MC On “User Manufacturing”

There’s an entry on the Mass Customization blog (Link) that got my attention a week or so ago. I was going to post something here (well, I am actually doing that now), but I decided to post a long comment there which I’ll simply copy here… without the blockquote tags. There’s really not too much in it that’s new since unlike Mass Custom, I’m focused on “user manufacturing” and not on customization.

Anyway, here’s the comment:

I expect that either Amazon or eBay will be the one’s to really get “desktop manufacturing” under way (my preferred term atm). With eBay there’s already most everything in place; including a Reputation system. With Amazon, there’s the recent push to provide something like what eBay offers (along with the perception that they sell *new* goods whereas eBay is still thought of as the place for secondhand stuff). Both, however, appear to be leading the way.

Interesting to me is that both are major players in virtual worlds which perhaps signals a belief that the best way to sell tangible goods (of the non-printed, non-digital media container variety) is to do so inside a 3D space. Amazon has linked SL to its catalog so users can make purchases from inside SL; and of course the Omidyar’s are investors in and users of SL. It’s not at the point where it needs to be (the 3D is too primitive), but I would venture that they’re learning from what’s available to them now with the intent of applying those lessons to the more realistic vr’s sure to follow. And the viral nature of 3D objects will make the 2D web look extraordinarily primitive imo. What can be done inside a 3D space is mindblowing.

To dmi:

“And whoever produces our niche-products will have dramatically increased setup-times with their assembly lines.”

Not necessarily. Rapid-manufacturing potentially does away with much of what we have been doing.

The beauty of RM is that unlike what I do when I design a product, the average person doesn’t need to know about parting lines or bypass shut-offs or draft. That’s because the shapes that can be made are not limited by traditional mold solutions. And that also usually means fewer parts per product because when you can’t mold a shape, you either change the shape or you break it down into more parts that *can* be. Beyond that, we’ll see grown parts that contain multiple materials. For example, we’ll get parts composed of both plastic and metal integrated into one form (the metal could replace wires). Consequently, assembly lines as we know them today will likely be very different from what we could see in the future.

“So in the end we have to have some bigger lot sizes than 10 or 100 or 1000 pieces, dependent on the product to keep direct costs down.”

You’re assuming that niche products will compete with mass products. I don’t see that. It’ll be a long time before RM can fabricate parts faster than injection molding or most any other process currently used. That alone would prevent desktop manufacturing from emerging.

Instead, I think of this more as an evolution of the urban vinyl toy market. Those are manufactured using traditional means (usually rotomolding) but *because* of their limited quantity fetch high prices. So based on what’s already going on, I’d venture we’ll see short production runs and high prices. And one doesn’t have to look too far for a market. As the wealthy get ever wealthier, Christie’s auction house is increasingly shocked at the winning bids. Unique sells. And RM products with shapes that have never even been seen before will definitely be unique.