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Coming Right at You!

March 25th, 2014 - 10:51 am

COTTAGE INDUSTRY

Greg Beato looks at the future of the 3d printed economy:

Imagine what will happen when millions of people start using the tools that produced The Liberator to make, copy, swap, barter, buy, and sell all the quotidian stuff with which they furnish their lives. Rest in peace, Bed, Bath & Beyond. Thanks for all the stuff, Foxconn, but we get our gadgets from Pirate Bay and MEGA now.

Once the retail and manufacturing carnage starts to scale, the government carnage will soon follow. How can it not, when only old people pay sales tax, fewer citizens obtain their incomes from traditional easy-to-tax jobs, and large corporate taxpayers start folding like daily newspapers? Without big business, big government can’t function.

It was called “starving the beast” when Ronald Reagan did it with tax cuts. What should we call it when big manufacturing becomes a cottage industry performed on the same scale as knitting a sweater for your cat?

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Top Rated Comments   
he Liberator to make, copy, swap, barter, buy, and sell all the quotidian stuff with which they furnish their lives. Rest in peace, Bed, Bath & Beyond. Thanks for all the stuff, Foxconn, but we get our gadgets from Pirate Bay and MEGA now.

Yeah, no - not happening, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Economies of scale still rule, and 3D printing, while great for prototyping and one-offs (with rather a lot of finish work, in the consumer plastic market) is far more expensive per unit than plain ol' injection molding and other mass production processes.

And I think we'll find that almost everyone would rather have a cheaper, highly-finished phone case made out of a nicely textured plastic or rubber (to use their demo image above) than one "they made themselves" slowly out of expensive plastic with a not-very-impressive feel in the hand.

(Contra Mr. Maguire, remember that scarcity doesn't go away because everyone has a printer - and that a printer can't magically "fuel itself".

The energy has to come from somewhere, as does the plastic/metal/etc. stock. So does the food and water and such for human beings using the printers.

A post-scarcity economy starts with essentially-free energy, and then probably asteroid mining. It doesn't start with the pipe-dream of an atomic-level 3D printer that can make anything on the large scale fast enough to be useful.

It's the same sort of reason that the "nano-assembler" dream got canceled; it takes too much energy and makes too much heat to manipulate individual atoms, to build things rapidly or cheaply at that scale.)
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
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3D printing is the 180 degree opposite of Foxconn's products. At least right now. As circuits become printable that might change (along with everything in the world always changing...)

Foxconn specializes in complicated gadgets requiring lots of different types of parts assembled, soldered, tested and programmed. 3D printers make one kind of plastic.

Here's a pottery wheel, spin yourself a custom computer. That's exactly the same comparison.

Fun to think about, but the article is in the wrong century.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
We should call it crap, because that's what it is.

3D printing is useful for prototyping and low volume plastic production. It is a far, far cry from building something the likes of Foxconn put together. A great many people, among them Beato, are apparently ignorant of what the technology is and what it is not.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
And a dot-matrix printer ca. 1982 is useful for printing inventories and the occasional birthday banner. It is a far, far cry from printing something the likes of The New York Times puts together.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm not sure if you're implying that consumer printing has reached a professional mass production level-- if so, it has not, nor will it. Ever.

As with cars, yes, some really dedicated people who are willing to invest in the equipment and knowledge to build their own car in their garage can actually do so. The suggestion that millions of people will ever do so is laughable. The same is true for iPhones, televisions, and any complex electronic or mechanical device.

Even those of us who have the litany of six-figure CNC machining to produce an iPhone chassis would much rather pay Apple a few hundred bucks for one than spend ~$40k on CAM programming and jig making to attempt to crank our own out.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
consumption tax, wealth tax, vat tax, air tax, increased user fees. the beast will not be starved, it will merely morph.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
he Liberator to make, copy, swap, barter, buy, and sell all the quotidian stuff with which they furnish their lives. Rest in peace, Bed, Bath & Beyond. Thanks for all the stuff, Foxconn, but we get our gadgets from Pirate Bay and MEGA now.

Yeah, no - not happening, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Economies of scale still rule, and 3D printing, while great for prototyping and one-offs (with rather a lot of finish work, in the consumer plastic market) is far more expensive per unit than plain ol' injection molding and other mass production processes.

And I think we'll find that almost everyone would rather have a cheaper, highly-finished phone case made out of a nicely textured plastic or rubber (to use their demo image above) than one "they made themselves" slowly out of expensive plastic with a not-very-impressive feel in the hand.

