Desktop Manufacturing

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Desktop Manufacturing = the ability to manufacture physical items from your desktop.

Sometimes called "Personal Manufacturing" when the stress is on 'individual capability'


According to Kevin Carson:

It is "a catchall term for two different major phenomena, with the emphasis probably on the latter: small-scale manufacturing using Multiple-Purpose Production Technology, and what's variously called "layered manufacturing" or "3-D printing."

This is part of the trend towards the distribution of the means of production, one of the conditions for the expansion of the peer-based mode of production.

It refers to the ability to work and produce from the home or neighbourhood, and is related to the technical advances in Rapid Manufacturing


The new industrial revolution will enable people to live where they like and produce what they need locally. - Lawrence J. Rhoades (

"The impact of rapid manufacturing will be so profound, changing the way products are designed, manufactured, and distributed, that it can be described as the next industrial revolution.” Unlike the first industrial revolution, which led to a migration to population-dense cities (a trend that continues in emerging industrial economies), this revolution will enable people to live where they like and produce what they need locally. Distributed digital production is the antithesis of the production line (e.g., “a factory in the home” or at least “in the neighborhood”)" - Lawrence Rhoades citing Philip Dickens from Loughborough University


From the Replicator blog at

CNC Plotters

"CNC plotters enable you to cut 2D shapes out of a variety of thin sheet materials (paper, cardstock, foil, vinyl, etc.) and cost between $300-500. The two popular models are the CriCut, made by ProvoCraft, and the Graphtec CraftRobo (AKA Xyron Wishblade). The CriCut has a cartridge based system that allows users to entirely avoid computers, for a price. The Graphtec is driven by output of vector editing programs like Adobe Illustrator.

CNC Embroiderers

CNC embroiderers can quickly and autonomously add detailed designs and patterns to the fabric of your choosing. Brother’s Quattro model is the top of the line for home users, but a variety of other products exist at prices ranging from $400-10,000 (for more info visit: Some models can be driven with standard design software, but others rely on cartridge based designs which offer convenience, at a very steep price. These machines bring factory quality output to the home.

CNC Mills

CNC Mills can use spinning blades to carve 3D forms out of blocks of material, including: wax (pictured), plastics, metals, woods, foams, etc. These can range from million dollar machines used to mill propellers for airplanes to the more accessible Craftsman CompuCarve which is available to the serious hobbyist for $2000. The output of CNC mills can be used as a finished product or an intermediary step. The image below is a wax ring that is ultimately turned to gold using an investment casting process.

Laser Cutters

Lasers work much like CNC plotters, but have more flexibility. You can cut 2D sheet materials, but the range is greatly expanded to include plastics, woods, leathers, and varying thickness which would be impossible with a CNC plotter (e.g. with lasers It is fairly easy to cut 1/4″ plastics). In addition lasers can etch images into stone, glass, and metals. The achieveable surface detail is impressive and the combination of cutting and marking make lasers one of the most versatile manufacturing tools available. An entry level laser system costs about $10,000 with higher end systems reaching $35,000.

Water Jet Cutters

Water jet cutters are similar to laser cutters. Water jet cutters can cut/engrave surfaces by blasting a high pressure stream of water and abrasive material onto a surface. WaterJet cutters are more powerful than lasers and can cut through steel and stone several inches thick, but are unusable on more delicate materials like paper. With great power comes great expense, but a good system can be rented for $2,600/month.

3D Printers

3D printers are very cool and have a wide range of capabilities depending on model and manufacturer. 3D printers made by ZCorp can print in full color and are used by a number of companies to bring video games to life, however their output is very delicate. ZCorp can print in full color and are used by a number of companies to bring video games to life, however their output is very delicate. Stratasys 3D Printers are also used for model making in the product development process, but produce parts that are extremely durable with properties that nearly match production plastics. In some cases 3D printers can create parts that are used as finished goods as in this case of Direct Digital Manufacturing. 3D printing is a rapidly developing industry and could be very useful in the years to come. Current entry level systems 3D printers cost $15,000 with the top of the line machines in the six figures. For the budget concious 3D printing services like Shapeways offer access to amazing machines with no capital costs." (



From the listing at

  1. Stereolithography
  2. ThreeDimensionalScanners?
  3. Desktop ultra short pulse laser technology
  4. Electron Beam Melting
  5. High Precision Inkjet manufacturing
  6. Laser Engineered Net Shaping
  7. Plastic and metal laser sintering
  8. Laser Cusing (like sintering)
  9. Direct metal printing and rapid casting
  10. Direct Shell Production Casting
  11. Commercial and open source Comcept Modeling Systems, example at


Kevin Carson: Explaining the Trend

Citation from Kevin Carson in the Mutualist blog.


