June 8, 2008
Many years ago, at least one person predicted the use of additive fabrication (AF) to “3D print” household items. If the bread toaster breaks, a new one—or part of one—would be created on the home 3D printer. The convenience and speed would make it compelling.
I disagreed then and I do now. If the toaster breaks, a new one is purchased for $15–20. Even if a person or family owns or has access to a 3D printer, the system would probably not accommodate the type of material needed for the replacement part(s). Also, 3D model data, needed to drive the system, would need to be created or downloaded. This would not be impossible, but few consumers would want to mess with it.
I do believe that home manufacturing will develop in the future and feel more strongly about it now than ever. People that manufacture at home, however, will serve as “providers” that sell to others, primarily on the web. Individuals will see it as a low-risk, low-overhead business opportunity to manufacture from their basement, spare room, garage, or dorm room. They will discover a niche market and serve this market from their home. A few are already doing it.
Case in point: Fabjectory is a one-person company that has been producing models from Second Life, Google SketchUp, and Nintendo Mii for some time. The price for a color model from Fabjectory is typically $50–200. The home-based operation has been written up in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, Wired, and other major publications. I am also aware of others here in the U.S. and abroad that are offering part-making services from the comfort of their homes.
The market opportunities are vast. Among them are the production of individualized video game characters, sculptures, corporate gifts, figurines, ornaments, lighting designs, custom furniture, wall hangings, and other home and personal accessories. Add it up and you’re looking at markets that total billions of dollars.
So, don’t be surprised when you begin to see small, specialized manufacturers popping up everywhere. At first, it may appear as though they are operating from a regular business or store front. Upon closer examination, you will find that they are small operations located in homes. And, they will be the manufacturer of the future.