Monday, August 10, 2009


Previously on ProjectPerko: the problem of 3D printing. This week's episode: Makerbot makes a move!

I think this is a good first step. At first, I was a little derogatory: they're essentially manufacturing need for manufacturing when there isn't really any. But after a moment, I became more positive.

There is no need for "crowdsourced manufacturing" or even its superset brother "minifacturing". As I said, there's simply no particular interest among the public for being able to build small numbers of a huge variety of things. Most people are happy to buy one of a billion manufactured, non-customized objects for a fraction of the price.

However, I do not think this disproves the concept of minifacturing. The idea of manufacturing things in your basement seems outlandish and unreasonable, but so does having your own personal computer. I can't imagine any reason anybody would need their own home computer.

So I do think that minifacturing has a tremendous future. I don't see it exactly, but I see its shadow, in the same way that you could see the shadow of the internet on the first personal computers.

And I think that manufacturing a need is, for the moment, not a bad idea. Sure, it's just a shadow of real demand... but these sorts of things might help shape a real demand. And once that happens, maybe things will change.

Personally, I still think that minifacturing's breakthrough probably lies mostly in guerrilla home-improvement: minifacturing solar panels, water purifiers, etc. But I wouldn't bet one way or another. Shadows are notoriously hard to interpret.

Join us again next time, same print-time, same print-channel.


Isaac said...

Here's a possible vector for increased minifacturing: consider a hypothetical product testing regulations (similar to the recent CPSIA) that add a high testing cost to small artisan sellers but doesn't apply to minifactured material (because you printed it yourself and have no intention of reselling it).

Or on home improvement: what about plumbers or carpenters using it to extrude custom parts? Which would be a commercial rather than residential use.

Obviously these things aren't practical under current technical and economic conditions, but it's interesting to speculate on how (or if) these things will ever get off the ground.

Craig Perko said...

To a large extent, that's exactly the sort of thing I'm thinking of. Any area where the market adds a big cost.

Contractors are expensive, so for those that can do without them, there's savings to be had. Tested and regulated products are often more than three times the price that their manufacturing actually costs, so it's plausible to create open hardware variants that are cheaper, even though the home manufacturing is more expensive. And, of course, lots of things are just flat-out against regulations but can be safely built and used in private.

These are the areas where minifacturing will have to grow, because it cannot compete in price and it may not be feasible for 10-20 years to create "smart customization" on the order where it becomes useful to most people.