"In the comments on "The Two Economies," Matthew Claxton of Little Iguanodon referred me in the comment thread to material on desktop manufacturing. As he says,

Manufacturing is already, in small ways, breaking out into an open-source model.

"Desktop manufacturing," as a catchall term, includes a wide spectrum of different innovations.

At the most science-fictiony end of the specturm, the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT operates on the philosophy that "reality is information"; and at the point where bits intersect with atoms, via all kinds of nifty stuff like nanotech and von Neumann replicators, you get something like the transporters and replicators on Star Trek. While that may be on the way, it's too far out for me to get my mind around.

At an intermediate stage, with one foot still in the old-fashioned world of meatsphere-style production, he links to a Salon article on desktop manufacturing via 3-D printers. The idea is a printer that, over a period of hours, lays down layer after infinitesimal layer of glue and conductive material, gradually fabricating an electronic device or appliance with circuitry embedded in its frame; or, alternatively, "printing" circuitry onto a sheet. You transmit the specs for an electronic device, and it gets "printed" in 3-D at the destination.

But at the other end of the spectrum, most relevant to what I've written in the past on decentralized production, he links to some sites like Squidlabs, eMachineShop, and Big Blue Saw that will custom machine individual parts to your specs by online order, and ship them to you. As eMachineShop says,

Welcome to eMachineShop - where you can design, price, and order your custom parts online!

eMachineShop is the remarkable new way to get the custom parts you need - the first true online machine shop. Download our free software, draw your part, and click to order - it's easy! Your part will be machined and delivered - at low cost.

With Big Blue Saw, likewise,

you can upload a part and have it shipped to your door in 14-21 days. We use state of the art computer controlled robotic machinery to convert your ideas into a reality.

Of all the material Matthew referred me to, this is the most interesting to me, because it ties in with a lot of other ideas I've been toying with lately. In "P2P," I wrote:

In a decentralized economy, individual stages of production that are currently carried on at a single large site by a vertically integrated corporation may be more economically done in small machine shops (cf. Jane Jacobs' account of the origins of the Japanese bicycle industry, in The Economy of Cities), or in Kirkpatrick Sale's neighborhood repair-recycling centers. In some stages of production, the substitution of lower-tech, partially human powered operations (cf Mumford's discussion of "polytechnic" in The Pentagon of Power) or Sale's and Bookchin's general-purpose production technologies, will be economical when savings on bureaucratic and distribution costs, and overhead, are taken into account.

I dealt with these ideas at much greater length in "On the Superior Efficiency of Small-Scale Organization."

In The Visible Hand, Alfred Chandler idealized the kind of high-tech, capital- and energy-intensive production in which "economies of speed" or "throughput" are used to "transform high fixed costs into low unit costs." But the success of such a model depends on artificially large market areas with a swift and uninterrupted flow of goods through a mass-distribution and -marketing pipeline, reinforced by an advertising-mediated culture of mass-consumption--all of which depends on state-subsidized infrastructure. When those artificial assumptions are removed, and production is in limited runs for small local markets, Mumford's and Sale's industrial model is likely to be more efficient than Chandler's.

The custom machining of parts fits right in with these ideas. What really interests me is the potential for using the kind of thing eMachineShop and Big Blue Saw are doing--but in the context of small machine shops integrated into a local economy.

F.M. Scherer, a specialist on economy of scale, wrote of the false economies involved in higher-tech, more product-specific forms of production than the size of the market would support:

Ball bearing manufacturing provides a good illustration of several product-specific economies. If only a few bearings are to be custom-made, the ring machining will be done on general-purpose lathes by a skilled operator who hand-positions the stock and tools and makes measurements for each cut. With this method, machining a single ring requires from five minutes to more than an hour, depending on the part's size and complexity and the operator's skill. If a sizable batch is to be produced, a more specialized automatic screw machine will be used instead. Once it is loaded with a steel tube, it automatically feeds the tube, sets the tools and adjusts its speed to make the necessary cuts, and spits out machined parts into a hopper at a rate of from eighty to one hundred forty parts per hour. A substantial saving of machine running and operator attendance time per unit is achieved, but setting up the screw machine to perform these operations takes about eight hours. If only one hundred bearing rings are to be made, setup time greatly exceeds total running time, and it may be cheaper to do the job on an ordinary lathe. [Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance, p. 97]

