Massive Small Manufacturing + Humanitarian Making in the Field

Sharon Ede
6 min readNov 29, 2019

‘All We Are Shipping is Information’

On Monday 25 November, Andrew Lamb, Innovation Lead with Field Ready, was hosted by Green Industries SA and SA Makers to present on his work at a session held at the recently opened Makerspace Adelaide.

Along with inviting people from new networks into the space and becoming aware of its existence and purpose, the objective of this session was to highlight the role that makers and makerspaces can play in addressing wider social and environmental issues, particularly the circular economy.

Field Ready is a non-profit organisation which supports international disaster relief efforts through making humanitarian aid supplies in the field, and working with a variety of partners to transform logistics through technology, innovative design and engaging people in new ways. Lamb is also a current Shuttleworth Fellow with his project ‘Massive Small Manufacturing’ — from mass manufacturing to manufacturing by the masses, producing things where they are needed, when they are needed.

Field Ready works all over the world, and in 2017 was part of the consortium (through World Vision) of the Australian Humanitarian Partnership, a five year, $50 million commitment by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to deliver programs across the Pacific region.

Lamb’s talk focused on how open and digital production technologies are transforming manufacturing, including humanitarian response to disasters. Research by Griffith University into the logistics of humanitarian aid has shown that up to 80% of the expenditure of the world’s aid agencies goes to buying supplies and moving them around the globe, at a cost of $US15–20 billion a year.

Supply chains that provide aid to affected people are expensive, slow and often provide the wrong thing. A massive storm hit Fiji in 2016 affecting 350,000 people (40% of the population). Oxfam needed to distribute their buckets in response. Poor water and sanitation is a major cause of illness and death. Each family requires a means of handling clean water. The proven safe storage solution is the ‘Oxfam bucket’ — the standard aid bucket. Its design features protect against bacterial growth.

The buckets they ordered were made in Pakistan and shipped to the UK to be stockpiled. They were released and shipped via Dubai to Fiji — the other side of the planet. The cost of this logistics operation has not been made public, but it took nearly 3 months (and in the meantime, aid agencies distributed small toy buckets that are usually sold to tourists to make sandcastles). Yet, less than 1 mile away from Oxfam’s office in Fiji is a factory that makes buckets for industrial paint. Had that factory had the right mold, they could have made the Oxfam bucket on-demand and supplied them for near-zero logistics cost, with the money from the purchase going into a local business and the savings from the logistics being used to help more people.

The ‘massive small’ approach — distributed, mini mass production, making locally what can be made locally — could shorten supply chains in a time of crisis, while also providing local employment, reducing carbon emissions, and cutting costs by producing relief aid in the field.

For the Want of a A Nail

Often the damage, loss or breakage of one small part can immobilise a key piece of equipment or an entire operation, in remote or dangerous areas where there is no express shipping, and where the only transportation options may be boat, helicopter or yak.

In these scenarios, local production from available materials can make all the difference in securing a water supply, keeping a medical clinic operating, and keeping people alive.

One example is the ‘rescue airbag’, designed to lift up to 5 tonnes of rubble in search and rescue operations, which is being made locally due to the prohibitive cost and difficulty in shipping supplies to crisis areas like Syria. Built to meet British standards, and representing a 90% reduction in cost compared to importing, the airbag was designed and tested in London and Istanbul, before being manufactured from local materials, then deployed for use with the ‘White Helmets’, the Syria Civil Defence. The only shipping associated with this device was emailing the design, which has been made open source and shared with others who may need it.

Field Ready’s pursuit of ‘circular economy’ approaches like local production and repair, driven by necessity and cost in the humanitarian aid sector rather than policy, shows how revolutionising approaches to disaster response and resilience is at the vanguard of a broader application and learnings around how we make and move things in industrial economies.

Lamb also shared how the government and the World Bank have funded 40+ makerspaces in the Philippines, as part of plans to fund up to 70 spaces, with the motivation being economic development. In the US, makerspaces in Florida mobilised to provide support to the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.

Field Ready, with the support of DFAT, opened a makerspace in Suva, Fiji earlier this year and have previously established a makerspace in the Kurdistan region of Iraq with the support of the German government.

Lamb’s presentation was attended by 20+ attendees, including reps from the University of Adelaide (Humanitarian Research Institute), University of South Australia (Industrial Design), SAFECOM (Emergency Management), Growing Data Foundation, along with local makers and a range of State government staff.

Thanks to SA Makers for hosting this event, to Green Industries SA for sponsoring Lamb’s visit and to Andrew Lamb for coming to Adelaide to share his work — and for being impressed with Adelaide’s CBD located makerspace!

Further Information

The Origin of Field Ready

Shuttleworth Fellowship

Andrew aims to revolutionize humanitarian supply chains and, during the course of the fellowship, will develop and test the concept of Massive Small Manufacturing as a means of production to optimize supply efficiency and kick-start local economic development. The fellowship serves as an extension of the work Field Ready is doing.

PolyFloss — Recycled Plastic

Polyfloss is an innovative plastic recycling process, inspired by the principle of candy-floss machines. It transforms neglected waste thermoplastics into a fine plastic wool, which can then be re-used for applications including insulation, packaging, garment production and product design. This unique machine allows the establishment of contextual recycling and small scale circles of re-employment, which is rare for polymers, usually and historically dependent on at-scale manufacturing and production engineering knowledge. Field Ready are pioneering the use of this innovative plastics recycling machine in Nepal to meet existing and anticipated humanitarian needs.

Making in Syria

“Working in Syria involves a lot of risks. You’re exposed to bombing, air strikes and car bombs at any time, so you’ll probably get hurt or lose your life at any moment. Moreover, traveling is not easy and not safe. you can’t go and travel anytime you like. Sometimes a whole area and villages are closed temporarily because of war conditions and there are very dangerous areas like areas on the front lines”. — Usamah, Field Ready

Usamah and Hamada are currently working on developing projects that save many lives and reduce people’s suffering. One of the current projects is the rescue airbag, which can lift heavy debris caused by bombings. These airbags are used for search and rescue and are powerful enough to remove up to several tons. Usamah came up with the design and way to manufacture them. Under this project, 100 airbags are being made and distributed in free areas of Northern Syria.


MakerNet is a new initiative providing systems and tools that connect makers and makerspaces to local markets and manufacturing infrastructure.



Sharon Ede

Regenerative Cities Activist | Circular Economy Catalyst | South Australian Government | Award Winning Author | |