Thursday, November 09, 2006

Personal Fabrication Printer

In The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, he talks about printers in the future that could manufacture items at home say out of a block of plastic, as the long tail continues to stretch further and further with niche products. Now there is an article in Fortune this month, MIT Physicist Niel Gershenfeld says that the digital revolution is over, and the next big change will be in manufacturing, where you will be able to fabricate your own products at home by hitting print on your PC. Gershenfeld says that until recently this wouldn't likely be much more than an MIT project, but he says that there is an emerging community in Personal work group fabrication. There are two major hurdles - technology and finance. Gershenfeld is not concerned about technology and says we should be there in about 20 years.

"Today your all-in-one device prints, scans, faxes and copies. Tomorrow it will cut, score, etch and sew."

This takes customer driven innovation to an entirely new level. As this opportunity becomes closer to reality, it is going to dramatically shift the nature of business in the consumer goods space. Instead of going to the store and buying a toy for my child, I can make some minor modifications and create a unique variation just for him.

I feel that this innovation will cause manufactures to encounter the same struggles that the music and media industry is going through today. As with media, it seems that there is a large opportunity for entirely new business models to be created out of this shift. In the toy example, you could not only sell physical products to the consumer, but also design models, and give some rights to modify, submit designs back to the company and profit sharing when others use the modified idea. Lego is already doing this on the design side, and is a likely candiate where this type of consumer fabrication innovation will hit first. Think about how this concept could impact your business. Yes, it won't be here tomorrow, but why not think about it now, instead of waiting until it happens and being forced to degenerate into suing consumers because of your own lack of foresight. Look at it as an opportunity instead of a threat.