Instant Manufacturing Manifesto

Instant Manufacturing Manifesto
By Chris Daisy

I’ve been an industrial designer for about seven years now and I’ve been a musician for much longer. Lately, after doing some thinking about both industries; I’ve come to realize that there are many costs and environmental problems related to the manufacturing and distribution of everyday objects that can be solved using the mp3 (sort of). I know that sounds weird, so let me start with a little back story.

In the early 1990’s, I had a rock and roll band, just like thousands of other teenagers and twentysomethings across the world. In those days, computers did not have CD burners built into them and it would be years before this was common. If you wanted to make a CD for your band, you had to buy at least one thousand copies. It was quite expensive to do this, and it often ended with nine hundred and fifty copies collecting dust in your parent’s garage. Getting a recording contract was a nearly impossible task because it was a simple matter of money. A record company had to manufacture the product ahead of time and have it shipped across every corner of the country. Because they had something like a 95% failure rate among the artists they signed, there are millions of copies of broken dreams sitting in a landfill that have a half life of 100,000 years.

Now fast forward to 2010. The music industry is a shell of its former self. The brick and mortar mega music chains are history - all because of the mp3. I believe that the manufacturing and distribution of many products can follow a similar model, and it would change everything.

My new band is called Power of Time and we make dark sounding psychedelic rock music. If you are curious, here’s the link: Facebook - log in or sign up. These days I can use a service like Tunecore or Reverb Nation to sell my music on itunes and other online retailers. We keep all the royalties and make seventy cents on the dollar. If we get out there and hustle, and find 100,000 people who like the music we’re making and are willing to purchase one song, we make $70,000. Ca-ching!

You can bet your guitar strings I’ll be recording an album and posting it ASAP! The best part is, after the recording costs are done, which by the way are cheaper than ever with modern technology, the band doesn’t have to sink any more money into hard product. Instead, we need to expose the music to as many people as possible. We don’t need a record company, we need a marketing company!

To emulate this situation in the world of hard and soft goods, we need a new machine. Currently, there are rapid prototyping machines that read computer files, and literally grow a part using different methods depending on the material. Right now, it is too slow and expensive to make a full production run of parts using this method. But it isn’t the machine’s fault entirely. It’s the production run itself.

Imagine if we took a machine that does 3D printing. These already exist and are dropping in price every year. But let’s take it up a notch. Let’s make it a “color” printer so to speak. Imagine a multi nozzle version that in one swipe can lay down tiny amounts of materials with properties similar to plastic, metal and glass. These materials can be fused together at such a small level that they will effectively become bonded together while they are being made. No separate parts. No assembly lines because there is no assembly. A single tube can change from what looks and acts like metal, to glass, to plastic, to fabric if you wanted it to. What if the material changes in smooth gradients all the way down the length of the tube? You can’t make everything in the world using this type of machine, but think about what you could make. The design world would be turned on its ear with new possibilities.

Now imagine a large factory full of machines like this. Imagine a new manufacturing company builds a network of identical factories near every major city in the country-in several countries. A factory like this would have the capability to manufacture identical items across the network, on a made to order level.

Right now if you want to make widgets, you need to find a factory that can make them. You have to put up a large sum of money, and you have to order a large amount of them to offset the cost of making them. Then you have to ship them, store them, and ship them off again when you get an order. It reminds me of the music industry back in the 90’s. Soooo last century.

If a large corporation opened this network of factories, they could charge a small business or individual for manufacturing a copy of their product anywhere in the world. Now the business no longer has to stockpile items. They don’t have to buy cardboard boxes and filler material to ship items in. By keeping the item made to order, there is very little wasted material. Since the factory is close to the city the product was bought in, the item can be delivered to the store in an electric vehicle. Oil consumption will drop. The only thing that needs to be delivered in a more traditional sense is food.

There can still be competition in the market. Major manufacturing companies will constantly try to one up each other with their newest capabilities and networks. Anyone with a good idea and some technical know-how could create and sell a new product. Larger companies with multiple employees can still exist, as the collective brain power of a group can push the limits further.

If only three people buy your new pair of sunglasses, it’s no big deal. Only three pairs were ever made!

Some building materials would fall by the wayside, as they wouldn’t fit into the new methods of production, but will we really miss them? Do you still have your old cassette tapes, or have you switched to mp3s?

I highly doubt I’m the first person to think of this, (if I am, make the check payable to Chris Daisy) but I would like to get the discussion going. I hope that for all the holes in the plan people will bring to my attention, an equal or greater amount of solutions and new ideas can be generated.

Thanks for your time.

Great topic! Once 3D printing goes beyond prototypes and into finished product, a lot is going to change.

Have you seen the MakerBot Cupcake plastruder? Under $1000 and totally open-source. Watch this guy fab his own working parts:

As pointed out in a related thread, WIRED magazine did a feature story on this a few months back, and largely got slammed for it.
Check this out.