(Contra Mr. Maguire, remember that scarcity doesn't go away because everyone has a printer - and that a printer can't magically "fuel itself".

The energy has to come from somewhere, as does the plastic/metal/etc. stock. So does the food and water and such for human beings using the printers.

A post-scarcity economy starts with essentially-free energy, and then probably asteroid mining. It doesn't start with the pipe-dream of an atomic-level 3D printer that can make anything on the large scale fast enough to be useful.

It's the same sort of reason that the "nano-assembler" dream got canceled; it takes too much energy and makes too much heat to manipulate individual atoms, to build things rapidly or cheaply at that scale.)
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
True that. Complex electronics require raw materials not easily available to individuals. It would take much more time sourcing the materials than it would to just buy one online and have it shipped.

I do see a way that Bed, Bath & Beyond (or a Home Depot) to take advantage of 3-D printing for stuff like cabinet hardware, fixtures, etc. Just pick out what you want and have it printed in-store by larger, industrial version of 3-D printers (basically an automated tool shop). No need to keep an inventory of all sorts of connectors, knobs, hooks, etc. Just print on demand.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you want to pay $400 for a doorknob, sure.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
While you're right as far as right now, the next big revolutions are going to be in evolving 3D printers for high speed and cheap production, which absolutely will happen.

Other directions are going to be in personalizing hardware for specific user's comfort, like a watch without an adjustable band, because it's tailored for your wrist. What others? The heck if I know. Or I'd be selling it.

Somebody's also going to figure out a good way to print with metal, then there'll be lots of changes.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Really, no. As with battery capacity, there is an end game to how "cheap" 3D printing will get. While the technology will certainly get better, and the materials more exotic and plentiful, it is still an order of magnitude more expensive to produce something via what amounts to the CNC method.

As Sigivald pointed out, mass production methods are mass production methods because they are massively cheaper than prototyping methods. If you crank out 1,000 widgets on a CNC, depending on the complexity, it will take many hours to many hundreds of hours of tool time and quite a lot of electricity. To say nothing of a CAM person to do the programming, machinists to monitor it, machine maintenance, etc, etc.

Whereas if you make your widget via casting, injection molding, etc-- the cost per widget is massively reduced. That's what makes said widgets cheap, and that's why everything that is not a complex system (e.g. door knobs, hooks, etc) are made in that manner.

You will never, ever, evereverever compete with a casting process on 500,000 door knobs, for example, using CNC technology. Ever.

I do quite a lot of CNC production of parts on a daily basis, including 3D printing for fitment testing. Making one prototype widget costs me, say, $1,000. I then hand that off to a mass production shop and the price drops to, say, $100. I can then sell the widgets for $200 with a 100% margin, sell a lot more of them more profitably than I could making them myself, and not have to tie up a machine for a month making said widgets.

This same economy of scale applies to end users as much as fabricators and prototype shops.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment

"What should we call it when big manufacturing becomes a cottage industry performed on the same scale as knitting a sweater for your cat?"

We shall call it the preamble to the Protecting Jobs by Confiscating 3-D Printers Act of 2020.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was listening to a podcast on this subject last week--the speaker was estimating we are 30-40 years away from atomic level 3-D printers. Where you don't need special materials, just dump in whatever's handy and it can turn that "whatever" into anything. No more scarcity, the only thing you'll ever need to buy is the 3-D printer, which will generally be able to repair and even fuel itself. The only jobs left will be information workers, who will likely be hobbyists.

Since scarcity has always been the driver of civilization, culture, economy, life itself will be completely transformed. If we can just keep the Islamists from killing everyone.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
So, where do you get the power for this 3D-printed world to run on?
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Really? We're surrounded by limitless power potential with more ways to unlock it developed every year.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Scarcity will STILL be the driver of the economy. People will continue to be unsatisfied with whatever is plentiful, and crave whatever is scarce. Observe, if you will, cat-poop coffee and "decluttering" consultants.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
But what will be scarce? Certainly not clutter consultants, as that will be about the only job left. Maybe we could all work for the NSA, eavesdropping on each other. With 8 hour shifts, everybody monitors 3 people, everybody has 3 people monitoring them.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
If I may make a modest proposal, we could use Islamists as printer materiel.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Into Mr. Fusion they go.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bbbbut... I was hoping to print some bacon!
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
At the atomic level there is no difference between Islamists and bacon.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
OMFG. This means that EVERYTHING will be kosher! AT LAST!!
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Or nothing is.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
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