Factory At Home

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* Report: Factory @ Home: The Emerging Economy of Personal Fabrication. One of a Series of Occasional Papers in Science and Technology Policy. By Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman.

URL = http://www.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf

Extensive excerpts via our entry on Personal Manufacturing


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This report outlines the emergence of personal manufacturing technologies, describes their potential economic and social benefits, and recommends programs the government should consider to realize this potential.

Personal manufacturing machines, sometimes called “fabbers,” are the pint-sized, low-cost descendants of factory-scale, mass manufacturing machines. Personal-scale manufacturing machines use the same fabrication methods as their larger, industrial ancestors, but are smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. Home-scale machines, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and programmable sewing machines, combined with the right electronic design blueprint, enable people to manufacture functioning products at home, on demand, at the press of a button. In just a few hours, these mini-factory machines can produce a simple object like a toothbrush, or make complex machine components, artisan-style jewelry or household goods. Within a few years, personal manufacturing machines may be sophisticated enough to enable regular people to manufacture complicated objects such as integrated electronic devices.

A number of converging forces are bringing industrial-scale design and manufacturing tools to a tipping point where they will become cheap, reliable, easy, and versatile enough for personal use. The rapid adoption of personal manufacturing technologies is accelerated by low cost machinery, active online user communities, easier-to-use computer aided design (CAD) software, a growing number of online electronic design blueprints, and more easily available raw materials." (http://bit.ly/eqxlcZ)


Excerpts

Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman:

"For a few thousand dollars, anyone can buy their own personal-scale manufacturing machine, download electronic blueprints to their home computer, and manufacture unique and complicated objects at home. Personal manufacturing machines, or “fabbers,” are the pint-sized, low-cost descendants of mass manufacturing machines used in factories. Different types of small-scale manufacturing machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and programmable sewing machines, combined with an electronic design blueprint, enable people to create a wide range of objects. People that have no special skills or training can “rip, mix and burn” physical objects such as custom machine parts, unique household goods, jewelry, toys, and maybe someday electronic devices.


Personal manufacturing is where personal computing was in the 1970s, before the advent of home-scale computers and consumer software. Recent rapid technological advances in personal manufacturing technology, combined with shrinking costs of machines, increasingly available design software and raw manufacturing materials,plus most peoples’ tendency to conduct more daily activities online, are tipping personal fabrication from the realm of hobbyists and pioneers to the mainstream. As consumers, businesses, and schools gain access to the same powerful design software and manufacturing tools traditionally available only to large companies and factories,we will witness a cascade of innovation in product design, educational tools, the arts,medical devices, and business models.


...


Personal manufacturing technologies will profoundly impact how we design, make, transport, and consume physical products. As manufacturing technologies follow the path from factory to home use, like personal computers, “personalized” manufacturing tools will enable consumers, schools and businesses to work and play in new ways. Emerging manufacturing technologies will usher in an industrial “evolution” that combines the best of mass and artisan production models, and has the potential to partially reverse the trend to outsourcing. Personal manufacturing technologies will unleash “long tail” global markets for custom goods, whose sales volumes of will be profitable enough to enable specialists, niche manufacturing, and design companies to make a good living. Underserved communities will be able to design and manufacture their own medical devices, toys, machine parts and other tools locally, using local materials. At school, personal-scale manufacturing tools will empower a new generation of innovators, and spark student interest in science,technology,engineering and math (STEM) education." (http://timbuktuchronicles.blogspot.com/2011/01/emerging-economy-of-home-manufacturing.html)


Conclusion

"Personal-scale manufacturing machines use the same fabrication methods as their larger, industrial ancestors, but are smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. Home-scale machines, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and programmable sewing machines, combined with the right electronic design blueprint, enable people to manufacture functioning products at home, on demand, at the press of a button. These technologies make manufacturing accessible to everyone; for the first time, designing and making custom objects is cheap, easy, and fun. Recent rapid technological advances in design software and personal manufacturing machines, combined with shrinking costs of machines and materials, increasingly active and helpful online user communities, plus most peoples’ tendency to conduct more and more daily activities online, will tip personal fabrication from the realm of hobbyists and pioneers to the mainstream.

Personal manufacturing technologies will profoundly impact how we design, make, transport, and consume physical products. As manufacturing technologies follow the path from factory to home use, like personal computers, “personalized” manufacturing tools will enable consumers, schools and businesses to work and play in new ways. Emerging manufacturing technologies will usher in an industrial “evolution” that combines the best of mass and artisan production models, and has the potential to partially reverse the trend to outsourcing. Personal manufacturing technologies will unleash “long tail” global markets for custom goods, whose sales volumes of will be profitable enough to enable specialists, niche manufacturing, and design companies to make a good living. Underserved communities will be able to design and manufacture their own medical devices, toys, machine parts and other tools locally, using local materials. At school, personal-scale manufacturing tools will empower a new generation of innovators, and spark student interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Like computing, transportation and communication, shrinking manufacturing tools represent a strategic infrastructure technology that has the potential to catalyze innovation in many other fields and industries. These technologies remove the barriers of investment in heavy machinery and specialized operator skill, so consumers, for the first time since the era of artisan craft production, will lead the design and manufacturing process. We have the opportunity to create a new retail ecosystem and manufacturing economy in the U.S. so we can continue to lead the rest of the world in product innovation and manufacturing. New business models will become possible, such as small-scale, regional manufacturing hubs, mom and pop shops that create niche products for a global market, custom and on-demand manufacturing, and toolkit-based industrial product design and development. Despite their great promise, successful adoption of personal manufacturing technologies is not assured. A number of barriers stand in the way that discourage widespread home, school and business use such as safety concerns, part standardization and version control challenges, intellectual property issues and creating appropriate regulatory controls. Thoughtful and visionary government investment is needed to ensure we establish the U.S. as the world leader in personal fabrication technologies. Appropriate government policies will nourish the potential of these technologies to promote STEM education, create new industries and innovation-based domestic jobs, provide a new design space to foster invention, and spark the formation of new businesses."