Now, if production runs sufficient to make the product-specific machinery profitable require government intervention to make distribution artificially cheap and to aggregate artificially large market areas, then it's not really profitable at all when all the costs are internalized. It costs more than it comes to. In this case, again, Sale's model of general-purpose production technology is more efficient. Treating transportation subsidy as a "public good," as Chandler does, because mass distribution and marketing enable these dubious "efficiencies" in manufacturing, is ass-backward. As Peter Drucker said,

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

In a related matter, Oliver Williamson argued in Market and Hierarchy and The Economic Institutions of Capitalism that internalizing separate production stages in a large firm, rather than tying them together contractually on the open market, was a governance structure made necessary by the moral hazard problems involved in "asset specificity." In the absence of asset specificity, he said, firms would reach the point at which internal bureaucratic inefficiencies outweighed the transaction costs of market contracting at a much smaller size. But as we've seen, asset specificity is itself a dependent variable depending on market size--not, as Chandler seemed to believe, a good in its own right. Government policies that promote large market size and artificially increase the division of labor also lead to artificially high asset specificity, and thus make large firm size artificially efficient" (

Vasilis Kostakis on Peer Production and Desktop Manufacturing


  1. Peer Production and Desktop Manufacturing: The Case of the Helix_T Wind Turbine Project.
  2. Commons-Based Peer Production and Digital Fabrication: The Case of a RepRap-Based, Lego-Built 3D Printing-Milling Machine.
  3. Open Source 3D Printing as a Means of Learning: An Educational Experiment in Two High Schools in Greece.

Sam Rose: towards one production machine

"We are also starting to see the emergence and evolution of technolgies like RepRap. I am imagining that this will evolve to the point where there will be a single machine that will have similar power, but in the physical production realm, instead of the data/information realm.

This one machine will allow you to:

  • Make many other machines that let you accomplish all sorts of flexbile and specialized uses.
  • Import the design data for these different machines in a computer that controls the “base” machine
  • Create machines that can process existing “waste” raw materials into new raw materials to make new things
  • Use these machines, and OpenDesign? frameworks to create technologies that work with Solar, wind, adn other re-useable resources to locally power their production machines in a clean way

This will open up a whole new way of producing physical products. This will also open up a whole new set of economic/resource sharing options."


Re-ordered from a list maintained by Bob Stumpel.

Original list with direct access to the site links, at

Architecture and Design

Alchemymodels - Architectural rapid prototyping (by 3D printing).

Bigbluesaw - Submit cad design & get product delivered.

Ogle - Capture, re-use & 3D print 3D data.

Rapidobject - 3D print your prototypes & designs.


Cogteeth - Create T-shirt with personal coded message.

Designbyhumans - Design T-shirts, win rewards.

Dnastylelab - Design, wear & share your own products.

Mystyledesigns - Your body, your shape, your clothes - mass customized.

Netgranny - Choose a granny to knit your socks.

Nutclothing - Customize & order your handsprayed T.

Snapshirts - Get your T-shirt with a tag cloud.

Spreadshirt - Design, buy or sell your T's.


Buglabs - Build your own hardware - open source consumer electronics platform.


Blendsforfriends - Order your own blend of tea.

Bountee - Design, buy & sell T's.

Mymuesli - Order muesli according to your own specs (Germany only).


Catoms - Replicate anything and anybody, any size, anywhere.

Desktopfactory - Cheapest 3D printer.

Dishmaker - Designs & produces dishes .

Emachineshop - Design objects in a virtual machine shop.

Ponoko - Create, make and trade your product ideas.

Prevu - Add your voice to (promotional) gifts.

Specialbike - Style your own bike.

Sploder - Play, make & share games.

Tinypocketpeople - Personalize & order your mini me doll.

Traktor - Create & share your own instruments.

Zazzle - Design, sell & buy custom goods.


123businesscards - Design & print your business cards on demand.

Fotki - Upload, publish & print photo(book)s on demand.

Kodakgallery - Upload, publish & print photo(book)s on demand.

Nakedandangry - Design & share your wallpapers.

More Information

Developments are reviewed by Kevin Carson and Matthew Claxton in the Mutualist Blog at

The P2P Foundation blogged about it at; check the special archive section for more on the topic.

See our entries on Original Design Manufacturer and Contract Manufacturer, as well as our entry on Personal Fabricators and the RepRap Project.