We Have A Problem: Mass Versus Local Production

Hackaday, we have a problem. We’re trying to engineer a brighter future; a task that calls for a huge mental leap. This week, instead of discussing a concrete problem, let’s gather around the digital campfire to gnaw on a thought exercise. In thinking abstractly I hope we’ll trigger a slew of ideas you can use as your entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize in which you can win a Trip to Space or hundreds of other prizes.

Shipping Mass Produced vs. Producing Locally

This morning I was reading an interesting story about an email server that couldn’t deliver message to any ISP physically located more than 500 miles away. In that case it turns out that the limiting factor was misconfiguration and the speed of light. But it got me thinking about things we transport in bulk versus things being transported individually. I often think about the transport of finished goods and compare where we are now to the fabrication visions [Neal Stephenson] talked about in his novel The Diamond Age. In that picture of the future, it is common building blocks of matter that are delivered to every home and business and not finished goods. Interesting.

What kind of resources are consumed in local production versus centralized mass production? Is there merit in using technology to change the way we’ve always done some things? Certainly there will not be one answer for everything so let’s talk about a few examples that might be done differently.

Scenario #1: You send a greeting card with your hand-written message to your mother for her Birthday.

handwritten-message-cardThe way things work right now, you go to the store and pick out a card. You write a personal message inside, lick, stamp, and send it through the mail. The thing is, this card is probably already in a store down the street from your mother. What if you could digitize your handwritten message and have it printed on the card and delivered from a local repository? Take it a step further, assuming that these cards are bulk-printed in one central location and distributed widely, does it save any resources to decentralize the production of the cards and make production local so that the finished goods are not being transported more than 500 miles? And for those skeptics saying that you can’t add a check or cash to the card when done this way… yes you can!

Scenario #2: The meal is finished and just as you close the door to the dishwasher you hear a horrible crack as the plastic latch that holds the door closed breaks.

Recycled household appliancesStandard practice is that the part be ordered from a parts supplier (either by you or by a serviceman). These suppliers keep a stock of common parts which are well documented in a huge library of service manuals for the myriad of home appliances out there. But when you get right down to it, it’s just a little plastic bauble. Let’s assume all of these are made in a single factory in huge production runs that supply both the manufacturer and the legacy parts houses. What if instead of this you could have these parts 3D printed by a business within 500 miles of where they are needed. There are industrial-grade 3D printing techniques that produce parts strong enough to act as a replacement. Where do you come down on resource saving between the two methods?

Scenario #∞: It’s your turn to come up with an example.

We want to hear your ideas on local production versus centralized mass production. Don’t be afraid to share half-baked ideas. The entire point of We Have a Problem is to spark civil debate on issue which could lead to world-changing solutions. Help us start the idea mill and jump on to see where it takes us. Don’t forget to carry the inspiration you find into your entry for the Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

116 thoughts on “We Have A Problem: Mass Versus Local Production

  1. Well, here it goes my opinion on idea #2:

    3D printing a part is not economical yet, and it will never be while it keeps being threated as a consumer product, where you pay tens of dollars on filament and hundreds on the actual machine.
    Now let’s assume 3D printing gets industrial: it is still not economical due to the time (hours) it takes to print a simple dishwasher latch.

    To summarize: having huge giant catalogs with thousands of plastic latch itens made in China (thousands of miles away) is cheaper and more economical than 3D printing it. in my opinion. Period.

    So here it goes my ideia for that: (more) local huge plastic extrusion plants, capable of at least printing the most used household items. Using local plastic, local peole and local energy.

    1. Not if that T-1000 printer works out. Though I honestly think that as home 3D printers continue to improve it will eventually be that replacement parts can just be downloaded from a company website and printed out by the consumer saving the cost of manufacturing and shipping the object for the dishwasher people or whoever, and saving time for the consumer who doesn’t have to wait three weeks for the replacement part.

      1. To play devils advocate here; How can an a company assure and warranty their product if their customers are 3D printing parts for the product ? Take for example the scenario where a defective 3D printer prints out a part that just slightly falls out of a critical tolerance. If the part is placed into service, it could cause unnecessary wear to other more expensive parts. Should the company be held liable for replacement or repair of the product in this case ?

        Sure, in certain cases this may not be that big of an issue, but now you get into the scenario where you have a 3D printer that can only print select parts for select products from select vendors, kind of seems less efficient and more costly to me.

        1. I wouldn’t expect that unless the company had some sort of controls on the machine, say at a Kinko’s that might have a specific Stratasys machine with a specific build material.

          A lot of hobbyists draw up a replacement part themselves to make on their own machines, often they post it to the internet on part sharing sites. I don’t think the manufacturer would want to release those designs for those reasons and more.

          1. “say at a Kinko’s ”

            Yes, that is a more realistic future. 3D printerering will probably not become a household item, at least not until the Star Trek Replicator is perfected. But a local repair shop, be it automotive, appliance, or whatever, would be a better use of the resource.

          2. Our parish library (Here in E. Baton Rouge) has public 3D printing serves now, at a going rate of ¢10 per gram.
            You submit a design (can be your on model, from their catalogue, or from a site such as “Thingiverse”), and you pay for it in cash when you go to pick it up.
            While the estimated wait time is 10-14 business days, this is partially due to the fact that it’s a relatively new, and experimental service, which is currently in high demand.

        2. I don’t know that you would want to do this on a machine that is still under warantee. My assumption was that this scenario was being performed on a machine that was out of the warantee period, but only just failed because of planned obsolescence. In this case, you are breathing new life into a dishwasher that is otherwise destined for the junkyard.

          1. @Dax often it’s a case of necessity rather than desire. Or your personal internal cost/benefit analysis system says it’s more beneficial for you to spend your money elsewhere.

        3. The replacement part doesn’t even need to be defective, it could be ‘better’ than the original. Plenty of kitchen appliances use sacrificial parts in their drive train to protect the motor if something goes awry.

