Personal Manufacturing

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= Different types of small-scale manufacturing machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and programmable sewing machines, combined with an electronic design blueprint, enable people to create a wide range of objects. [1]

See also: Desktop Manufacturing

Introductory Citations

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.

- Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman [2]

Since personal fabrication technologies remove the barriers of investment in heavy machinery and specialized operator skill, consumers, for the first time since the era of artisan craft production, will lead the design and manufacturing process.

- Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman [3]

“Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits. Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.”

- Chris Anderson, The Long Tail [4]

Imagine applying online retail models to custom manufacturing, where consumers would locate and purchase niche objects from makers and designers all over the globe, no mass produced products need apply.

- Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman [5]

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.

- Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman [6]



Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman:

"Manufacturing is not a “virtual” but a physical activity, and that a growing community of do-it-yourself (DIY) hobbyists, while intriguing, does not constitutes a “real” industrial revolution.16 We believe that the future of industrial manufacturing lies between traditional mass manufacturing and the emerging world of custom, personal-scale manufacturing. Personal manufacturing technologies are developing rapidly, but our incumbent mass manufacturing paradigm still offers better economies of scale and established supply chain and distribution infrastructures." (

Summary of Driving Forces

Resource and Energy Depletion

Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman:

"Offshored goods are burdened by high shipping costs and complex, inflexible remote management challenges. The cost of shipping containers is rising, as eight years ago, the cost to ship a 56 meter container was about $2,000; today the shipping cost for the same container is more than $5,0009. Due to the rising cost of shipping, large products such as washers, dryers and refrigerators continue to be manufactured in the U.S." (

Converging Forces that are Personalizing Manufacturing Technologies

Table: Converging Forces that are Personalizing Manufacturing Technologies

See the Factory@Home report, pp. 36-37 [7]

Introduction 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." (

Comparing the industrial revolution to the personal manufacturing industrial revolution

Source: Factory@Home report, pp. 40 [8]

Industrial revolution Personal manufacturing “evolution”
Communications Telegraph, telephone, improved commercial printing technologies Internet, online shopping, online user communities, search and rank algorithms that enable users to find what they’re looking for in the chaos, online blueprints
Power Steam, coal, electricity Powerful computing technologies bring formerly industrial-scale design and analytical capabilities to the masses
Machine technology Steam engines, coal burning machines, looms, automated agricultural technologies.

Factory-scale machines mass produced standardized objects very quickly

Personal fabrication machines are ready for home use, outside the factory.

Cheaper and easier CAD software Hardware and electronic components get smaller and cheaper and more powerful

Distribution infrastructure Rail ways, improved roads, the postal system The Internet becomes the distribution infrastructure.

Fabbers are local so no distribution or inventory is needed

Consumers Emerging consumer markets eagerly purchased lower-cost mass produced items Today’s consumers want to be unique and express themselves with custom objects
Labor Unskilled labor could assemble objects on an assembly line Unskilled consumers, like unskilled computer users, can design and operate their own manufacturing machinery

The Long Tail of Manufacturing

= As the long tail lashes through manufacturing technology, personal fabrication technologies will push product design and manufacturing methods onto the same path already traversed by the music and film industries, the mass media and ecommerce retailers. [9]

Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman:


"The long tail effect forever changes an industry when the following conditions are met: there’s a large selection of products or items to choose from, sufficient availability of these products, a large number of potential consumers, and low inventory and distribution costs. All of these forces are already in play in the emerging world of personal manufacturing technologies.

  • First, thanks to ever-improving design software and creative designers, the

number of available electronic blueprints is increasing daily.

  • Second, electronic blueprints can be endlessly replicated quickly and easily.
  • Third, there’s a quickly growing population of people who own their own

personal fabrication machines and those who prefer to shop for designs and let someone else handle the manufacturing.

  • Finally, since objects are made in small batches as demand dictates, no inventory

is necessary for a retailer who sells custom-manufactured, custom-designed products." (


"the long tail of manufacturing is gradually taking shape on web sites such as which describes itself as “a place for friends to share digital designs for physical objects” (reminiscent of Napster). A quick browse of reveals an online flea market of electronic blueprints for objects anyone can make if they have access to a personal fabricator." (

See also: The Long Tail of Manufacturing

The Double IP Conundrum

Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman:

"alternative IP models for personal fabrication technologies are in their infancy, and much more development of alternative IP models is needed in order to find the right balance between openness and commercial profitability.

Products and objects fabricated from electronic blueprints will raise an additional challenge to intellectual property issues since there are two components that could be considered intellectual property: the electronic blueprints and the resulting physical object.

