Manufacture comes home

The future is always different than we think it will be. There are people working to completely revamp the process of manufacture and they’re not thinking about some distant time. They’re looking at what happens now.

On January 24, the earth was bombarded by solar rays. It was a miserable day for internetting and for flying. The solar storms caused flight delays for planes taking the polar routes and for all we know provided cover for alien landings all over the world.

The tools of manufacture become localized but maybe not to the level of being in everyone’s home. (Source: Fab@Home)

In the office, we couldn’t get any computer in the office to behave. The same sorts of problems struck Singularity University as well. Carl Bass was a featured guest at the second of a series of talks and discussions sponsored by the University Program. It was a shame too because Bass’ talk with SU’s VP for Academics and Innovation Vivek Wadhwa was wide ranging, sometimes crazy, but great fun and a continuation of Bass’ theme that as more people have the means of creating and making their own designs, it creates a new balance for world economies and changes the way goods are made and traded.

Check it out at this link.

It’s really easy to get distracted by the future possibilities of direct manufacture. In this talk Carl Bass talks about 3D printing a liver–makes more sense than waiting for some poor soul to die so you can scavenge parts, but it’s not quite real, yet.

What is real is the enthusiasm people have for creating their own products. David ten Have of Ponoko posts a New Year’s blog calling for humans to take to the shop. He’s careful to focus on the practical. Right now there’s so much hype around 3D printing that its easy to miss what’s really going on. We don’t need to have our own 3D printer in the house and not all goods will be printed. What’s important is access and expertise. Access is becoming easier than ever. Expertise is still something that must be earned.

TikTok Nano watches
The TikTok watch based on Apple’s Nano was funded through Firestarter and became the flagship product for design company Lunatik. (Source: Firestarter)

Ponoko makes all kinds of machining tools including 3D printers, laser cutters, stamps, routers, the gamut. You send them your design, you define the materials and the process, they make it. They’re the factory. David ten Have says he sees products coming to market through new and unconventional channels as people go to places like the Tech Shop with an idea. There, they can learn how to create their design. The Tech Shop offers classes in everything including CNC, machining, electronics, vacuum forming,  Inventor (and Autodesk offers free 6 month licenses), book binding, whatever, and they provide access to tools. People can get funding for their project through something like Kickstarter, an online micro-funding project that brings people with ideas together with people with even a little money to invest. The poster child, is the TikTok watch based on the iPod Nano.


Americans watched President Obama’s State of the Union Address this week. He said the recession is gradually receding and that people are getting jobs. As part of that process he said manufacture is coming back. What’s always true though, is that nothing every really comes back after a recession; it changes. It’s possible that we’ll have our own factories in the back room churning out a new pair of tennis shoes when we need them but it’s more likely we’ll be able to ask for a customized design when we need it.

One of the models to think about is photo printing. In the past, we took a bunch of crappy pictures and had them all printed and then we tossed them into a drawer. If we were lucky a few made it into a photo album. Yes, we got printers at home, and yes we used it, but we created few photos and we settled for lower quality. Now, we can use pictures to create a specific product, a framed picture, a book, a coffee cup. We can order it, and we can run down to the store and pick it up — sometimes within an hour.

Soon, we can do the same for a new pair of shoes. A new sweater. A new fitting for the kitchen cabinet. This is just in time consumption.

Singularity University features Carl Bass
Carl Bass and Vivek Wadhwa knock around ideas for the future of design and manufacture … and a whole lot of other things too. (Source: Singularity University)