        4. After warranty time, if you have a broken dishwasher you are screwed in any case, and the products should be designed to resist *at least* that period. It sounds still feasible to print locally the replacements parts, maybe there could be two options, buy the expensive original part, or buy the 3d model for cheap.

        5. Some sort of business arrangement could be made. A certified Local Producer (3D printing, and whatever else) has a contract with the Big Manufacturer. Their parts are inspected, and quality control calls go straight to the Big Mfr. If it appears that Local Producer is failing in quality, Big Mfr has words with them, and possibly changes to a different company.

          Local Producer can have contracts with lots of Big Mfrs. To make his shop worthwhile, and to allow him to invest in the proper machinery.

          Big Mfr takes on all the responsibility, and saves money (hopefully!) by not having to keep old parts in stock for so long, or to ship them. Spare parts are easy to produce in the beginning, the manufacturer just makes a few more than they need to assemble into products, but managing and storing them might be a pain. So there’s some value. The ease, and speed, of replacement by local suppliers makes life easy on the customer, so there’s added value there too.

          It depends. Partly on how complex the parts are. I’m sure you can design every dishwasher from here to eternity with a fixed kit of parts, and doing so is economical. But if more complex parts can be made, and replaced, there’s money to save there, in using less parts overall in the assembly process.

          Of course this all depends on anyone actually repairing anything, and that’s really gone downhill since, what, the 1950s? Stuff wears out at such a rate that, by the time you need to buy a replacement, all the wearable parts have worn down to uselessness simultaneously. Rather than repairs, it’s often cheaper for a company to just replace products in whole, and concentrate on keeping their manufacturing standards high. It’s the old thing of local labour being expensive, and manufacturing, by robots and assembly lines, being cheap.

          Should transportation costs rise by a very large amount, this might change. But transportation isn’t inherently expensive, just using oil is. If our governments could stop being corrupted by oil corps, and all the other big corps, for five minutes, we could implement harmless electric transport run by renewable power. None of which is rocket science. Renewable power has low per-unit costs, and is only going to get cheaper as it’s implemented on a bigger and bigger scale.

          Maybe some windfarm manufacturer needs to start sending suitcases full of cash to the governments of the world.

    2. Even more to the point, even industrial 3D printing cannot approach the fit and finish quality of industrial injection molding. I’ve seen both. There’s no question in my mind that 3D printing replacement parts for a dishwasher that either are visible to the consumer or that seal against water pressure are a complete non-starter.

      Where injection molding falls apart is that creating the mold is a huge investment in NRE. The part you get is the one single part the mold will make, and it’s designed to make thousands of copies of that one part. 3D printing has no such NRE. I don’t know what trying to bridge that gap looks like, but some ability to more easily create injection molds to reduce that NRE cost would be a better way to distribute manufacturing as the article suggests.

      1. dont forget about the colors needed unless we are now going to tell everyone you will get a grey handle, so now these small 3d printing companies that are supposed to be everywhere have to keep warehouses the size of a small city of plastic materiel for printing for every possible scenario available. The you have actual fea standards that even the most obscure parts have to go through. tell me how jim-bob the installer is supposed to hold to any type of real standards for quality of material, finish, dimensional standards. in short this is a horrible idea. There is a reason products are produced in mass quantities. QC QC QC plain and simple.

      2. I have a Hamilton Beach mixer that’s somewhere around forty years old. It’s built like a tank, even the heavy glass mixing bowls have survived being dropped on the floor. Never had a single issue with it except for a few years ago, when the turntable broke. Called the manufacturer, they were amazed I still had it, and that they still had a replacement part – it was literally the last one. What about the next person?

        Assuming the injection molds for that turntable are still around, they could make more. But not just one more. I bet mold setup costs alone would still require that they run off at least a thousand of them, with the expectation that they will sell. Which at this point, they may not.

        I get the impression that manufacturers run a fixed number of replacement parts up front, only when the product is actively being manufactured, based on some estimate on how many will be needed over the lifetime of the product. Maybe that estimate is too high and some parts go to waste, or too low and parts eventually run out. Either way those parts will have to be warehoused for years, probably decades.

        And when my car’s door lock switch broke, the dealership quoted me $70 for a replacement *switch assembly*. That’s all they ever bothered to stock replacements for. You couldn’t get just the switch, or better yet the fragile plastic pin that was responsible for the switch failure. I ended up making a replacement pin from metal, with hand tools. Took me about two hours to make a pin which operated smoothly, only because I’m inexperienced at such things.

        I don’t know how to bridge this gap either, but there sure is a need for it.

          1. Caterpillar who make the heavy plant for construction? And also the shoes? There’s a bit of a limited market for their stuff. And they’re a huge investment to start with, so you’d expect them to last a while. The bulldozers more than the shoes.

    3. I think the point is that a 3D printer would fill a lot of small needs that come up. It’s not like you’d buy a fax machine to send one document, or a regular printer for a print job of a few pages, for example. You buy a machine because you think you need or want it’s capabilities enough over time to make up for the cost of the material and machine.

      But for the hypothetical examples, it’s kind of silly. I’d rather get the part that’s made for the appliance than 3D print the part, so long as the wait is reasonable. Fit and finish and even strength of an fused filament-built part doesn’t stack up well against an injection molded part.

      Other methods still don’t hold up either. Resin printers, even the strong Made Solid Vorex isn’t as strong as ABS or PLA. So even though the finish is great, they don’t make parts I’d want for functional use without significant consideration for the technology used to build the part.

      1. There’s metal powder, laser-sintering 3D printers. I saw one on TV being used to make parts for a jet plane, in a design that was impossible to make in normal subtractive manufacture. I presume they were making it to attach to an actual flying plane. I think the parts are as good as anything cast or made any other way.

        I’d bet sintering plastic would go as well. Melted-plastic deposition, like home 3D printers, is unsuited to parts that undergo stress and wear, so I doubt they’d be the type an industry would use.

