The On-Demand Manufacturing Network

collaboration vs comparison and competition

I started writing this post as a feature on 3D Printing create/make/show/sell company Sculpteo, the latest venture in on-demand manufacturing. Sculpteo allows users to upload their 3D designs, select their materials, order 3D printed models, and (beginning in March) sell them to the design loving public. It’s a familiar set up; Ponoko and Shapeways and several other services are based on the exact same model.

It’s hard not to see Sculpteo as a direct competitor to Shapeways, so the natural step was to do some comparisons. How does each company’s quality measure up? What are the price differences? Whose website is easiest to use? Which online store looks coolest so as to attract buyers? I wondered how many more companies would try and get in this game. Will we one day have as many 3D Printing service-shops to choose from as we do hair salons? Will some giant corporation eventually buy them all up and monopolize the entire industry?

Such a future isn’t unlikely. Unless… these companies collaborate instead of compete.

That may sound like a Utopian/Communist idea that will inevitably come to odds with the driving forces of business. But On-Demand Manufacturing is uniquely well-suited to a collaborative network model. First of all, it’s a new thing. There are few enough organizations out there doing this that it’s possible to round them all up. If a new start-up company wants to get a piece of the on-demand pie, why not negotiate a symbiotic relationship with existing organizations instead of setting up independent shop. This doesn’t necessarily mean a franchise; it just means sharing resources (knowledge, materials, customer base, database).

The second reason collaboration can work for On-Demand Manufacturers is that, unlike with traditional products and services, it is the user that provides the variety — not the other way around. We want a variety of restaurants because we want a variety of food choices. The same goes for clothing, television channels, travel options, and pretty much everything else. Having access to multiple on-demand manufacturers is like having multiple and equally talented, personal chefs. They will make whatever you want; so just pick the one that will feed you the fastest.

The media is calling the movement in on-demand manufacture the next industrial revolution, but the real revolution would be to abandon the notion of innumerable self-contained businesses, avoid the modernist fate of monopoly, and create a truly post-modern network of manufacture and production.

Getting back to how I started writing this, no sooner had I changed the direction of the post than I realized that such a network was in the making. That’s the real brilliance of 100K Garages and Ponoko’s recent deal with Formulor.  Those initiatives aren’t just about convenience, grass-roots appeal, or international reach; it’s about shaping the future of manufacture and spreading the democratization of design.

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Kristen Turner

[a comment on this post via Facebook]

Mike Wolfgang:
Kristen, great article! Your thoughts are dead on with respect to manufacturing on-demand and the need for collaboration. This is something that I present to my customers and prospects; the market is driving businesses to either consolidate, collaborate or die. There is more opportunity in the market for companies to network and share capacity than… See More there is to remain in the traditional island business model. The key is to drive automation into manufacturing so that, to the end user, it doesn’t matter if the product was produced in Hong Kong, NYC or LA, it looks, feels and tastes the same at a higher profit margin than if everything were to be produced in Indianapolis.

Kristen Turner

CloudFab has written a blog post in response to this one. The article gives a great example of the benefits of cooperation. Check it out here:

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