Thursday, May 6, 2010

The "future of manufacturing"

So what is "cloud manufacturing"? Here is the ultimate premise:

1. A readily available, low cost, easy to use, personal fabricating machine is in every household.
2a. 3D models are available for download from the Web, the "cloud", for free (see Thingiverse for an idea of the possibilities) or for a fee, depending upon the demand. Think E-books for the Kindle, old classics can be downloaded for free while you pay for the newly released top sellers.
2b. 3D modelling software accessed through the Web (or "cloud") is so easy to use that the average person can create a representation of what he or she wants or modify a current design relatively easily.
2c. For replication purposes, change the tool head on the personal fabricator to a scanner, place the desired object for copying into the machine, press scan, and the personal fabricator creates a 3D model of the object ready for duplication (sounds a lot like a copier!)
3. After finding, creating, scanning what he/she wants/needs, the file is loaded into the home fabricator, and manufactured on demand.

Literally, you reach into the "cloud", find what you want, and make it right then, right there.

Why would we go in this direction:

1. The ultimate in one piece flow
2. Literally, on-demand manufacturing
3. Little, to no transportation, inventory, overproduction, over-processing (i.e. the seven deadly forms of waste)
4. The ultimate in consumer choice, no more buying what is available, buy want you want, when you want it!

How would this work? Imagine a child wanting a toy:

1. Child desires toy
2. Parent searches Web, "cloud", for toy child wants
3. Parent downloads 3D Model of toy into fabricator and makes toy
4. Child gets the exact toy they want, now.

Are we there yet? No. Is this just the beginning? Yes. Remember the original Heathkit computers? All but the early adopters were saying, why would we need a computer at home? Look at us now.

How will it begin? With early adopters building personal fabricators from kits, i.e. the Makerbot. In the beginning until the technology catches up, those technically inclined will fabricate for those not so adroit at it. The automobile started out this way, owners were mechanics up until they were mass produced for the every day person. With the rate that technology is changing, it is hard to predict how soon this transformation will occur. Will everything go this way, probably not. Toys seem to be a natural fit. Maybe even replacement parts for appliances? Medical devices, maybe not. It is hard to tell what industries will grow up around this. No one could have predicted what would come out of the personal computer. No one will be able to predict what will come out of the personal fabricator either.

This is literally a "if we build it, they will come" approach. The market is undefined and unimaginable, but it is there. We just have to find it. My goal is to be part of it.

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