Would be nice but we’re far from it still becoming economical/competitive. A $1 mass produced handle can cost $100 to 3d print (using powder-based print, and they’re fragile once finished). And we’re still limited to plastic-based products and some metals and ceramics. Plastic extrusion prints would be cheaper, but still limited on resolution capabilities and types of plastics (I’m currently messing with one right now on my CNC machine). The new ones can print multiple types of plastics in (limited) RGB colors, cool stuff but still a ways to go.

The next big thing in 3d printing is to figure out a way to print circuit boards including capacitors, etc (some major competitions on that now); then there’s still a few revolutionary improvements that has to be made before it’ll be overall practical IMO. Right now it only serves as expensive replacements to dollar-store items.

… and what if 3D printing is only the “Mini Disk” of the music business and not yet the Mp3 ??

The medium is not as important as the message. The monetary risks associated with tooling, shipping and distribution are the primary reason we are not delivering better, more tailored products for people. Once we eliminate, or at least marginalize those risks, I believe we can build better product. A rapid prototype machine doesn’t care what it is printing anymore than a paper printer, to pay for itself, it just has to print. This is pretty much the business model at Kinkos… imagine that for products.

I think the end result might be a bit more like than Garageband. Look how self publishing has been advancing. It is amazing. Publish, print, and ship all on demand. Maybe someday we will self publish products in that manner.

If you traveled back in time to the early 90’s, and handed me an ipad, my first question would be “What the hell is the internet?”

The first few companies that can develop and implement a system like this stand to make billions of dollars. This can go way beyond replacing dollar store items. Imagine a circuit board that is grown directly into the object. How about drums of a liquid that behaves like liquid carbon fiber? You could change the material properties just by changing the way it is grown. A thin sheet can flex, while and expanded version similar to styrofoam would be stiff and strong.

What if your CAD software was updated in real time with the latest materials available, their material properties and cost? Now as you model your object the price of each part is updated in the bottom right hand corner while you are creating it.

I can say from experience that manufacturing products in a factory on the other side of the EARTH using barely-skilled labor who do not even speak the same language is NOT the ideal way to do it. Especially when you slap an additional $3000 and a month’s worth of time for the products to be jammed into a container and stuck on a BOAT of all things!

In larger scale manufacturing, this can already be done. Steel, aluminum, paint surface area, wires, inches of weld, etc. can all be associated a cost and kicked out in a BOM.

Other than ordering 2-3 prototypes per month from the local shop, my experience with 3-D printers is limited.

My concern is with capacity, maybe you can educate me.

I have a 16-up tool on a 300-ton press that is making 3,000 parts per hour, 72K parts a day, 5 days a week at about 85% capacity.

The tool was $250K (specialty tooling out of Germany, pricey stuff), the press is $500K. I need about 1000 sq ft for the press.

I have no idea what the price point needs to be for the 3-D printer for this instant manufacturing to happen, so lets say a $500 printer that can print with very specific performance properties. With the same capital costs as the tool and press, that would give me 1,500 printers. Does that seem reasonable?

Can these things do 2 parts per hour (the size of a toothbrush) for 3 shifts a day, 5 days a week at 85% capacity? I will need considerably more square footage, especially if my manufacturing is decentralized. Also, if production is decentralized, I will need much more labor and I can only assume consumables will be many times more than in one spot. How can the business model handle the increases in overhead, labor and raw material costs?

What I’m aiming for is a change in the business model so that the company that creates and sells the idea does not have to buy all the equipment to make the product. If these networks of instant manufacturing were available and were capable of filling your orders, you wouldn’t need extra labor. Making the product yourself would no longer be part of your business model.

Yes, there are major limitations right now that would need to be overcome. That is why I’m asking for a better machine. Apple has come a long way from the early beige desktop computers to the products we know today. A similar advancement in 3D printing would need to take place before this idea is feasible. I don’t think its impossible.

Right now this is the only idea I have for replacing tooling and shipping with ones and zeros. I hope we can generate more ideas because the oil that is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico is making me depressed. BP claims today that they will spend $500 million to “research” the spill. What kind of 3D printer could be developed with a $500 million dollar budget? I bet it would kick some butt!

There’s mass production, and then there is boutique production. It happens sometimes where nobody wants to make the investment for tooling, or the biggies in the industry don’t offer a version of their product line for a small niche. A RP production shop like Chris is describing would be perfect for this.

I worked at a startup for a bit and we absolutely fit into this niche boutique product category. People wanted these ultra customized microtablet PCs and I would whip up 10 or so with the new features, make them in SLS/Castings/SheetMetal, and customers would take them straight out to the field. The materials I had to work with had some negative qualities, but it still made sense and people expected to pay a little more for more unique products anyway… if the processes improved, it would be fantastic

Guess what I’m saying is that there is totally a business model where this could work, even if it doesn’t fit the same cost structure as traditionally made products.

