Whilst reading a blog post by Seth Godin entitled The forever recession (and the coming revolution) with the line "When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory" it reminded me of the book 'Makers' by Cory Doctorow and in turn of the potential of Shapeways 3D Printing as New Work.
Seth's post looks at the current employment recession as a long term revolution, where "The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the
ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all
combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age
created." This echoes elements of Cory's Makers where an economic and employment revolution happens thanks in part to product hacks, access to 3D printing and internet notoriety.
If we look at the potential of Shapeways online 3D printing in the context of these visions which speak of 'employment' in terms of a series of projects you just do, whether they be self initiated, collaborations or by consultation for cash, a factory plugged into your laptop is an incredibly powerful asset.
Take a moment to read Seth's post, set aside some time to read Makers which you can download for free in various formats and prepare yourself for New Work.
I think Seth Godin has some interesting points... but he misses the core by a fraction. The entire concept of a "personal factory" is wrong. Manufacturing is based completely on the fact that in an industrialised environment things get cheaper the more you make them. That is what a factory is, and does. And a lot of people still think that 3D printing (and services such as shapeways) enable everyone to do this. Which is why the shapeways shops are still full of products that get printed exactly the same over and over...
I do think he is correct about a revolution coming. Someone coined it *the maker movement*. And I think that's where the distinction lies. We no longer manufacture, we make!
And yes... go read makers... it's a good book (I enjoyed it more than Cory's better known "little brother")
This is where I think Shapeways have missed a trick, I really am surprised that they have as yet not taken that extra step:
With their various offices accross the globe, they are in a position to broker deals with local mass manufacturers. If a 3D print reaches a certain critical volume of requests these could be offloaded to that local mass printer/manufacturer.
Normally, blanks for mass production are costly, but surely, having our 3D files on their system Shapeways could print a metal blank to send to the mass printer for mass production? Alternatively, for speed, the model could be sent to them and the manufacturer could lathe the blank in situ.
How the 'critical' volume is reached or calculated would be based on the cost effectiveness of the process, after all, the volume of mass produced parts would then need to be distributed. If the manufacturer is local, maybe that wouldn't be too much of a logistical problem, but if they are not very local maybe an arrangement with a small distribution company would take care of the issue, or have the batch sent back to Shapeways...
This would introduce a new pricing structure for large runs that may prove more cost effective for some shops with larger print runs.