  2. In the end shipping finished products is quite often much more cost and pollution effective than producing locally. Especially for plastic products it’s VERY hard to beat the economies of scale for injection moulding v. additive manufacturing. Looking at speed alone an injection moulding machine can produce thousands of dishwasher handles in the time it takes a single print on a 3d printer to finish. Now imagine an entire city needing their parts and how many 3d printers you would need. Then start thinking about how much resources you need to build all those individual 3d printers. Not to mention that product for product a 3d printer will wear out much more than the injection moulding machine, meaning more resources wasted on the machine making the product as it needs to be replaced after x thousand products versus x million for an injection moulding machine.

    Injection moulding also allows many, many different types of plastics to be used. Longevity is not needed if you’re 3d printing a new dishwasher handle on your own 3d printer as a hobby, but as a full replacement in a consumer market you need it to last atleast a little while. Injection moulding allows you to make it out of a sturdy and longlasting ABS. A 3d print will probably break again within the lifetime of the product.

    1. Unless they can show me a good safety reason that the dishwasher latch in question is made out of plastic…. local manufacturing a new latch out of metal (CNC mill) seems to be a very viable option. Yes it is going to cost more but it is probably never going to break again at least not like the original that was made out of plastic to cut cost and possibly designed to fail.

      Really it is an issue of scale, if you need parts in the millions a factory tooled specifically to make that part is always going to be more efficient at it. If you need parts in the hundreds a production facility designed to make general goods is going to have a much faster turnaround and operate sans the retooling fees. If you constantly find yourself requiring one or two custom things and find yourself frequently turning to general manufacturers then having some small scale desktop alternatives becomes viable.

      1. So’s most of the printer, I’d bet. And most of the computer you’re reading this on. Presumably the chair you’re sat on. And everything else.

        Could be the air you’re breathing spent time in a bamboo forest. Although that’s not a lurking economic disaster like the others.

        1. I think due to the age of the planet and the system of photosynthesis most all air has been in all forest and seas (plankton) really..

          But the funny part about my original post is that you have the concept of trying to avoid all those imports from china and its costly and ecologically unsound transport, but if you use chinese filament did you not just hide the issue rather than solve it?

          1. Yeah I got your point, I was just pointing out it’s actually worse than just that. Sending all our jobs to China, having all the world’s manufacturing capacity there, and buying everything from there because it’s cheap is a disaster that’s looming really big, really close.

            The prices are only so artificially low because the Chinese buy up so many American dollars (in the form of debt, among others) (and other currencies too). This prevents the natural economic process of supply and demand from balancing things. Normally a big demand for Yuan would mean the price of Yuan rises, making Chinese prices higher and levelling things out. But the Chinese are buying large amounts of foreign currency to prevent this.

            So not only do they have all our production capacity, they have a big chunk of our currency too (well, I’m English but it applies here too). Currently they’re just putting it in a big box. What happens when they decide to mobilise it? They own so much of our (The West’s) debt.

            That’s when this whole “miracle” bursts. It’s also why the whole “market” bullshit doesn’t work in a world of mega-corps, or where small groups control vast amounts of money.

    2. Besides, a manufacturer often has a very good idea about how many of their machines are going to break, so they will only need to produce an inventory of spare parts that they probably need, using the same production lines they used to build the product in the first place. When the product goes EOL they simply retain enough parts to last the warranty, or like with car manufacturers, warranty plus some number of years.

      Why should there be a system to repair the only remaining fridge of a line of products that was manufactured 30 years ago?

  3. #1 (locally mass producing personalized greeting cards) is just stupid. Why would I go through the trouble of digitizing my handwriting and remove any semblance of personal touch to the greeting card? How would I save any money with such as service?

    #2 You ended on a good note here. I have 3d printed window latches and other useful things around the house. The problem of matching people’s needs (broken latches) to supply (maker’s machines) is more educating users that parts can be replaced and aiding discoverability of people willing to print parts

    1. We are chatting here in a community that likely more often replaces their own parts than doesn’t and shorter delivery distance would be good but I think not at such a volume that it would make much of a dent. Think about the wider audience, everyday non-maker folks. They I feel are less likely to replace a part than to call the Maytag Repair Man or whoever who will replace the part. So in this scenario, it’s the stock of parts for the repair service industry or the source of that stock. Your local repair house is probably ordering a box of this and a case of that, etc that they then put on their fleet of trucks for service calls. Could they instead lay in an order of various filament or other material to print those parts in the shop? And would that generate some sort of savings over the ordering of the boxes and cases of parts?

      1. I wonder if we would ever embed the actual 3d parts data into the product itself… might help with separability down the line. Only issue is cost, and presence. You’ll need it wireless, cheap, high storage, no battery, and unobtrusive.

        1. So a flash chip then? With 2 or 3 terminals, or maybe an RFID-type link. Easy enough!

          Storing it online would be cheaper, if much less reliable 30 years down the line. But do manufacturers care about that? It’s hard enough finding drivers for a laptop you bought yesterday.

  4. 3D printing sure is an alternative, especially for parts that are not visible when in use – like levers, mounting-parts and cogwheels, etc.
    Injection plastic needs MASSIVE tooling for every part. And MASSIVE machines.
    3D printers need a 3D model and time. Obviously not your 1st choice for perfect surfaces, huge parts, very detailed parts and thin walls. But then 1kg of PLA / ABS costs € 25,– plus some energy to melt.
    So for the price of a spare part plus shipping I can definitely model and print a simple part while still earning money.
    The customer has the part in an hour and the PLA parts I print on my small printer here are almost indestructable once you go beyond 1mm walls. Not like highend plastics, but also not bad like cheap injection parts.

    1. Actually, there are now micro injection moulding machines that are table top size! Look at Babyplast for instance: http://www.babyplast.com/ . Sure it’s only a 62kN clamping force machine with max 15 cm^3 shot size, but that’ll allow you to make a lot of the smaller size consumer parts. So massive machines certainly don’t have to be the problem.

