Converging Forces that are Personalizing Manufacturing Technologies

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See the [email protected] report, pp. 36-37 [1]


by Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman:

"The same forces that transformed information technologies will introduce the descendents of industrial manufacturing technologies and design software into our daily lives.

Personalized design and manufacturing machines will be an emancipating technology, creating freedom for people to work and play independently in ways that were previously restricted to an elite few.

According to Marshall Burns, previous emancipating technologies in human history were the book (enabled by the invention of the printing press), cars (enabled by new roads and gas stations) and now personal fabrication (enabled by 3D design software). What this random collection of technologies has in common is that they entered the lives of everyday people in a gradual way as the technology dropped in price, became easy to use, and accumulated a critical mass of applications, fellow users, or supportive infrastructure such as roads or high speed Internet. While mainstream adoption of personal manufacturing technologies is a few decades away, the manufacturing industry will experience the same forces that brought us YouTube, laptops, mobile phones and online retailers." (


Personal fabricators Industrial-scale manufacturing machines
Machine size Fit on a desktop or kitchen table Are the size of a cargo van or much, much larger
User safety Use built in filters and sensors to provide non-expert users with safety mechanisms.

Use modular raw ingredients that are packaged to be “plug and play,” and do not require processing or special handling.

Are precise, therefore create very little left over waste, offering a cleaner and more eco-friendly manufacturing process

Require monitoring and careful configuration to ensure they meet OSHA requirements.

Need raw material that comes from a number of suppliers and is potentially toxic and requires special handling

Use wasteful, mass production techniques that create large amounts of toxic waste and unusable scrap materials

Cost Cost about $1000 for the cheapest, low end 3D printers, laser cutters and automated sewing and embroidery machines

Are greener and use less power than their industrial strength counterparts

Create low-cost prototypes, enabling designers to experiment with different materials and designs at a very low cost

Cost up to tens or thousands of dollars for a basic mill or laser cutter; some mass production injection molding machines cost hundreds of thousands of dollars

Consume enormous amounts of power

Do not offer cheap prototyping or lowcost, small-scale production of custom objects, since machine set up costs must be amortized by making and selling large volumes

Ease of use Require very little user training

Are supported by online communities

Benefit from Internet retail and online storefronts that sell custom blueprint designs and offer a readymade marketplace to sell custom objects

Require specialized training and certification for machine operators

Make it costly for regular people to become skilled operators due to proprietary machine technology and costly, required certification

Rely on massive supply chains and large distributors or retail chains

Universality Run on customizable electronic blueprints that can be downloaded from the Internet from anywhere in the world

Can be made from low cost kits by moderately skilled users

Use machine parts are based on open source hardware designs, meaning anybody can use and customize their fabber without worrying about patents or IP issues

Use proprietary, complicated and expensive design software and machine automation

Can be purchased only by those who can afford large and costly machines that require a lot of expensive upkeep and maintenance

Rely on expensive, specialized,patented parts that can’t be duplicated and are expensive to purchase.

Software availability CAD software is growing more sophisticated and easier to use and cheaper.

Growing number of design blueprints available online for sale and swap

Work only with expensive, proprietary CAD software that requires a lot of user training

Electronic blueprints are not freely available for mass produced productsand machine parts; many products are protected by copyrights and patents, therefore usable only for a fee