Distributed Manufacturing

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Timeline Discussion

Initial Thesis

John Robb:

"“John Robb:

“Already, the fabrication equipment necessary to build complex objects/products costs only $20-50 thousand (some systems are in the hundred dollar range) and the costs are plunging. Given the technological trends, it will be possible in the next decade or so to produce nearly any product locally through these local fabricators in a cost competitive way — some at home and the rest at a local shop." (http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2008/09/resilient-com-1.html)


Reactions

Bryan Bishop [1]:

"3D printing is just molds at the moment, correct. The timeline might not be too absurd. I think it's all possible *right now* given critical mass support and contributors."

Vinay Gupta [2]:

"distributed manufacturing... **of what?** is the critical question.

mass manufacture is always going to be cheaper for things which are pretty much the same and have no need of variation - plastic buckets, paper, tires. There's just no way, until you assume extremely sophisticated ultratechnology, that you can do that kind of stuff price competitively with mass manufacture.

stuff where a combination of supply chain logistics, customization, irregular demand and other factors makes mass manufacture implausible is already being done using distributed manufacturing. the biggest example of that, which nobody talks about, is housing which is all done with entirely redundantly stupid distributed manufacturing resulting in absurdly high prices for items which should come off production lines for 10% of the cost of hand-assembled individually unique boutique housing, which is currently the only model generally available.

Giant housing factories, trust me on this, giant housing factories.

The real sweet spot for distributed manufacture is stuff that people currently *aren't* making because it's impossible. The perfect pair of shoes, clothes you helped design, portable electronics and computers that do it your way, car seats designed to your personal ass, beds which fit perfectly in the space you have and are just as hard/soft as you like them, and so on. It's not about direct replacement of stock with custom, it's about custom and new in places where mass manufacturing is failing.

Any place you see 5000 functionally equivalent items in a store, and you go in and sort through for what you need, you have a distributed manufacturing opportunity. Off the top of my head:

  • book shops
  • shoe shops
  • hardware stores
  • posters / art
  • clothes

Note that a lot of this stuff, in reality, would be feedstock supply chain bound. Ink and paper stream to the book printer at the local university book shop. Metal to the hardware store and so on. Going the whole hog, and doing resource extraction etc. on the spot is absolutely going to happen but mainly in rural areas for a class of products suited to that lifestyle niche.

Exceptions to that: places where the supply chain is a loop, where people drop off their items to be locally broken down and made into something else, on demand.

To me, distributed manufacturing is not about providing the current good and services for the most part, but about building what people actually want and need, once the gap between economies of scale and individual design is closed far enough that people will pay the premium for getting exactly what they want, here and now, rather than dealing with the remote factory."


Smary McCarthy [3]:

"As much as I like the idea of 3D printing and the digital fabrication revolution and all that, as much as I am a strong proponent of it, I just really can't see anybody with the right know-how addressing the real issues involved, which are that what we have today is just too high tech and complicated and useless to be deployed in the field.

So, before this timeline becomes realistic in any way, we need to figure out how to digitize and distribute the basic transformative processes such as, well. I'll be happy when I can fabricate everything in the room you're in, including the room itself, in my lab.

Once this is realistic, we can start talking about a timeline. Until then, nobody - not the MIT people, not the Fab Lab people, not the economics people trying to figure out how this will change everything, not anybody - is doing anything remotely as important as Marcin and the OSE crew, who are effectively scaling down /analogue fabrication/ and pushing it into a more sustainable pathway."