      1. You will still need crazy tooling for every single form you produce.
        So you either pay 600€ per part for a pro steel form or make your own from less dense metal.
        Even milling in wax and then casting in metal would be cheaper.
        Replacing a simple, but unique part is not an option with injection processes. With 3D printing it is.

        My guess is that in some years you will have little stores where you go with your broken part and someone makes a quick CAD-move and prints the part for ten bucks.

        1. Why are steel forms so expensive? Is it the need to last 100,000 (say) mouldings? If we only needed it for a couple of hundred, could it be made cheaper?

          What about laser sintered metal powder 3D printing, would that be good enough? Or plastic 3D printing, then making an intermediate (plaster?) mould, then from there a metal one? Using maybe an induction furnace, for smallness and lack of messiness. I can imagine it’ll never be as simple as making pizza, but is small-scale injection moulding, from a 3D file, possible?

          It’d provide a nice job for reasonably technically proficient people. There’s no jobs for the skilled working class any more, this would be a good one. It’d help economies and bring some dignity back.

          1. There is a lot of research going on into making sacrifial molds exactly for short run purposes. Stratasys for instance has developed techniques to make injection moulds that last a few hundred parts. http://www.stratasys.com/solutions-applications/digital-manufacturing/injection-molding. Currently it’s only suitable for straight pull (and possibly some single slide) moulds but its a promising solution. It would be interesting to see if the maker community can get printed injection moulds working with manual benchtop injection machines.

  5. The trouble with localized production is duplication of machines, people, and processing. Making a million parts in one factory is almost certainly more cost efective versus making 1000 parts in 1000 factories.
    Ideally you’d have small factories spread about that are extremely good at a certain process, like plastic injection molding, or assembly. That factory would have to be suitably agile enough to do small runs of various products at a cost on par with standard mass production. In some ways this already exists, but typically not in mass market consumer grade products.
    The range of such factories depends on the product. I think every city already has a plastics shop, millwork shops, welding shops, etc. Whereas there are currently only a few semiconductor fabs spread across the globe.
    The biggest issue I think is managing the logistics of distributed manufacturing. I’m imagining an online marketplace where you can upload designs and have various manufacturers quote you rates. You order the parts and have them shipped to customers, your warehouse (distributed warehouses? ), or to the next place that part needs to be. Even then it would still be tough to manage.

    1. I think the over all problem is that we are all thinking of the 1000 local factories replacing a single remote factory. No single injection molding factory would be replaced, all of them would be. Under those circumstances, does it make more sense?

      With current additive hot extruded plastic, no, I don’t think it makes sense. We’re almost there, but the current state-of-the-art printers aren’t cost effective yet; $5,000 for 1 printer x 1000 locations, or $20,000 for an injection mold? But by just making it about those costs, we may have a way to determine what is needed to make it usable. On the one printer to one part model, we’d need a $200 high quality machine that could produce the part as quickly as the molding machine could. If we accept that the printers will replace more IM machines, then we can increase the cost or the time; or both to some degree. A $2,000 printer that is fast enough to print one part in the time an IM could do 100 parts could be compared to 1000 IM molds and machines.

      So what do we need to get a small machine to print that fast? We can quibble about whether 100 IM parts is a single mold press or 100, or we could try to find a way to make consumer printers capable of faster additive, or additive and subtractive, construction.

      1. In the post they said half-baked goes here, so, here is my idea coming off you requirement for additive, subtractive and fast printing. SLS printing could be fast, powerful lasers (LASER) and fast mirrors exist, so maybe use one longer wavelength laser and another with a much shorter wavelength to first bring the substrate near curing point then the intrinsically lower power but finer laser would complete curing. I did not specify what type of lasers, substrate or how curing would actually work but that is where actual inventing (hard work) happens.

  6. I think the #2 scenario might work if we also make these parts recyclable/ refurbish-able, so that there is a closer 1:1 ratio of consumed materials for the initial production vs materials over the life of the product. For example, look at car parts that have a “core charge”- that’s because they can reuse some parts of that old part. Obviously this won’t work for everything, but if enough products changed, it might become viable.

    Point #>2, what are we willing to pay for locally made? Even if you can get the local/ low volume scale to match or beat the mass production scale in “carbon output”, the price is hard to beat- the global economic machine has made shipping products (especially overseas) VERY cheap.

  7. No-Nos for number #1. The important part in the greeting card is to show the other people that you care enough about them to go search for a nice card, write it, then mail it. Digitally doing it would create a set-and-forget automated service, where the receiver would just forward the card automatically to the trash.

    Number #2 has some promise. Many not important parts could be printed in a regional location, removing the need for having a lot of parts in store. But along with that, there would need to be an established law-thing to protect factories from customers complaining about the local part not being the same appearance/resistance as the original one.

  8. I’m going to side with locally mass produced standardized parts. Each part should be employable in many different devices. 3d printing to me is really only for prototyping and and building a proof of concept. Also perhaps as the first step in mass production e.g. print, mold, cast.

  9. How about this… The ideal material for one task may have different properties than the ideal material for another task.

    I don’t mind paying a licensing fee to print a doorknob or the latch mechanism for a.dishwasher, but these two products have different requirements. When we have a 3D printer that can easily switch from one material to another, or multiple materials per product, that will be more useful.

    1. That is impossible because of… you know.. physics!
      The materials you can use are restricted in number for a reason – not all materials can be extruded.
      Lots of materials are tricky to work with – they come as liquids, have multiple components, have to be activated, formulated for a specific process and so on.
      Most groups of plastics are not extrudeable, not to mention multi-material problems.
      Take a modern BMW highclass dashboard… There are at least 15 different plastics involved, belonging to different groups, being extruded, foamed, laminated, hotmelted, sputted on and so forth. Metal part insets, PCBs printed on the plastics in other plastics, etc….

      Sure you have your stratasys multimaterial printers, but those are mainly for producing mockups. Just because you can print a hard and a soft plastic in one process, doesn’t mean that that plastics will perform well in real world products.

