will work well. Simply because no one make exact plans when building something. I'm not talking about electronics, where you have to have scheme and calculated resistors and capacitors, but about making things like garden furniture etc. When I was small, when we were making something with my grandpa we usually ended with something what was not in plans. For example we tried wind power plant. Well it probably lit light bulb only once, we had plans but ended with something totally different.

Another problem is that people will want, every time, something that don't look like runaway mechano.

Nick Grigoryev


Hello world :)

Let me add my 10 cents: please check out my open-source educational robotic kit, which anybody can download, 3D-print and assemble - Neurobot.


It runs Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Linux and ROS (Robot Operating System). All these components are open-source hardware and software.

Have fun :)



One thing people might consider is getting away from consumer line products and going commercial on some items. For example commercial coffee makers are all close to the same design, made to be easily repaired, with parts readily available and will last the average family a lifetime. This is a good idea also for people not inclined to building there own products. This is close to what the author describes.

Ramani Sankaran


Excellent narration.Animal power can be added. I have developed a Non Electric Manually Operated Washing machine for clothes. You can see this performing in a village by opening my website


Please let me know if you need a write up about my innovation for which patent is pending.

Ramani.S. Dr




I would like to know if there is higher resolution image of the parts for making a coffeemaker. I would like to make one but I can't see what parts I need to gather.

Thank you,



Every time I get reminded of and look at OpenStructures, it gets worse and worse.
Their website sucks, their licensing terms are not actually open, and now I can't even find the grid specs document.

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