When Ducati, the maker of cult motorcycles, was purchased by Audi AG (part of the Volkswagen Group) for $1.2b in April 2012, many analysts questioned the strategic intent behind this move: “Ducati is good motorcycles, not a good business [...] it has just not made money for most of its life. Suppliers consistently go unpaid/late paid, debt goes up but sales refuse to go much beyond 50 000 units.” Speculation will continue on real motives behind the deal, but we like to believe that Audi was (literally) buying into the Italian culture of thoughtful making. Ducati never surpassed the 50k-bikes-per-year mark: every single one is still made in the Bologna factory, covering all of the world’s demand. In the motor industry, that’s called ‘small batch’, practically an ‘artisan’ production. In a way it is, since engines are made by hand from start to finish, by a single engine builder.
Massimo Menichinelli, a designer who investigates and facilitates collaborative places and processes like FabLabs and Open Design projects argues, “Italy has a long history of arts, crafts and geographically and socially embedded industrial systems of industry clusters”. Bologna, with Ducati, is an older generation of such clusters, so was Ivrea as the site of the computer company Olivetti and is currently the birthplace of the Arduino platform. This is significant, as the locus of innovation is now shifting to adopt digital innovation in manufacturing and distributing processes—something Arduino and open source hardware play an important role in. In this insightful piece that explores the development of the maker movement, Menichinelli, argues that besides the focus on the practice, the use of digital fabrication technologies, the DIY and bottom-up attitude, it is also the networking attitude that defines the makers—in Italy and throughout the world. “The focus on practice and self-production is not its only defining element, we could argue that the use of digital fabrication technologies, hardware and software components as well as social media services and the adoption of an open source attitude constitute other important features”. The movement isn’t new but “it has always existed quietly, emerging globally as soon as there were tools for enabling sharing, communicating, collaborating, as well as tools that have democratized the access to prototyping and manufacturing technologies, that are cheap and easy enough to be learned and used quickly.” Being a maker or member of a FabLab means being part of a specific global social network, not just using digital fabrication technologies together with manual work.
Perhaps, on an industrial scale, Audi did the same thing makers do, it went back to a smaller, more personal kind of creating, a ‘making’ with tools in hand.