      1. Exactly my point. There is no “one size fits all” 3D printing system as of yet, nor will I hold my breath waiting for one. I’m simply saying that if one existed, it would be more useful than any one that exists today.

  10. This is all very enlightened, but misses the major point.
    Companies want consumer goods obsolecence. They want things to be a minor pain in the ass to fix. Its a fine line to trail between charging so much for spares that people are put off your brand, and charging enough to make people think oh hell, I will just buy a new unit without getting a negative perception that they are being ripped off. Real marketing has this line plotted to perfection.
    So, the major issues are not process or specialised fab areas serving a local region, they are cultural, expectations of manufacturers to control their ip tightly and discretely prevent repair of used items where possible. And to make a replica involves cad data. And if you start reverse engineering that data to make replica parts, without the backup of the original fabricators, the legal implications if anything were to go amis in service would become frightening, and you had better believe the manufacturers lawyers would be holding some of the sticks to stir that pot. Already cars are being manufacturered with anti tamper systems in the name of reducing pollution to take a example. Soon it will be mandated in most places that this lock in is not altered, and extended out to the minor wear parts of the vehicle which do not affect emissions in a direct way.

    First major step is to fix society and the idea of landfilling things with minor problems is acceptable. That will then facilitate this happening.
    We can fix the fabrication or machine side, humans are resourceful. Mass political willpower for the common good at the expense of the mighty dollar belonging in part to the people that put the people in power? not so easy.

    1. Planned obsolescence and disposability undercut arguments against sub-standard Depression-style fixes. At any rate, Capitalism actually works when there is more competition not more monopolies. America’s shrinking middleclass can’t afford anything but the hillbillyfix that will usually void warrantees or circumvent all those rowdy ip lawyers. Local decentralized production more importantly creates local wealth in dollars and expertise, and makes people who can afford it feel better about the transparency and the ethics of production (both in terms of labor and pollution).
      In terms of production, appropriate material choice aside, 3D-printed injection mold inserts, tabletop injectors and plastic recycling can have visible impact on the wastestream and provide the economic feasibility toward such local ventures.

    2. Actually he’s right. My catalytic converter was stolen and thanks to the damn laws in California regarding said cats, I’ve had to replace it no less than three times in four years to remain in compliance with the nearsighted politicians idea of “protecting the quality of our air”.

      No one is going to be printing cats anytime soon but California is rife with similar laws that preclude any notion of any possibility of 3D printing being a viable replacement in the near future.

      And as companies begin to wise up to printing parts potentially eating into their profit margins we’ll see lobbyists push for new laws subtly banning printed parts or new parts designed in such a way making it difficult to print them.

      And manufacturers seem to dislike spare parts, especially those generics. Many manufacturers are consolidating components, turning a generic 50 cent part into a $300 component needing replacement. Most annoying are control boards that “burn out” when a damn bulb burns out preventing anyone from soldering in a new bulb without having to reset the control circuitry.

  11. Wow, a lot of complaints about the possibility of local printing of parts sound a lot like verbatim quotes from back in the 1970s about personal computers and their peripherals. When an 8k byte memory cost a month’s pay and a printer more than double that – and the printer required pin-feed continuous paper and its dot-matrix impact printing was monospaced, no graphics, and low contrast. Everyone “knew” the home / hobby computer market was strictly for fun and geeks, not for “real” used.

    Who could have foretold 2400dpi full-color pages-per-minute photo quality printers at the local grocery store for sale for a few hours’ wages?

    Yes, today’s products aren’t up to the job. Tomorrow’s? Don’t bet against them! *FAST* 3d printers are emerging, full metal ones have been here for some time, full color 3d printing as well. Not hobby or home price yet? Just wait…

    1. Yeah, these problems will eventually be fixed, in time for some of us to be dead already, because the 70’s is 35-45 years ago, if we get similar time scales. Not sure how that ties into a 2015 Hackaday contest though.

  12. Everyone has been arguing the economics in this thread. I have to say this is a falacious line of thinking. It is the equivalent of saying, “Why would you need a home printer? Just buy books, idiot.”. That line of thinking is fine until I want something that isn’t printed in a book like my resume. 3D printing may not be cheaper or faster however 3D printing has a conveience and customization factor that can’t be topped. At this moment it is illogical to consider this technology as a candidate to replace tradional manufacturing. To compare when PC’s arrived they didn’t immediately replace mainframes; it was a slow growth for the PC to phase out the mainframe.

    1. PCs still haven’t replaced mainframes. PCs now occupy the places that pencil and paper and manually managed spreadsheets and typewriters used to. For managing company sized data mainframes are still in place.

      1. Although they usually run on PC technology. The fastest processors they make are x86. That wasn’t the case up until maybe the late 1990s.

        Not sure how that parallels with local production. But the economics of mass-production are certainly in there. In lots of industries, general-purpose machines in their millions take over from special-purpose monolithic one-offs.

  13. Not a simple solution. Mass production and volume buying will always be cheaper than local low scale. Look at our food. We’d rather import chickens than pay higher prices for local produce. We prefer supermarket prices instead of local corner shop prices.

    We prefer to order online where everything is individually packed and shipped versus buying locally.

    Where local wins is when people must be involved to provide a service or when people want better tools, skills or facilities.

    People want cheap and cheap usually means mass production.

    1. I prefer looking up online and buying locally.

      For one important reason: I can have it today instead of 3-5 working days through the mail.

      The second important reason is that I can just slap down a wad of cash instead of registering to become a customer and fill in privacy-intruding details and waiting ten minutes for the confirmation email. I’d rather sit two hours in traffic than go through that bullshit over and over again.

    2. This first sentence is mistaken, because it doesn’t count to costs of distribution and storage. Warehouses and the systems for knowing what’s in them and how to pick it aren’t cheap. Shelf space in stores isn’t cheap — most stores have a reqirement of some number of dollars per square foot in sales to stay in business, or for specific items to stay in stock. Local small-scale production means that a store can keep way more items “in stock”. One of the things that will have to change, though, is that you’re going to have to ask for the item before you leave for the store, so they’ll have time to source it…

      1. And yet, the cost of individual delivery by mail or delivery is more than driving to the store to fetch it yourself because the logistics is more efficient with physical stores. They transfer thousands of items at a time to a select few locations instead of select few items to thousands of locations.

