Is 3-D Printing The Next Go Local Movement Super Weapon?

Brian's Take on Tech

Bringing you info about technology, and how it impacts your life for better and worse.   -Brian K, Community Partnerships Supervisor

Prior to the industrial revolution most industry was cottage industry, literally. People worked from their homes or small shops. Many times these were one and the same. The artisans often worked by hand to create unique products or to create their copied products one at a time. Through the industrial revolution we learned about economy of scale and the fact that one large factory could manufacture thousands of bobbles at a time much cheaper than the local artisan. Fast forward to the 21st century; it appears the pendulum may be swinging back the other way, at least for some items.

A new study about to be published by Michigan Tech University illustrates the market potential of 3-D printing and how that potential may disrupt current manufacturing channels, at least for small items. The paper looks at 20 common household items and compares the cost of purchasing them to the cost of downloading and printing designs from Thingiverse, an online community that shares designs and 3D files to make the design reality. According to the research team’s findings the typical consumer could save between $312 and $1944 per year on just those 20 items. With the cost of 3D printers ranging from $350 and $2000 you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that you could quickly recoup your investment.

The most dramatic example of cost savings I came across was for an iPhone 5 case. Cases typically run around twenty dollars while printing your case from one of the designs online can cost you as little as twenty seven cents, a savings of over 98%. Walmart would really have to rollback their prices to beat that.

While the paper focuses on the home user, I see this as a huge potential market for local business. Your typical user is not going to want to spend the money, time and effort to purchase and learn how to take advantage of this technology. On the other hand what if your local shop was able to quickly customize and print your product on demand? Would you be willing to spend a couple of bucks to have your own uniquely designed item? For the retailer the charge is still several times their cost and they never need to hold inventory that people may or may not want. Possibilities abound for the person who can implement this well and I for one can’t wait to see someone run with the idea.

Would you like to know more?

The library also carries a number of books on the subject.

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