On a sunny Sunday afternoon in Ho Chi Minh City, there was a buzz of activity and excitement. The Fabmasters of Fablab Saigon were converting a classroom into a mobile makerspace, decking it out in 3D printers, a laser cutter, an antique sewing machine, and a variety of woodworking tools. While the equipment was your usual makerspace fare, the natural materials provided — coconuts, banana leaves, bamboo leaves, and hay — are not typical material found in such spaces. Groups of young Vietnamese were busy experimenting with traditional material and combining them with digital fabrication techniques to create products and business models that produce no waste by intention or design.

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Food packaging in Southeast Asia still uses natural materials such as banana leaves and coconuts, although plastic packaging is fast replacing food packaging traditions.

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What would a makerspace be without 3D printers? 3D printers have been popular in makerthons as a fast and easy way to prototype small scale products. The Fabmasters of Fablab Saigon converted a normal classroom into a makerspace in just a few hours!

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Can you guess what machine was used to achieve this effect on the banana leaf ?

SEA Makerthon 2016: An Innovation Platform for Makers

These young Vietnamese students and adults were participants in the first ever regional makerthon organized by the Southeast Asian Makerspace Network (SEAMNET) and 10 makerspaces and fab labs. The SEA Makerthon 2016 will see 1000+ makers from 6 countries come together to innovate for social good.


This year’s theme, “Designing A World With Zero Waste,” challenges talented makers, designers, and entrepreneurs in 10 cities in Southeast Asia to create innovative solutions for local sustainability issues in their own cities. Winning teams will be part of the Apprenticeship Program. Local makerspaces will assist them in refining their idea for the Grand Finale at InnovASEAN (Asian Makerspace Summit) in Singapore this October.

The SEA Makerthon 2016 showcases the unique nature of the maker culture in Southeast Asia. Unlike the DIY culture in the US and Europe, the maker movement in Southeast Asia is more collective in nature, and focuses primarily on encouraging makers to come together to become makers of change.

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Before the actual making is the design process. Design, Make, Iterate, and Repeat!

Making Social Impact

Sustainable development is a huge issue for countries across Southeast Asia. Rapid urbanization and industrialization has created a complex problem of pollution especially in densely populated cities. Vietnam is among the top 5 countries in the world in sending the most plastic waste into the oceans, threatening its marine ecosystems. This has consequences for its fishing industry, which Vietnam depends heavily on as one of its main exports.

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Testing out the settings needed to etch and not burn through the bamboo leaf.

The topic of focus for SEA Makerthon 2016: Ho Chi Minh City was packaging. Packaging of food, beverages and general household items are the most commonly found waste in landfills. Here lies the interesting challenge for participants: Can we find ways to create sustainable packaging with the use of materials that are traditionally used in Vietnam? How can digital fabrication and the open source movement facilitate the creation of the next generation of sustainable start ups? 

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Customizable wedding souvenir packaging design on bamboo leaves could be an option in the future!

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Using 3D modeling software to create a refillable plastic bottle machine that is portable. This design resembled an espresso machine.

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Making isn’t all about electronics or woodworking. It also includes fabric making! This was the first time the 3-member, all-male team had used a sewing machine.

Making as an Integral Aspect of the Vietnamese Culture

Under the expert organization and knowledge of the team at Fablab Saigon, students and professionals in teams of 2-4 members were guided on the use of machinery and materials throughout the 2 day event located at the CFVG Business School. Helmed by Hoang-Anh, the Fablab Guardian of Fablab Saigon, she and her team are the pioneers of the maker movement in Ho Chi Minh. Fablab Saigon hopes to raise the next generation of Vietnamese makers who are able to contribute positively to the country.

Participants came from different backgrounds including artists, designers, engineers, and students. They displayed a high level of craftsmanship through the creation of their prototypes. Being part of the judging panel of the makerthon was a privilege as I was able to see firsthand how teams enthusiastically worked on their prototypes throughout the day. Using both Vietnamese and English to convey their ideas, the teams tried to get their ideas across through the physical demonstration of their prototypes.

The ideas were creative and diverse. Ideas ranged from “Lego cardboard” that can be used to make functional items at home, to  creating a plastic bottle refilling machine which refills bottles and uses the collected bottles to make floating farms, foldable cutlery that fit into pockets, and name card holders to even a machine that could make packaging for logistics out of not-often-used banana tree trunks.

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“Lego Cardboard” that could be used to create a bottle carrier packaging of various size and shapes. This prototype was cut meticulously using a pen knife.

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At the demo booths, teams had to present both their physical prototype and a description of their product.

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There was a display of different techniques and materials in creating sustainable packaging for Vietnam.

The Maker as a Positive Disrupter

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Team Bamboo (their team name has nothing to do with their product) won first prize for their simple idea of providing packing boxes of various sizes assembled from modular, reusable pieces for logistics companies. They are holding their prize which was made out of all the material provided in the mobile makerspace.

The SEA Makerthon 2016: Ho Chi Minh demonstrates that making can be a serious business. As shown by the winning team, Team Bamboo, it can potentially be a positive disruptor in the current logistics industry. I await the prototypes and solutions that come from the next 9 upcoming makerthons.

The best part of being part of a larger maker movement is feeling the energy of optimism that can come from pure curiosity, determination and the involvement of a supportive community. We are excited about nurturing future entrepreneurs. Also, through these makerthons we would like to show that Southeast Asian makers can apply learning and agency from the act of making to solve pressing problems of our times.

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It was a great day of tinkering and making! Looking forward to the next SEA Makerthon 2017!

The SEA Makerthon 2016 will see 10 cities across the region organizing makerthons. Not only will this see 1000-1500 makers tackle challenges related to sustainability, the winning teams will be incubated under a Apprenticeship Programme to refine their prototypes into working products.

The 10 winning teams will compete against each other at the Grand Finale in Singapore during the Asian Makers’ Summit (InnovASEAN) on the 15-16 of October.

The SEA Makerthon and InnovASEAN 2016 is organized by the Southeast Asian Makerspace Network (SEAMNET).