From the point of view of users, by Tom Powell:
"If you want to design a product and have it built you currently have three options — short of contracting with a manufacturer which is complex and expensive.
- Slap a graphic design on a commodity product: You might be familiar with Zazzle and Cafepress which allow anyone to upload a design and sell physical products, but these services are limited in that you are stuck simply printing a graphic design on a preselected commodity product which is then shipped from a central location.
- Design an object from flat materials that are laser cut. Ponoko is the best example of this. You can choose from a whole host of materials. Designers post designs, Ponoko handles the sale, cuts the material, and either sends it to the seller or directly to the buyer. (Can I interest you in some biohazard coasters, perhaps?)
- Design an object in 3D and have it “printed”. Shapeways takes 3D models and creates physical objects from them."
Overview of Technologies
Comments and videos from the Replicator's blog Personal Fabrication for Dummies, which also contains the examples (companies) for each technology.
- 3D Printing : They allow you to specify a design and have it created in plastic or metal, by layering thin sheets of material then fusing them. Video
- Laser Cutting : Laser cutters focus a beam of light on a piece of material, heating and cutting/etching it in the process. Laser can cut almost all non-metallic materials and are capable of producing an amazing level of detail. Laser Cutting Video Video
- Water jet cutters work the same way as laser cutters, but use a highly focused and pressurized stream of water instead. These machines are capable of cutting through metals and stone several inches thick. Video
- 2D plotter cutters are similar to laser/waterjet cutters, but these machines allow you to cut a custom shape out of thin, non-metallic sheets tock, like paper, cardstock, and viynl using a small automated knife. Video
- Print on demand is a high quality high speed version of desktop printing. This enables the printing of full color, full bleed, high gloss imagery, but instead of using an offset printing process which needs a to produce hundreds or thousands of copies to be economical, these machines can profitable print single editions. Video
- Direct To Garment Printing: works in the same way as print on demand, but uses specialized equipment and inks that allow high resolution printing on porous materials like cotton. Video
- CNC milling: A high speed rotating cutting bit is passed over a piece of material, driven by a computerized path. Multiple passes using different kind of cutting bits allow highly complex curves to be perfectly carved out of different materials from foam to wood to steel. Video
- CNC Embroidery: this process alllows the customer to choose a pattern which is turned into a tool path that is sent to a souped up sewing machine capable of stitching the selected design into the fabric or garment of your choice. Video
- Cut & Sew Construction: uses existing manufacturing techniques, but allows the customer to select the modules. Basically, a garment is made of a number of pieces that are sewn together, this process simply allows the customer to select those modules. Video
- 3D scanning could be a way to solve the most difficult challenge in personal fabrication, dealing with difficult to learn CAD systems. These machines work like 2d scanners, take in data from 3D surfaces and convert them to data that can be manipulated in most 3D CAD packages. Video