        In the end the cost come out to about the same.

  14. Folks are all thinking big here, which is good. But don’t forget you can apply these philosophies to smaller and more mundane parts of your life.

    Let’s say I want pancakes. I could go to a restaurant and order up a stack. Or I could make a trip to the store just to buy pancake mix. But that’s only good for one thing – making pancakes. And for as often as I want pancakes, that box will be taking up room in my pantry for a long time, maybe until it expires and has to be thrown out. I could get a smaller box/bottle that I will immediately use up, but that is more expensive per unit weight, and uses more packaging and other resources.

    Instead, I have flour, sugar, baking powder/soda, salt, and eggs. I don’t have buttermilk, but I do have milk, and white vinegar with which to sour it while I measure and mix the dry ingredients. And a bottle of good butter flavored extract, that completes the effect of fresh buttermilk. It’s a little extra time and effort, but since it makes better pancakes than I can get from a store-bought mix or even most restaurants, it’s worth it.

    All those ingredients used to make the pancakes are useful for making many other things too. I stock my kitchen around that philosophy, and avoid single-purpose items as much as possible, when I can produce that item myself with reasonable efficiency.

    1. Very well explained. But the trouble is that while you can have 10s to 100s ingredients in your kitchen to make an extremely large number of things, 100s of “ingredients” to make up products is nothing.

      1. For the average replacement parts that have been discussed, what parts wouldn’t be made with some ABS, PLA, and aluminium?

        Sure, far future (diamond age) where we could design our own uC and have a machine spit it out in a few hours or days, we would need many more ingredients. By that time, I would hope that local recycling is also part of the system; I throw my old computer into the recycling bin to be decomposed into elemental parts, and those parts get thrown into the new system.

        1. Anything with a mechanism in it.

          You may need bearings, precision surfaces, springs, wires, circuit boards, contacts, plugs… or what the reprap community calls “vitamins”.

      1. Multi-use cupcake-bot! Hah!

        And to the previous poster… I dig that explanation. I’ll raise you, though… Not being a chef, myself, I dig the concept, but seldom find the need (or patience?) for any of those ingredients.
        I picked up a box of pancake-mix once… and managed to make cookies out of it. They weren’t *excellent* by any means, but they were certainly better than the utter lack of cookies I had in my home. And, yahknow, given a few more attempts I mighta come up with something durn-near edible. Similarly: I tire quite quickly of oatmeal, but oatmeal cookies aren’t too bad… And, that prepackaged oatmeal with the flavoring mixed in… throw an egg in the mix… It’s darn-near a cookie with all the healthy-nutriousness of something most people consider “breakfast” with something else that’s a little bit more nutritious… And a bit more fun, and with a longer-shelf-life than either (prepared).

        So, I dunno where this thought-process is going, exactly, except that… maybe if there were more pancake-mix-hackers and more flavored-oatmeal-hackers out there, then we could turn those single-use products into multi-use without necessitating our being chefs…?
        I’m all for the *concept* of simple-ingredients, believe me… but the investment by someone who doesn’t really know how to make use of them… that’s.. an investment.

        OTOH, I do electronics, and have darn-near any part I need from twenty years of taking-apart things. So, let’s see you turn your cookies into pancake-mix ;)

        1. I dig this too! A coworker brought to work the best sugar cookies I’ve ever had, so I asked her for the recipe and was surprised they were made with cheap store-brand yellow cake mix. There’s one time I started making oatmeal cookies to find out I was short on oats, but a few packs of the flavored instant saved me a trip to the store; plus the unintended hint of dates and walnuts actually made the batch extra tasty. And though I can’t relate any tricks regarding pancake mix, if one were to master its transformation to the point where a “family heirloom” sized container from Sam’s/Costco does not go to waste, then that could provide a lot of meals on the cheap. Any creative use of items and skills is a potential resource saver.

  15. Theres an additional unmentioned problem hidden in #2. As someone who has had to repair many appliances and modern cars I’ve become very familiar. The local parts distributor, especially for appliances doesn’t carry that little 3d printable plastic piece that snapped due to old age. (planned obsolescence) They carry -assemblies- that contain the little plastic part along with 10 others that immediately balloons the price and triples the shipping weight.

    They could make the 3d plans available to local printers and sell replacement plastic bits for a few dollars. They would still make a killing and be more handy AND reduce waste all at the same time. Even if the plans are leaked, most people don’t have a 3d printer, or want to go to the trouble to set it up and use it if they do. Convenience still counts as we can see with fast food and jiffy lubes among other things.

    1. If you publish all the manufacturing details of every part of a machine, what stops some Chinese company from tooling a production line to manufacture your machine on the cheap?

      The idea of distributing detailed plans that enable distributed manufacturing of spare parts falls on its face when someone doesn’t respect your copyright.

      1. Pretty much the only thing that stops copycat companies from stealing your market is that they don’t know how you make the original parts. It takes so much money and time to reverse-engineer something and getting the production quality up to the same standard to pass it off as the real deal, that you might as well start from scratch and make your own product legally.

    2. You could even make the replacement out of a superior material. I remember on my first car, there was a small little fitting in the engine compartment that was originally made from plastic. It eventually cracked, and my car pumped most of it’s coolant out on the road. Could only drive about a mile at a time before having to kill the engine for cooling. The repair shop replaced it with a metal one. The shop said it was a common problem with cars with that engine.

  16. As far as scenario #1 goes, does anyone really feel special when the receive a letter in the mail from some form letter where they talk about how much they want your opinion or how great brand X product is, and they end the form letter with a hand written signature, that’s printed in the same color ink as the logo?

    Yeah, I don’t want a personal birthday card from someone stamped out of an inkjet printer… Take the time to mail the real thing, or, just send an email, at least it uses less resources to get to me.

