What happens when you put a couple of cheap 3D printers in the back of your Prius, and drive around making products for people. Can you create a business? What are the best products to try and make? Two guys are trying to answer these questions with a new project called PocketFactory.
Using 3D Printing To Grow A Small Business
Bilal Ghalib and Alex Hornstein have put four consumer level (sub-$2,000) 3D printers in the back of their car and are making their way across the US. Their goal is to start a business of designing, producing and selling products made on these printers. They're also open sourcing everything about their adventure so anyone interested in duplicating the business can do so.
The motivation is simple. Thanks to 3D printing -- something we've seen really start to skyrocket lately as 3D printers become more accessible -- the design and production of products can be virtually instant. For many products, there is no need to make it a long process of design, prototype, fix design, re-prototype, fix design, and then make a mass production of a product and cross your fingers you sell them all. Instead, a product can be printed out, modifications or customization made right away, and then a finished product can come off the printer immediately. You're not making more than you need or wasting material, and you're making sure each one is just right.
As Hornstein notes during a conversation we had last week, the new consumer-level 3D printers are of a high enough quality that they can become essentially a production machine, yet they're at a low enough price that the barrier to entry is quite low. Essentially, this technology is becoming more like a gadget for your home than a machine for a shop.
3D Printing Technology Is More Accessible, Flexible
This is an excellent example of the benefits of smaller, smarter technology helping designers and creative people produce goods on a small scale. The more companies tweak the technology to work for individual people, the more we can see small businesses run off of filling specific needs on a small, local level -- rather than shopping for mass-produced plasticrap that might only sort of solve a problem. It is a beautiful combination of technology and the maker community, which will some day soon help create small businesses filling niche needs. Yes, you could call it a green manufacturing revolution.
And, as we noted when talking about Cubify at CES, the cartridges used to print objects will soon be filled with all sorts of materials, from compostable and biodegradable materials to actual food.
Creating a 3D Printing Business On The Go
Gahlib and Hornstein are trying to release 1-2 products each week of the trip. During the day they hit the public markets and set up their print shop. They take and fill orders of products they've already devised. At night, they head back to the hotel to fill any remaining orders and to design and test new products to sell.
The duo started making iPhone cases, which was the first thing family members asked for when they saw the printers over the holidays. (Yes, you can buy one online.) As Hornstein commented, the first products are relatively unambitious -- they're just trying to see what people want and will buy. But the creativity is starting to roll out. They're making custom belt buckles and 3D portraits of people.
That creativity also includes more interesting accessories for iPhones, including the ghettoblaster -- a great way to rock your music:
Hornstein noted that as a designer, he's never experienced this level of speed of seeing an idea turn into a product, and turn into a profit. It is now feasible to design, test and produce something within a day or two, and to sell it at a relatively low cost. And that is why they are so interested in finding out what starting up a business with a 3D printer might entail. They're encouraging people to copy them, and will open up everything right down to their account books at the end of the trip. You can follow the successes and failures on PocketFactory as well as check out their route on the map. Meet up with them if you're in one of the cities they're visiting! They'll end up in New York by February 11, 2012.