The Emerging Economy of Home Manufacturing

From the RepRap blog:

Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman were asked by the White House to write a report on the emerging phenomenon of home manufacturing.  It has recently been published and – as you would expect – it makes interesting reading.

And this is from the document itself (PDF), available on Lipson’s website at Cornell:

For a few thousand dollars, anyone can buy their own personal-scale manufacturing
machine, download electronic blueprints to their home computer, and manufacture
unique and complicated objects at home. Personal manufacturing machines, or
“fabbers,” are the pint-sized, low-cost descendants of mass manufacturing machines
used in factories. Different types of small-scale manufacturing machines such as 3D
printers, laser cutters, and programmable sewing machines, combined with an
electronic design blueprint, enable people to create a wide range of objects. People
that have no special skills or training can “rip, mix and burn” physical objects such as
custom machine parts, unique household goods, jewelry, toys, and maybe someday,
electronic devices.
Personal manufacturing is where personal computing was in the 1970s, before the
advent of home-scale computers and consumer software. Recent rapid technological
advances in personal manufacturing technology, combined with shrinking costs of
machines, increasingly available design software and raw manufacturing materials,
plus most peoples’ tendency to conduct more daily activities online, are tipping
personal fabrication from the realm of hobbyists and pioneers to the mainstream. As
consumers, businesses, and schools gain access to the same powerful design software
and manufacturing tools traditionally available only to large companies and factories,
we will witness a cascade of innovation in product design, educational tools, the arts,
medical devices, and business models.

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  1. It disturbs me that this study was commissioned by the white house. I can’t see any other reason for it than for them to find new ways to regulate. Slapping licensing restrictions on things like 3D printers or CNC routers would be a new source of revenue, and in the end would raise the cost of such home manufacturing back out of the reach of most of us and put it squarely back into the hands of corporate megaliths.

  2. Hmm, that’s certainly a less positive way of looking at it, Sapper… but it is unjustified.

    This is the first administration we have seen in a while that favors US manufacturers. The last 15 years or so the only thing the feds have done is encourage outsourcing, and built ring highways whereever Walmart requested one.

    I for one welcome our new, -domestic- overlords 🙂

  3. I agree there are more positive ways to look at this. I think we’re potentially sitting on a movement that will mimic the industrial revolution, except the outcome is opposite. Instead of assembly lines and mass produced items, to be sold to the masses, we’ll see companies (like Adafruit, Sparkfun, and MakerBot) catering to the niches and doing small scale manufacturing domestically.

    Manufacturing isn’t dead in the United States, manufacturing of mundane mass produced products is dead. We are still innovating, we are still manufacturing, it is just more targeted and at a smaller scale.

    I also welcome our new -domestic- automated small scale overlords.

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