June 8, 2008

Home Manufacturing in the Future

Filed under: Additive Manufacturing,Future,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:23

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.


  1. Today I once again read about the probable future of additive fabrication (3D printing).

    There are services offering the production of small scale objects that can be called affordable already. Maybe in a few years, the machines themselves will be affordable to enthusiasts for private use.

    Game characters and toys are not everyone’s thing. More interesting would be everything that could and should be made to fit. Imagine a mouse stripped down to the technical parts, to be completed with a 3D-printed shell. You could load a freely available, parameterized model file into a CAD application and enter the measurements of your hand …

    Sadly, we don’t even have parametric solid modeling as free / open-source software.

    Pingback by Thorsten Wilms — June 10, 2008 @ 05:51

  2. I have always been fascinated by the idea of home 3D printing. I agree that it will always be more affordable to go buy a replacement toaster because it is on the commodity end of consumer products. But what if I lose the battery door to my TV remote? It’s a very insignificant part, but it sure is inconvenient to go without it. Shouldn’t there be a way to get a replacement part for something like that?

    Thorsten, Alibre is a parametric solid modeling software. I don’t believe that it is open-source, but the entry-level is free.

    Comment by Myles Christensen — September 11, 2008 @ 16:07

  3. Agree with your thoughts – I think what we are seeing, though, is a move that I have heard described as an evolution from DIY to MIY (make it yourself) and SIY (sell if yourself). As you would know, there are already some killer business models reaping the rewards of this, e.g. MIY – Youtube, Revver, etc., and SIY is eBay. So agree – MIY is already happening in the digital realm; just a matter of time before 3D printing takes it the next step.

    Comment by michael — September 30, 2008 @ 06:14

  4. Thorsten: I agree that open source parametric modeling software would be desirable. While sourceforge turns up a few hits (and I’ve actually downloaded a few packages), but nothing is close to SolidWorks yet (like Blender is close to 3D animation software). It’s not strange to see why. It needs a lot of time and dedication of a lot of people. I think the fabrication revolution will also stimulate such projects though.

    Terry Wohlers: I think it isn’t very convincing to say that household items will not be made through AF, because you have *an example* of a thing that people will not likely fabricate at home themselves? It is okay that AF cannot replace specialist manufacturing processes. But much more simple objects could be fabbed, and this fraction of objects will only increase. As a counter-example: there are metal casting techniques meant for ordinary microwaves. While I don’t expect many people to do this, it would allow casting of metal parts into 3D printed ceramic moulds. So even ‘hard parts’ will be possible. But that’s a lot further down the road, I do certainly agree on that. There are also many examples where people think metal springs are needed (various clips), but could be produced out of plastic all the way. A spring or hinge is actually printable. You would 3D print them in a relaxed state. When putting the springy parts where they belong there is tension in the plastic.

    Comment by ErikDeBruijn — October 21, 2008 @ 15:03