These sites already exists, I know of 2 at least. One a laser cutting/etching where you can upload your design and you get a commission for each sold, the other is a 3d printing site. Almost like Etsy but they make/fabricate everything in-house and designer gets a cut. Though this is a big step in DIY revolution, the majority of the design aethetics that comes out of these are pretty bad, but that’s another story :mrgreen:

Santa Claus Machine: “It’s possible to imagine a machine that could scoop up material – rocks from the Moon or rocks from asteroids – process them inside and produce just about any product: washing machines or teacups or automobiles or starships. Once such a machine exists it could gather sunlight and materials that it’s sitting on, and produce on call whatever product anybody wants to name, as long as somebody knows how to make it and those instructions can be given to the machine. I think the name Santa Claus Machine for such a device is appropriate.” --Theodore Taylor, 1978

I believe their goal is to end mass production

3D printing isn’t quite there yet, but CNC machining (including laser and waterjet) has been for a while. If you do it right, it’s possible to build a business with minimal startup costs, and running very low inventory levels. Distributed manufacturing is possible too, although it’s not generally worth the effort unless you’re dealing with pretty big volume.

However, none of this is going to have much effect out in the mainstream until the cost is down close to what we can get now from Asia. The mass market is just too price driven.

You’re right though, it’s coming, and it’s going to shake up a lot of existing businesses that are tied to the current model.

The CAD nerd in me loves the idea of something like a futuristic polyject that could lay down circuitboards, plastic, rubber, metal, etc in each pass. You could buy a product and have it produced on the spot, or if your inclined, modify the exterior to your own custom look. It’s a little CAD heavy, but people are already doing something like it with the open source hardware like the chumbly.

The downside is that there’d be some important CAD to sort out, and sometimes it takes a couple passes on complicated stuff. In fact, I have gotten a little burnt on the CAD hours last couple years and think a great part of this service would be some wonderful CAD knomes that work for the production company that would realize my sketches.

PS, I think I’ve seen articles on some kind of giant concrete printer that could grow houses! Future’s bright :sunglasses:

We are definitely a long way off from the Star Trek Replicator (BWOMP BWOMP NERD ALERT) but things will be going in that general direction, albeit slowly. We have a laser sintering machine that can print ABS at the office. Imagine a facility not unlike a kinkos with several kinds of 3d “printers” for different materials from plastics, to laser cut and CNC rolled/bent/formed metals were a somewhat complex product could be “built” from parts off different printers and be easily assembled there. For complex assemblies (like touch screens) stock units could be manufactured in Asia and kept in stock, so lets say a completely custom smart phone, but with a stock LCD could be fabricated and assembled on site.

Once those kinds of facilities are in place you could have an iTunes like website were designs could be uploaded to, purchased and sent to the regional print facility on demand. Upload would be free, download would cost. Users could then rate the designers/engineers so those individuals would be the brand not unlike ebay users… and YES, I just hodgepodged like 8 things together, but it could work…

I understand the change in the business model, but I still need the large capacity of 3,000 parts per hour. And it may not hit me directly, there is still an increase in overhead, labor and raw goods. 1,500 printers take up more physical space than my IM press. 1,500 printers have more maintenance than my IM press. 1,500 printers require cartridges over pellets for my IM press.

As Travisimo pointed out, the idea of boutique production could be viable. I am having a really hard time making a business case for mass production.

I don’t think you would need 1,500 printers if the set ups were regional. The idea being bringing everything closer to the consumer. Again, we are short about 400 scientific breakthroughs to make this happen, but 100 years ago, I’m sure no one thought that every office would have massive Cannon Fiery printers when print was handset.

Our manufacturing is the equivalent of handset type. Have you ever sen them set up a production line in Asia? It can take months to switch over a line to a new product.

unlike a stamp or a die, a printer doesn’t care what it is printing, to amortize it simply need to run to be profitable. However to amortize a die, a specific product must sell. If demand for that product goes down, a company has to swallow the cost of a tool that could not pay for itself. So the business case as I see it is alleviating risk by being able to manufacture almost anything as needed by your regional consumer base.

No doubt that automation requires long lead times. But when that automation is up, nothing can touch it for efficiency.

I certainly would never say a non-centralized model couldn’t work, but, and this is just one person’s guess, you would need technology verging on the Star Trek level.

As I mentioned, it won’t work for every single product. If you need pieces done faster than this process could provide, you probably won’t use it. However I think the real draw will come from the elimination of other manufacturing roadblocks. The two biggest being shipping and storing. Sending digital information instead of a physical product is the path of least resistance. Megabytes are cheap. Gasoline is not. I think companies would innovate how they operate so they can take advantage of what feels like the teleportation of goods.

I also kept the 3D printers in factories at this point instead of people’s homes mainly because I don’t feel all consumers would want to bother with it. There can still be retail stores, where you can touch and feel a product, the difference is that when the store runs out of product, the factory is only 20 miles away and can fill the order in a day or two.