As software designs proliferate and anybody with a machine can make anything, IP concerns threaten to block the free flow of new design ideas. Our patent system will be challenged by the deluge of legal questions generated when regular people get a hold of powerful design and manufacturing tools." (


"A leading example of the power of personal-scale manufacturing technologies is Mark Kendrick. Kendrick designs beautiful custom model train parts. His designs are captured in software blueprints and sold online. Rather than selling his unique model train part designs to large toy companies that would mass produce them, instead, Kendrick targets hobbyist model train enthusiasts that own, or have access to their own small-scale manufacturing machine. Since the cost of manufacturing a custom train part on a small-scale 3D printer is only $25, Kendrick’s niche market of loyal consumers can afford to manufacture their own train parts -- no investment in factory-scale production is needed. Imagine if a model train enthusiast purchased Kendrick’s electronic blueprint and tried to produce the stainless steel train cowcatcher (shown in the figure) in a factory. The high cost of setting up a factory infrastructure would be well out of the reach of the average consumer. Unless a commercial toymaker was confident Kendrick’s custom designs would sell in large numbers, she would probably not invest in the set up costs; the market for custom cowcatchers is too small to warrant the costs of setting up large scale production. Personal-scale manufacturing tools are automated artisans: they combine the power of computer-guided manufacturing machines with the skilled artisan’s ability to create custom objects for niche markets. Unlike artisan or large-scale factory production, however, personal manufacturing is a low cost process that doesn’t require investment in an assembly line, or a skilled artisan."

The Personal Manufacturing Industry

For details see: Personal Manufacturing Industry and Personal Manufacturing Machines


See: Personal Manufacturing Tools

Typology of Personal Manufacturing Machines (Hardware)

  1. Desktop 3D Printers
  2. Desktop CNC Routing and Milling Machines
  3. Desktop Laser Cutters and Engravers
  4. Desktop Sewing and Embroidering Machines: JoAnn Fabrics.
  5. Desktop Circuit Makers

Computer-Aided Design Software

  1. CAD Tools: Google SketchUp, Rhino, Silo


  1. Personal Manufacturing Machine Makers: MakerBot, LumenLab, Bits From Bytes
  2. Personal Manufacturing Companies: eMachineShop ; Big Blue Saw; Materialise
  3. Electronic Design Blueprint Aggregators: Ponoko ; Shapeways
  4. Personal Manufacturing Electronic Blueprint Designers: Unfold design studios, n-e-r-v-o-u-s, Bathsheba
  5. Personal Manufacturing Consortia: 100K Garages


Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman:

"Personal manufacturing is where personal computing was in the 1970s, before the advent of home-scale computers and consumer software. Recent rapid technological advances in personal manufacturing technology, combined with shrinking costs of machines, increasingly available design software and raw manufacturing materials, plus most peoples’ tendency to conduct more daily activities online, are tipping personal fabrication from the realm of hobbyists and pioneers to the mainstream." (

The Market for Personal Manufacturing


Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman:

"Hard market data about consumer and industry use of personal manufacturing technologies is scarce.

The growth of personal manufacturing technologies for everyday consumer use is driven by a small but growing worldwide community of “power users,” self-selected highly skilled enthusiasts.

Online communities of personal fabrication enthusiasts mingle on sites such as Make and swap designs on Google’s 3D Warehouse and Shapeway’s online marketplace."

There’s no market research firm that tracks consumer machine sales, nor the number of installed machines, nor what types of services and products the machines are being used to provide.

We have slightly better data about personal manufacturing technologies in the industrial space, but again, it’s incomplete for several reasons.

The commercial 3D printer space offers the most solid market research data thanks to the meticulous research conducted by Terry Wohlers and compiled in the annual Wohlers Report, the leading market research publication for the 3D print industry. The Wohlers Report tracks sales, applications and other news of 3D printing service providers and machine makers.

The industries that most commonly request 3D manufacturing services are consumer products/electronics, cars, the medical profession and companies that make industrial and business machines. The 3D printed objects most commonly requested by these industries are functional models, machine parts, visual aids and patterns for prototype tooling.

The Wohlers Report data suggests that consumer companies, the auto industry, and specialized parts companies could someday provide a foundation for a new manufacturing ecosystem made up of 3D printing services providers that specialize in rapid prototyping and on-the-fly machine part production services.

In terms of machine sales, commercial activity and services revenue, the 3D printing marketplace still belongs to industrial-scale, not personal-scale machines.

Wohlers’ market data offers hints that this may be changing.

In 2009, the biggest companies that made and sold 3D printers together earned a total of about $312 million in machine sales.

