From 3d Printing To The Desktop Factory

What Is The True Revolution That Is Coming?

Is The Next Wave, The Desktop Factory?

I was laying in bed the other night thinking about 3d Printing and wondering why it seems a little limited right now. Sure you can print a nice plastic action figure or two, perhaps even a new tray for your bits and bobs to tidy up your work area a bit. Maybe you can really push the boundaries and print parts to assemble into something really functional, like a stand for your new groovy GoPro cam. Now that is getting pretty cool.

Mini GoPro Stand - 3d Printed
Mini GoPro Stand – 3d Printed

I then pushed myself to think more deeply about the feeling I had. Something is missing from this picture. Most things that are really useful in a modern society are a bit more complex, perhaps specialised. They require materials with special properties, like hardness, resistance to wear, flexibility or not and of course colours, perhaps even scents and tastes. So what is going on with our 3d Printer? Maybe we are setting the bar too low for it.  Maybe we are asking too much of it on its own. Could we really be at the bottom of a ‘real and new’ curve.  3d Printing may just be one aspect of a more fundamental change going on to the world around us.  Perhaps we need to reframe 3d Printing as just one window to view this revolution through, to really understand what is going on?

Enter The Desktop Factory

My belief is that the coming revolution is what I refer to as the ‘Desktop Factory’. The next wave of change may see a move “From 3d Printing to the Desktop Factory”. To truly produce things of use we need to shoot much higher and I am sure it is coming faster than we think. I ran my own Printing and Design business for a number of years and am a qualified Print on Paper type Printer.

I saw the coming Desktop Publishing revolution and participated in changing an industry. The concept of being able to produce and directly print what was consider graphic artwork was completely revolutionised in my generation. As soon as I heard about what was going on, I knew it would change everything.

Yes, I sold my house and put all my worldly funds into a Printing business and bought a mac plus a 20meg hard drive and laser writer plus. Do you know many ‘old hands’ from the printing industry thought I was mad. I made more profit per hour from the desktop publishing production process than I did from the actual printing. It also strategically secured printing that I would have otherwise lost, because I held the artwork.

I also improved the throughput of the business to a tenth of the time it would normally take. It did nothing short of revolutionise what I did.

In some ways perhaps the desktop coffee machine is a good example of the Desktop Factory. By repositioning in our heads how these things are viewed we can start to uncover  the revolution from the fog and see further application of it to the products and services supplied to us.

The parallels hit me with what we are seeing in 3d Printing. The revolutions are happening in the distribution of the design process to the users. Yes design is moving into the hands of the ‘average’ user. The ability to create an object is now being distributed to the user also. But, what if we are only seeing part of the real picture? Perhaps the real picture is the ability to produce a ‘finished’ result. The next stage in the revolution will possibly see us moving toward Desktop Factories!  Yes, perhaps we need a new mindset that takes us From 3d Printing to the Desktop Factory.

What do I mean by Desktop Factories?

A Desktop Factory will be a unit or modules that can produce in specific or a variety of materials with the required characteristics and also complete some or all of the finishing steps. Such as cleaning, painting and even one day maybe assembly with outsourced parts. Why do I say this is is going to be possible? A number of technologies are now reaching the hands of the advanced user. Such as Computer Aided Design, Storage and Distribution of those designs, 3d Printing in a range of materials, computer automation of hardware in a user friendly way, artificial intelligence and low cost mass manufacture putting complex systems and hardware into the reach of the small time user. Once these thresholds are broken through, it is like a complete revolution unfolds that changes everything. I saw it come in Desktop Publishing and feel it is at the base of the curve now in the move From 3d Printing to the Desktop Factory

The Food Printer below really does start to rock your boat.  When I saw this for the first time, I felt it is probably one real example of the revolution unfolding.  Perhaps the tip of the curve.  The coffee machine led the way, but this Desktop Factory below takes the cake!   🙂

3d Food Printer - Desktop Factory
3d Food Printer – Desktop Factory

The Desktop Factory May Change Industries Forever

I recall walking through a Auto Panel Repair shop and noting that I could see what looked like a small front fender, quite obviously for an equally small car. I picked it up and was amazed to find it was made of plastic. I called out to the person I was with that had technical knowhow in the industry, “what the heck is this?” I said, “it’s a Renault front guard.” He replied.  I quickly fired back, with a strong doubt in my voice, “made of plastic??” “Yep”, he informed me with complete confidence that this was acceptable now,”it’s not structural and that’s the way it’s going now you know.”

