Re: [rp-ml] Just wondering where everybody has gone

From: Brock Hinzmann (
Date: Fri Oct 12 2007 - 06:47:43 EEST

Hi, George.

As one of the more conservative enthusiasts (if that is not an oxymoron)
from the late '80s, early '90s, I feel that the industry is basically on
pace to change the world. I was not able to attend the recent conference
in Portugal, but I liked the look of the agenda. If anyone has a report
on that, I would like to hear about the highlights. Some of you may
recall a paper I wrote many years back, The Personal Factory (which can
be found on various Web sites), and I noticed enough recent changes to
write a short bit back in March 2007, The Personal Factory Redux, which
follows below. If someone wants to re-publish this in part or in whole,
please ask. In the meantime, my colleagues and I have written for our
clients on everything from Bioprinting to Virtual Worlds. Think about
it. This is just the tip of an ice berg that may be about to emerge:

SRI Consulting Business Intelligence reported on the concept of the
personal factory in 1996 in Report 838, Next-Generation Technology
Opportunities. In the report, I suggested that within 10 to 15 years,
three-dimensional (3-D) printing machines could evolve out of the rapid
prototyping (RP) industry to allow the average consumer to print a
physical object using affordable and easy-to-use computer-aided design
(CAD) software, laser scanners, and cheap materials, at home or in a
nearby photocopy shop. I imagined that product designs would be bought
and sold over the Internet, stored in CAD inventories, and downloaded to
the nearest fabrication machine or fab. The technologies to enable such
capabilities now appear to be coming together in ways that might be even
more interesting and compelling than I imagined then.

In 1996, manufacturers were beginning to introduce low-end RP machines
at $50,000 and a machine priced at less than $5000 was predicted to be
at least ten years away. Experts imagined that consumers would make gift
items, toys and games, customized household products, and spare parts
for the repair or modification of appliances and automobiles. In 2006,
Fab@Home began to offer a $2400, self-assembled machine that can be
ordered on line, and delivered and assembled at home. The home consumer
can create a simple CAD file and print out objects made from a variety
of materials including plastics and chocolate and other food products.
The emerging 3-D Web, consisting of virtual-world forums such as Second
Life, uses software to create virtual objects. The computer code that
creates the 3-D objects converts easily into CAD files, which some
Second Life participants have downloaded to print out real life, 3-D,
physical versions of their avatars or objects. People buy and sell the
virtual objects in Second Life for real dollars, creating business
opportunities for some of the participants.

Open-source hardware to create RP machines is under development today,
in the form of RepRap, a Bath University project to make the design of
RP machines or fabs themselves available for downloading over the
Internet to any location, including developing countries, in order to
jump start cottage manufacturing industries. The Massachusetts Institute
of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms is also attempting to set up
Fab Labs in various countries to help educate people about how digital
bits can be converted by different fab technologies. Whether a scaled-up
model of an atom, a scaled-down model of a space ship, or physical
models of invisible data, any data that can be converted into a shape
can be fabricated. Freedom of Creation (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) is a
design award winning rapid manufacturing company that sells lighting
fixtures, accessories, and even one-piece textiles that are stored
virtually and made by 3-D printing on demand

Alvin Toffler introduced the concept of prosumers (consumer-producers)
and the electronic cottage in his book, The Third Wave, in 1979 and,
with the publication of Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s Revolutionary Wealth,
the prosumer concept has received even more attention recently. The
prosumer ethic Toffler describes represents not only an economic model
that differs dramatically from our current models, but also a different
way of thinking about the consumer’s responsibilities and options. In
the past couple of years, Scan has published a number of reports
describing customer-cocreation processes in which customers participate
actively with a company in the design or production of a product or
service. Companies can use cocreation as a form of open innovation, to
learn from their lead users and customers.

Although the personal factory might appear to be here now for some
people and perhaps just around the corner for everyone, one of the
issues that I raised in 1996 remains: How many consumers can or will
want to exercise the level of creativity necessary to design and build
personal objects? Toffler believes the prosumer is in all of us,
although history indicates otherwise. Second Life claims that 65% of
participants have made at least one creative change in the virtual
world, but mostly those changes are minor (like changing the clothing on
your avatar). A high proportion of creative participants is not typical
of most online communities in which most members are passive observers,
rather than creative catalysts. According to author Richard Florida (The
Rise of the Creative Class), society has a creative class that is the
source of most creativity and innovation. Florida asserts that the
creative class quite often clusters in certain communities and regions.
Whether people will create new designs for the personal factory or will
simply purchase and download designs from online communities of creative
types remains to be seen. A bigger question is whether mass
customization has finally arrived and the days of mass production are
numbered for some products or in some segments of the marketplace. I can
imagine that the profitability of certain sectors of manufacturing might
shift and opportunities will emerge for imaginative design-supply houses
and suppliers of RP materials.

Thanks for keeping the mailing list going. I may have been doing a lot
of other things in the past 10 years, but I've alway tried to keep up on
what all of you are doing.

Brock Hinzmann
Technology Navigator
SRI Consulting Business Intelligence
Menlo Park, California
+1 (650) 859-4350

George Sachs wrote:

> I was just wondering where all the RP "cheerleaders" of old have gone
> ... onto greener pastures perhaps? Have many of the contributors to
> this list from the 90's moved on to do other things or has interest
> just waned in general? Is RP, perhaps, now too mature and mainstream
> to really bother pushing anymore? I'd like to get anyones thoughts
> about the last 20 years and where things might head in the next 10.
> For instance has anyone been able to make any really BIG money from RP
> compared to, say, the internet? What about RM? Is there anything new
> for manufacturers to really get excited about lately (or, maybe, was
> there ever)? Having been with this list since the beginning, I was
> just wondering who's left from those "heady" early days of fantastic
> prognostications.
> G. Sachs
> Paradyme Systems

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