Image via DK Ahn
Rather than ship an object to your door or local store, imagine downloading the underlying info, procuring the materials locally, and then letting a machine build it. Maybe even on your kitchen table. This technology is not ready to turn the manufacturing world on its head quite yet, but it is becoming less absurd. London-based designer DK Ahn has conceptualized such a device; he calls it MICROFACTORY. This elegant home manufacturing appliance is, in effect, a sort of CNC router for the DIY enthusiast, artist, or inventor. The image above is a concept only, but Ahn has built a working prototype (not quite so slick, but impressive nonetheless) that he calls MOW (video and more pics after the jump). Ahn had sustainability on his mind when designing MICROFACTORY. Such DIY tools, he writes, give us: "an understanding of the value of the material and the efforts required to manufacture it...adds an emotional value to the product...makes it easy to repair the product through the knowledge of manufacture...[and] makes it possible to use and transform leftover or waste material." The working MOW (which seems to have made good use of LEGO Mindstorms in its creation) can cut cardboard, polypropylene, and wood (3 mm or less), so there are limitations. But don't underestimate what "flatpak" design can do. We've certainly seen functional furniture from the likes of d.a. Sellers, Raw Studios, and Unto This Last, and the horizon will grow as the technology develops.
In his lovely video presentation, Ahn shows the MICROFACTORY being controlled by iPhone to route some coat hangers from a leftover box, but we can easily imagine cutting layers of cardboard that can be glued together to make more 3D objects, or plywood or metal that can then be interlocked or molded. We've seen cardboard become furniture many times (here, here, and a slideshow here). MICROFACTORY may or may not change the way you purchase and create things, but the notion of shared design and domestic fabrication is a very meaningful one.