Can a New Type of Manufacturing Change the World?

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July 23, 2020

In the past there were basically two types of manufacturing: you either made a single item by hand or you built a factory and made a lot of the items you’re wanting to sell.

The problem with the first approach is that you can’t usually make a lot of items quickly and the thus the cost of that item is tied to your labor cost, which doesn’t reduce as you make more items.

The problem with the second approach is that a factory costs a lot of money to build and operate so it’s cost prohibitive for any individual.

Until the last few years these have been the only two types of manufacturing, but slowly a middle ground of manufacturing has been gaining in popularity as digital fabrication tools have come down in price.

Digital Fabrication

The tools and techniques that have been driving the adoption of this new approach has been lower cost digital fabrication tools like CNC machines and 3D printers.

This happened because in 2009 various patents on Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) expired and caused a wave of new companies to appear on the scene making 3D printers.

This coincided with the popularization of the RepRap project, a project aimed at making 3D printers that could print parts to make more of the same type of 3D printer. These printers were usually inaccurate and small but the concept was there and a design that could be easily manufactured just had to be made.

Enter Josef Průša who took the philosophy of RepRap to heart in 2010 made the Prusa Mendel, the predecessor to the Prusa i3. Prusa had made a printer that was accurate and easy to manufacture with 3D printers. He incorporated his company and released the plans for the printer as open source.

Prusa understood that most individuals wouldn’t make a printer from scratch if the option to buy one was available and relatively inexpensive so he did just that, selling completed printers while releasing the designs for free.

However, other companies would take the i3 design, modify it, and release their own printers at a lower price point. This is what ultimately got me and many people I know into 3D printing. Spending $1,200 on a printer just to make toys wasn’t something I was willing to do in 2014 but spending around $300 was something within my reach.

The Rise of the Community

Along with this lowering of price came a new community of makers and tinkerers taking to the internet to show their designs and collaborate with each other.

Sites like Thingiverse became the hub for designs that could be printed by anyone and YouTube became the place many people talked about the process of making finished pieces.

Woodworking shows had always been popular with a certain crowd but now it became trendy to make your own stuff at home using off the shelf supplies and digital fabrications tools.

The Future

While we’ve come a long way I believe there is still a long way to go until everyone has a complete workshop in their house.

Individually tools are inexpensive and coming down in price all the time but the idea of a $100,000 shop is still very common.

Additionally, branching out from one style of work and one medium, like woodworking to metalworking, can be very costly. Almost none of the woodworking tools will translate to the metalworking space.

Transitioning from metalworking to electrical work or sewing or leather working is another large up front cost.

I think there is a better way and that is why I created BuilderFleet.

People in your community already have these tools and are often not using them 24/7. So what do you do with your shop when you’re not using it? You can put it on BuilderFleet and find people who want to rent. If you need use a tool but don’t want to spend the money on an up front investment then find a shop in your area with the tools.

This is one more step that I think can reduce the barrier of entry in the maker community.

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