Machinery Co-operative

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A machinery cooperative is a business where the workers own shares of the capital equipment used for manufacturing, processing, or marketing goods, and receive benefits in proportion to their usage.

A typical example might be a group of farmers who need the service of a piece of expensive farm equipment. They all need the equipment but only for small periods of time each. Rather than each buy the equipment, they form a co-op, buy one, and make arrangements to share it between them. A Tool Library is another example, where a group of people share hand and power tools out of a centralized facility for wood-working, lawn maintenance, home construction, and so forth.

In general, machinery sharing cooperatives provide access to large industrial machines, shared labor, joint purchasing of inputs, and pooled marketing. The group is organized as a limited liability company (LLC) under a cooperative corporation organizational form. A set of bylaws are agreed on and a board of directors elected. Net surplus after operating expenses are deducted is distributed to members, or retained for future capital needs.

The tools are grouped into pools, such as a food processing pool, a metal working pool, or a plastics pool. This allows members to buy into the set of machines they're most likely to need, or to join the co-op in a limited basis and expand their use later as they see the value by joining additional pools. To join a machinery co-operative, the member is required to purchase a share in at least one machine pool.

Labor sharing can allow members with specialized skills to trade or give their labor (perhaps using Bridgetown Bucks?) For example, Repair Café's share volunteer labor repairing broken appliances, tools, bikes, toys, clothing, and so on. This helps keeps things out of the landfills while helping families save money.


As with any business, the choice of product is driven by its market and its cost of manufacture. Labor-intensive products are cost-effective for manufacturers to create overseas where labor is cheap and pay to ship in to market. Local machine co-operatives should thus focus on products which meet some or all of these criteria:

  • Internally consumptive. Goods members consume in their day-to-day lives will save them the personal expense.
  • Automated manufacture. If it requires little labor, the labor cost won't play a major influence on the product cost.
  • Expensive to ship. Items that are low $/kg are more efficiently produced locally since we save on shipping costs.
  • Rapid to market. Customize products, fads, and other items that benefit from very short turnarounds from concept to production.
  • Locality value. Products are considered more valuable due to being "Made in Oregon" or "Made in the USA".
  • Co-operative markets. Uses inputs from or distributes products to or through existing co-operatives.

Example: A machine co-operative purchases juicing and bottling machinery, purchases fresh local produce of whatever's in season as its inputs from grower co-ops, sells the products at local Food Co-ops, and distributes a portion of the bottled juices to members.

Portland Machinery and Tool Co-operatives