    Maybe I’m old fashion, but I don’t like avery labeled Christmas cards that were bulk printed on someone’s computer. Send the real thing, show me I’m really worth the time. I get enough junk mail, show me something real.

  17. When Dell starts bundling their 3d printers that come with starter filament cartridges, and it’s cheaper to buy a new printer than shell out for a $40-$50 full cartridge, then #2 will be a bit easier to realize. Then will come Netfix.com: DRM repair parts. Apple not far behind with a “Revolution” of the 3d printer industry.

  18. I think 3D printing at home will some day become as common as regular printer, with the common caveats you have for printing today:
    -it would be reasonably cheap
    -offer quality from reasonably good up to excellent.
    -will appear worth it for one copy of something
    -you will not want to print mass produced books or magazines: your printing cost would outweigh the cost of a book print + royalities.

    Now let’s look at the 2 scenarios, mass manufactured plastic part vs home produced. They both end up being the same amount of material and start up as the same amount of raw material in the same place. SO the beginning and end if the same. Let’s assume traveled distance is the same. In random order:
    -my 3d printer has a lower yield, i estimate 20-30% of the parts need to be redone.
    -3d printer eats filament which is further processed from the pellets that an injection molding machine can use.
    -3d printer wastes a lot of energy: the heated bed is so much larger than the part, the plastic is heated and then cooled throwing away the heat, the power supply is inefficient because the printer cost needs to stay down etc
    -the 3d printed parts are inferior in terms of durability which would require more of them throughout the life of the product
    -you might have to waste time, energy and brain to design the part

    1. I can’t see 3d printers ever being as common as paper printers for one simple and unchangeable fact.

      a home printer works so well because it can print anything and everything with only 3 colors of ink. a 3D printer never have that ability and so you will always need to buy special part somewhere (in real life or online) before you can make most things.

      this is a problem that can never be overcome.

  19. That problem has, and always will be, solved by the bean counters. The cheapest place that part/product/service/food can be produced, is where it WILL be produced. Most things can’t be produced locally (at any cost). Let me know when you can go downtown and buy a brand new Fred’s Auto Sedan, made totally by Fred. We can’t even get the electronics that were invented in America, made in america, all fab work is from Asia. Globalization is here to stay, the power structure of money grubbers won’t have it any other way.

  20. The argument for local production is the opposite of the last two centuries of industrialization. Prior to that almost -every- item was produced individually and locally. Some were limited to material source locations and were traded, but the acceleration has been to have increasing specialization in centralized mass production and a greater reliance on shipping.

    Few of the rapid prototype methods result in superior durability, so it seems like a poor scheme for repair parts. Perhaps replacing some plastic parts with infused laser sintered metal powder parts, but then they don’t have the same elastic or lubricant properties. The more likely direction is automated CNC, the initial focus of the STEP format that the military envisioned would allow custom ordered lights-out on-demand parts. When it happens it will happen for the military first; they have significant costs associated with maintaining spare parts over long periods of time.

    The contrast is that mass manufacture allows economic access to materials and processes that are superior to those that are within the availability of individualized manufacture. The converse is that it is not economic to use individualized manufacture for replacing mass-manufactured parts.

    The area where individualized manufacture is useful is in areas that mass manufacture won’t go. This has been seen for a long time in things like architectural models or molded resin kits for subjects insufficiently popular subjects, and in the production of items that cannot be built using current mass manufacture methods.

    The greatest need is for a simple interface to build part models from which items can be manufactured. Ultimately you can’t produce with a machine a part that you can’t describe to the machine.

  21. When I was in the USAF during the 80’s, they were investing lots of R&D into CNC mills & lathes to make replacement parts for aircraft from digital files. Each airbase already had a sheet metal/machine shop that could fabricate nearly any part (I once had new brackets for a radar warning receiver fabricated from blueprints there were on microfiche). So the idea is not totally without merit, especially for creating parts not in production or supported when you have no other option.

  22. You’ve still got to ship something. Either it’s the raw materials and these magical boxes that replicate every manufacturing process in the world, or it’s the parts. Will enough stuff in my house ever break (that is reparable) to justify the Magical Box?

  23. after thinking about this after reading several times it seems had has been having fun with the sky is falling we have a problem lately when the problem really isn’t there. go back to hacks and leave this chicken little bs somewhere else.

  24. You know what?

    local production is utopic, specially in planet earth, where resources are [very] limited: very specialized equipment and materials (say for example computers, medical hardware, medicines, and even some kinds of food) are just not available locally everywhere (and if they are, it is not at no financial and time cost).

    So local production was something invented to give us the false feeling that we are doing our part in the “planet saving” thing. Just look at locally produced vegetables: the are rare, expensive, have no variety and are no better that “mass produced” ones.

  25. Mines, quarries, and factories aren’t just everywhere. They change in paying out or loosing value, things move on.
    What about parts for VCR’s and other swept away things we all once owned?
    What mines?

  26. Why buy books printed in China, when you could print it yourself form PDF? We all have printers which are decades of development ahead of 3D printers.

    I think the same principles will hold:
    Mass produced parts will be cheaper and better made.
    There’s only certain items worth stocking mass-produced versions of. The big cost is warehousing books, not transporting them.
    For the “long tail” POD technology (in local stores, not in be home) is becoming popular.

    So I’d imagine:
    Companies will continue to stock mass-produced replacement parts.
    Once the stocks are exhausted, they’ll turn the designs over to a network of fabricators who can produce them one-off.

  27. Is there really that much difference, moving raw materials to a manufacturing point and then distributed to various locations vs distributing raw materials to the end user location?

  28. my idea would be to have open source home appliances (dishwasher, mixer etc) and have per area (town, village etc) a facility that can produce these items, they can then compete on quality. and you as user only have to get the replacement part from the internet and let it produce at a facility near you at a quality level you like or want to pay for for that item

    1. You’re basically talking about a village blacksmith equivelent.

      Competition with very narrow margins also means that it’d only take a minor difference in quality at one facility for it to go out of business. Then the other has no competition and can act as it wishes with a captive market.

