How Personal Fabrication Will Change Manufacturing and the Economy

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Discussion

Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman, in [email protected], pp. 51+:


"Personal fabrication technologies, combined with large numbers of electronic blueprints, combined with user-friendly design software will result change product development and manufacturing in the following ways:

Ecosystems of small manufacturers

Online repositories of products and machine parts will be the foundation for a new ecosystem of small machine-part manufacturers and service providers who make custom objects and prototypes to order.


Long tail niche markets

Manufacturers will use personal fabrication technology to create low-cost custom objects, on demand, that sell in small volumes. Due to the low cost of inventory, designers and manufacturers of niche products will still earn a reasonable profit margin.


Economic emergence of underserved communities

When they can design and manufacture items locally, according to their own designs, people in developing nations and underserved communities will overcome limitations in their physical distribution infrastructure. They will be empowered with the tools of design and production to create their own solutions to local needs and problems that are best understood by local people.


Consumer-led product design

Product design will shift away from companies and into the hands of consumers. Personal fabrication technologies and accessible design software enable consumers to take the lead in the product design process; consumers will be able to design, modify and make their own products designs just for fun, or for their own personal use (similar to today’s active consumers who design their own extreme sporting equipment, custom ringtones and iPod playlists).


Scale up from one

Regular people and small manufacturing companies that lack investment capital will be able to set up low investment, “start small and scale up as it goes” businesses. Thanks to the low-cost Internet virtual storefronts, and the low cost of small-scale manufacturing for prototypes and custom goods, new companies can get started on a shoestring budget, yet sell their wares or services to niche, global marketplaces.


Mass customization and crowdsourcing

Personal manufacturing technologies will extend the concept of mass customization, which today, consists of a retailer offering consumers a few, set choices to alter a core, unchanging product along specific, pre-defined configurations. Another emerging innovation paradigm is that of “crowdsourcing,” in which a company or organization asks for help or input from online communities made up of both amateur and professional experts.


Eco-conscious and subsistence-level manufacturing

(including space exploration)

Consumers and companies will use personal fabrication technologies to re-use locally available scrap or waste material. In the quest for sustainability in space travel, astronauts will take 3D printers into space with them to fabricate parts and supplies on demand.


Less market research, more toolkits

Companies will supplement traditional, formal market research techniques with prototyping toolkits that utilize personal fabrication technologies. Companies will design and equip special prototyping toolkits aimed at specific product development challenges. Open source hardware: Intellectual property (IP) models and the practice of inventorship will move away from proprietary approaches to more open models, such as open source hardware licenses and crowdsourced problem-solving and product design." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)


Additional Details

Personal Manufacturing contributes to:


"a long tail manufacturing marketplace taking place in the commercial sector is exemplified by a company called eMachineShop which provides easy, convenient and low-cost fabrication services of custom parts via its web site. eMachineShop has its own, proprietary design software that customers use to design the part they need so they can submit the blueprint design to eMachineShop for an instant price quote. Once their design is completed, customers can play with alternative options that affect the cost of manufacturing their desired design by getting a smorgasbord of cost estimates based on using different available materials, and adding or subtracting product features." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)


"Similar to the world of rare book sellers or specialized web-based retailers, manufacturing companies and designers will unearth profitable niches by selling custom products, on demand, to customers from all over the world." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)


  • Economic emergence of underserved communities;


"we will witness a growing amount of consumer-led product development and modification across a wide range of industries that manufacture physical objects, similar to the already mainstream open source software model. Already across diverse industries such as printed circuit CAD software, surgical equipment, sporting equipment and pipe hanger hardware, up to a third of product users reported designing, modifying and developing their products themselves to suit their needs." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)


"Personal-scale manufacturing machines ... enable small manufacturers to make one product at a time in response to customer demand, and scale up production as the product sells. ... Regular people and small manufacturing companies that lack investment capital will be able to set up low investment, “start small and scale up as it goes” businesses. Thanks to the low-cost Internet virtual storefronts, and the low cost of small-scale manufacturing for prototypes and custom goods, new companies can get started on a shoestring budget, yet sell their wares or services to niche, global marketplaces. The “scale up from one” aspect of personal manufacturing democratizes the world of manufacturing and retail by lowering the barriers to entry. Launching a new product today requires its maker to start large: industrial-scale manufacturing machines are not designed to make only one item at a time. Personal-scale manufacturing machines ... enable small manufacturers to make one product at a time in response to customer demand, and scale up production as the product sells." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)



  • Eco-conscious and subsistence-level manufacturing;

"With local, onsite production, long-distance shipping of the completed item is no longer necessary. Products and parts can be made only when they’re needed, saving on storage space and the costs of maintaining un-used goods and products." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)


the potential rewards of toolkit-based, user led design could outweigh the high cost of developing products that no one wants to by. Toolkits enable a company to collect a direct physical manifestation of what their customers want." (http://web.mae.cornell.edu/lipson/FactoryAtHome.pdf)