So let’s take that panel shop and let’s take that plastic front fender as an example of  how we could move “From 3d Printing to the Desktop Factory.”

There is no doubt that the ability to produce that part from a 3d Printer is possible; if not being done now. But the next step is to apply the Desktop Factory concept to this process and to consider integrating the finishing processes.  Processes such as preparation and painting. How difficult would it be to add an automated primer station, spray and or powder coating module and then finally move the part to a baking module? Removing the human intervention in anything but the operation of the unit would be the goal perhaps.

I would expect that we will see these ‘Desktop Factories’ popping up in various unique and specialised situations in the near future. The main barriers to the auto panel example would be the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) sanctioning the standards of the replacement part and the finishing work. Of course the part would be a copyright of the OEM and would need to be released for replication. This example probably works best for a repair that is done by a dealership owned/run or sanctioned by the OEM themselves.

Obsolete, rare and non-stocked part lists would no doubt become a target for this sort our Desktop Factory.

The auto body part is just an example. The likely application of the Desktop Factory would  in areas where there are less OEM limitations. It is easy to imagine many areas that could quickly be the subject of the bespoke desktop manufacture process.

  • Designer Lighting
  • Designer Household Fittings
  • Designer Jewellery
  • Personalised Footwear
  • Personalised Phone / Tablet / Computer Casings
  • Personalised Toys
  • Tailored Seating
  • Personalised Pictures And Frames
  • Personalised Sculptures
  • Ancient Artwork Reproductions
  • Auto Part Reproductions
  • Food Production

How Long Before We Will See Desktop Factories A Feature In The Local Cake Shop?

These Desktop Factories will be focused on a specific set of material properties and finishing attributes well known by the innovator. Over time the Desktop Factories will no doubt become highly integrated with commercial ordering and delivery systems. This will likely create complete commercial ecosystems that have strong barriers to entry for others. The Makerbot / Thingivers story is a classic examples of this. Very few people would have imagined the shear scale and speed with which this ecosystem grew and prospered.

Here are some stats on the number of 3d designs on Thingiverse and how many downloads have taken place.  Just in case you needed any convincing on how fast this whole area is growing.

Thingiverse is one good example of an enabler in the move From 3d Printing to the Desktop Factory

Items On Thingiverse

  • 35,000  January 2013
  • 60,000 April 2013
  • 80,000 May 2013
  • 100,000+ June 2013

Downloads From Thingiverse

  • 21.1 million downloads were completed

See more HERE

This new age could see the average person owning one or more personal 3d scanners. These would be used to take take a quick scan of things like yours or your child’s foot, before uploading and ordering perfectly tailored shoes to be produced on someones desktop shoe factory.

What Technologies Are The Enablers For The ‘Desktop Factory’?

  1. Computer Aided Design (Now feely available and open sourced.)
  2. 3d Object Storage And Distribution (Open sourced and growing at a massive rate.)
  3. Copyright Law and Commercial Arrangements
  4. Materials Technology Specialisation (Much of the tech here will be vertically integrated with the specific “Desktop Factory”)
  5. 3d Printing Technology
  6. 3d Scanning
  7. Robotic Automation
  8. Robotic Finishing
  9. And a host of other technologies need to work in concert to deliver Desktop Factories with the required capabilities.

Perhaps in the next few years we will be saying, “did you see that now every Dinkem Donuts franchise comes with its own Desktop Factory now?”  Or perhaps, “Pizza Hat launched their Pizza Desktop Factory.  You can upload your pizza recipe and design with your girlfriends name on it in and watch it being printed.  How cool is that??”

The people that truly enable the next local manufacturing revolution could be the pioneers that put together these new and innovative Desktop Factories for new and specialised verticals. There is also little doubt that significant income could come from the supply of specialised materials and systems required by these new commercial engines.

From 3d Printing to the Desktop Factory

Another great example of a cellualr “Desktop Factory” can be found HERE

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