Market demand, however, may be shifting towards low-end 3D commercial printers. Last year, revenue across all reporting 3D printer companies indicated that 3D printer sales experienced their first-ever decline, dropping 13% from the year before.9 In the same timeframe, however, the total *number* of 3D printers sold increased by almost 20%, suggesting that while total sales revenue earned by 3D printer-makers declined, the number of units sold of low-cost 3D printers increased significantly. Wohlers’ data could suggest that 3D printers are on their way to becoming a commodity item, like laptops and other computing hardware.

It’s possible that as market demand increases for smaller, cheaper industrial 3D printers and the cost of these printers continues to drop, machine manufacturers will sell higher volumes of lower-cost printers to compensate for shrinking profit margins.

Recently, a leading home-scale 3D printer company, Bits from Bytes, was acquired by 3D Systems, an established industrial 3D printer manufacturer.


We mention Christensen’s work (on the Innovator's Dilemmahere to call attention to the possibility that personal manufacturing technologies have the potential to disrupt the dominance of their larger, more powerful industrial cousins in the manufacturing machine marketplace. The average selling price of an industrial-scale 3D printer continues to drop. In 2007, the average cost of a commercial-scale 3D printer was $77,000; in 2008, the cost was $70,000 in 2008; in 2009, the average price dropped further, to $52,0009.


Most personal manufacturing machines are sold into the hobbyist space, a market that currently is too small to appeal to companies that make and sell large and costly manufacturing machines. However incumbent companies may find that low-cost, personal-scale manufacturing technologies are increasingly capable of taking over tasks that used to be the domain of larger, more expensive machines. Someday, if home-scale manufacturing technologies continue to improve at their current pace, personal fabrication technologies will creep up market, disrupting the dominance of costly, feature-laden, factory-scale manufacturing machines. " (


See: Personal Manufacturing - Discussion


  1. How Personal Fabrication Will Change Manufacturing and the Economy
  2. Barriers and Challenges to Personal Manufacturing
  3. Business Model Challenges (see: Personal Manufacturing - Business Models)
  4. Fabrication as an Educational Medium
  5. We Need Clean Company Tax Benefits for Personal Manufacturing

Conclusion from the Report Factory At Home

"Personal-scale manufacturing machines use the same fabrication methods as their larger, industrial ancestors, but are smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. Home-scale machines, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and programmable sewing machines, combined with the right electronic design blueprint, enable people to manufacture functioning products at home, on demand, at the press of a button. These technologies make manufacturing accessible to everyone; for the first time, designing and making custom objects is cheap, easy, and fun. Recent rapid technological advances in design software and personal manufacturing machines, combined with shrinking costs of machines and materials, increasingly active and helpful online user communities, plus most peoples’ tendency to conduct more and more daily activities online, will tip personal fabrication from the realm of hobbyists and pioneers to the mainstream.

Personal manufacturing technologies will profoundly impact how we design, make, transport, and consume physical products. As manufacturing technologies follow the path from factory to home use, like personal computers, “personalized” manufacturing tools will enable consumers, schools and businesses to work and play in new ways. Emerging manufacturing technologies will usher in an industrial “evolution” that combines the best of mass and artisan production models, and has the potential to partially reverse the trend to outsourcing. Personal manufacturing technologies will unleash “long tail” global markets for custom goods, whose sales volumes of will be profitable enough to enable specialists, niche manufacturing, and design companies to make a good living. Underserved communities will be able to design and manufacture their own medical devices, toys, machine parts and other tools locally, using local materials. At school, personal-scale manufacturing tools will empower a new generation of innovators, and spark student interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Like computing, transportation and communication, shrinking manufacturing tools represent a strategic infrastructure technology that has the potential to catalyze innovation in many other fields and industries. These technologies remove the barriers of investment in heavy machinery and specialized operator skill, so consumers, for the first time since the era of artisan craft production, will lead the design and manufacturing process. We have the opportunity to create a new retail ecosystem and manufacturing economy in the U.S. so we can continue to lead the rest of the world in product innovation and manufacturing. New business models will become possible, such as small-scale, regional manufacturing hubs, mom and pop shops that create niche products for a global market, custom and on-demand manufacturing, and toolkit-based industrial product design and development. Despite their great promise, successful adoption of personal manufacturing technologies is not assured. A number of barriers stand in the way that discourage widespread home, school and business use such as safety concerns, part standardization and version control challenges, intellectual property issues and creating appropriate regulatory controls. Thoughtful and visionary government investment is needed to ensure we establish the U.S. as the world leader in personal fabrication technologies. Appropriate government policies will nourish the potential of these technologies to promote STEM education, create new industries and innovation-based domestic jobs, provide a new design space to foster invention, and spark the formation of new businesses."


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.