Discussion | Open Fabrication & The Future of 3-D Printing, Pt. 2

Last week we gave you an overview of Open Fabrication with a few great examples of 3-D printed products that best utilize advancements in the technology and markets. As promised, this second post will delve further into the popularization of 3-D printing and some interesting parallels to Chinese “Shanzhai” manufacturers.

The future of 3-D printing

As 3-D printers become ubiquitous to the average consumer’s home we can expect a few drastic changes to the face of design and manufacturing. We are already seeing how we are developing into a much more visual culture than we were even a decade ago. This means that people will be much more likely to use CAD software that is specifically built to be accessible to the non-designer to create simple, unique products or modify/customize downloadable 3-D models from websites such as Thingiverse.

These projections are obviously fairly far out into the future, given that it is currently impossible for the average consumer to fully harness the power of a 3-D printer, given the investment and technical knowledge required. It is much more likely that, in the interim, we will see 3-D print shops in the vein of Shapeways that offer accessible and easy to customize products, although perhaps in a more local/community based format like TechShop.

Parallels to “Shanzhai” manufacturing

As of 2010, China has overtaken the US as having the world’s largest manufacturing output (19.8%). With their tightly integrated manufacturing web, they have become a force to reckon with in the production of black market goods, most of which come out of what are referred to as “Shanzhai” manufacturers. These organizations make everything from simple components to complex goods that sell just as well as the big players in the lower-end global consumer markets.

Through the sharing of information, their system accelerates new inventions, manufacturing and responsiveness to local tastes. As put by the paper from IFTF we referred to in the first post—”Take a tightly integrated and highly competitive design-to-shelf supply chain, combine it with a lack of IP enforcement, and you get a class of small-scale manufacturers who can respond more flexibly to the emerging whims and desires of the market.”

The speed with which “Shanzhai” manufacturers operate is stunning, putting out customized mash-ups of products in a manner that parallels what home 3-D printing could eventually be capable of. The end result is high-priced design and technology that is accessible and affordable to the global mass consumer market.

While this was initially intended to be a 2 part post, there really is a lot to delve into on the topic and I’m afraid we’ll have to keep you guys waiting till next week to find out where we think ideacious count fit into this vision of a 3-D printed future.


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