Have 3D Printing and Mass Customization Reached The Tipping Point?

candyfab 3d printer image

Its the Candyfab 6000, 3D printing in sugar. The Revolution Shall be Caramelized.

In 2007, TreeHugger built a special website that looked at the future of 3d Printing and Downloadable Designs. I wrote:

With digital designs we decide what we want from the best in the world, not what Mr. Store Manager picks out. The Long Tail is at our fingertips as we cruise from Korea to Kansas for the design that suits our taste.

Malcolm Harris at Sharable writes that this future is getting awfully close. He points to a report by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman, Factory @ Home: The Emerging Economy of Personal Fabrication that brings us up to date:

As manufacturing technologies follow the path from factory to home use, like personal computers, "personalized" manufacturing tools will enable consumers, schools and businesses to work and play in new ways. Emerging manufacturing technologies will usher in an industrial "evolution" that combines the best of mass and artisan production models, and has the potential to partially reverse the trend to outsourcing. Personal manufacturing technologies will unleash "long tail" global markets for custom goods, whose sales volumes of will be profitable enough to enable specialists, niche manufacturing, and design companies to make a good living.

Download the PDF here.

mass customization image

I first heard the term "mass customization" from the architects Steven Kieran and James Timberlake, describing their reinvention of the process of prefabrication. Now Ponoko uses the term to describe the flexibility that comes from the new 3D printing technologies:

For some, product subversion is a welcome challenge, while others want to be more considered in the way that they consume. Then we have the digital manufacturing technologies, where individuals are now able to drive the democratization of manufacturing.

New paradigms are created as people customize not only to fulfil their own needs but also to create niche markets. What we see emerging today is only the beginning of an exciting approach to shaping the products that shape our lives.

They round up their ten favourite posts on mass customization, talking about printing out everything from dresses to buildings. More at Ponoko.
More on 3D printing:
Everything is Downloadable
First 3D-Printed Car Hits The Road
Kinko's for Kidneys: 3D Printing Your Own Body Parts
Will 3D Printing Spark A Green Manufacturing Revolution?
How On-Demand 3D Printing Could Cut Waste, Increase Efficiency (Video)
Heavy Metal Meets Downloadable Designs: 3D Printing from CAD to Metal

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