      This is how the existing large centralised businesses all started out in the murky mists of history. Going back to the same start will have the same end result in time, presuming they’re not just consumed by the now more evolved apex-predatory businesses.

  29. There are obviously scales of economy in production by having a large semi-dedicated plant pump out a thousand high-quality parts in a few hours. Distribution also leverages existing shipping channels, so there’s again savings in not having to reinvent the wheel there.

    The local or home microfacturer making a replacement part will require time to reverse-engineer the broken item, including factoring in changes in dimensions from wear or breakage. Then design time, and going to manufacture. Unless there’s a spate of faulty parts (for which the manufacturer would be liable, and less likely to replace if you try to fix it yourself), then you’re making a one-off. A prototype. You won’t be using the same plastics formulation, you won’t be testing it’s tensile or breaking strength or QA’ing it in any other way than “does it fit?”

    Practicality says I’ve just had dinner. I’m not going to embark on an engineering project right away. I put the casarole dish in the sink to soak while I go online and order a £5 replacement part off ebay. It’ll be here in two days, and asside from budgeting 20 minutes washing up time I don’t need to reschedule my life for those days to include hours of design, testing and manufacturing to get an inferior and more expensive part.

    Centralised is wonderful for economy of scale and supporting existing product lines. Local is wonderful for redundency and supporting discontinued or customised items, as well as adding competition to lower odds of price-gouging on mass produced parts.

  30. I would hazard a, perhaps naive guess, that the real issue is lack of knowledge/awareness.
    Humans are the ultimate adaptive tool users, and yet with the proper experience, or even worse with the wrong precautions, we aren’t very effective at what we do best.
    1. Problem, why bother with a manufactured card at all?
    There are literally thousands of guides, tutorials, and resources on making your own cards on a computer, which can then be printed. You get the human element, and the economic benefit.
    2.Why assume that the original part was nessecarily the best? Use something else, or tweak the design to be more user friend. It’ll require some work, but it’s not witchcraft.
    3. The general populace needs a helping hand getting back to what made humans so successful in the first place. A combination of misplaced fear, limited knowledge, and little to no experienced, has stunted most of humanities natural ability to adapt, and change their environment to suit their needs. Not to ramble, but the look on someone’s face, when they learn how to repair, or make something all their own, even as adults, is heart warming. So how does one introduce a maker mindset into their community, when Clarke’s third law is effecting them?

    1. My thoughts;
      1. Time is a resource. Spending hours learning how to do something that will save you a few dollars a year, presuming you can also make the time to act on that knowledge, isn’t taken lightly. While it may have savings in the long run, which is actually easier? $40 saved in 5 years vs $5 in materials plus 20 hours designwork in the same period?
      2. It is witchcraft. You’re just in the privilaged position of already knowing it. We have magical knowledge through experience of what sort of materials will work well and what won’t. We know you don’t use metals as insulators, we know wood would make a terrible dishwasher catch, we know the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous. Most people never need this level of detail in their day-to-day lives. Unless you’re a hands-on maker, you won’t know these things. The number of very inteligent people I’ve had to explain the difference between aluminium and steel to is embarassing. And those are people trying to *weld* the stuff.
      3. Higher population creates the ability for increased individual specialisation. It is not a place for idealised numbers of people with certain skills. While it would be nice if people at least accepted things can be modified or fixed, society would collapse if everyone became an engineer. People just need to tinker more.

      1. Perhaps you’re right, and I do agree it’s a highly idealized concept.
        My fiancée’s family was ready to throw a ‘wiimote’ away, because it wouldn’t turn on.
        Turned out that one of the kids had dropped it, knocking one of the battery connections out of place.
        I pushed it back into the proper position, and it started right up.
        They were amazed, so I showed them how I fixed it, and not a month later , the same problem came up, and they couldn’t figure it out.
        Maybe you’re right, maybe we’re simply wizards of a new age.

        1. I’m not meaning this personally, but maybe people are just a bit stupid these days. Somehow they’re taught to be helpless. It’s much easier teaching my grandmother something on the PC. With her, I can explain the principle of it, and she doesn’t just remember which button to press, she understands. My mother, and plenty of others her age, don’t want to learn. They just want to know what to press to get Facebook to do this or that. It’s mostly memorised. Which is actually harder than learning, for me!

          People in the older days (up til maybe the 1970s?) did more stuff for themselves. Not just machinery, but even society, if you wanted a hot meal, you had to buy ingredients and make it. Not just move a food-box from the cold-machine into the hot-machine. Falling over in the street wasn’t the lottery-win of suing it is now. Films had some imagination and personality in them. Men went to the Moon! I’m praising a past here from before I was even born!

          Politics has certainly become insidious, now it’s not about reasoning with the electorate, they don’t even bother with manifestos any more. It’s become an argument of “WE can manage the economy / run the country better”. Politicians don’t run the country anyway, the civil servants do. Politicians are supposed to have principles that we agree with. Now they try hard not to show any, in case it puts someone off voting them. As for why someone SHOULD vote for them, nothing… Political debate is of the level of grammar-school, rich old men thinking it’s a debating society and scoring stupid personal points off each other, thinking that sort of behaviour is going to make people trust them with power.

          Admittedly nobody in the 21st Century’s voted for Hitler. Yet. Although at least Hitler had ideals, even if they were evil. He wasn’t just in it cynically to skim money off for him and his mates in big business. Tho he did do that too of course.

  31. Perhaps we have to think outside the box of the corporate world. Imagine the possibility of appliances designed as open source from readily available parts. Designed to last a long time, designed to be deconstructed for parts when needed.
    Imagine everyone in the world being able to access the database of parts and building any appliance that they need. Say a tribesman in Africa. 3D printers have reached this current stage because of the open source movement.
    Imagine a future where jobs have disappeared due to automation, so we have plenty of time but no real spare money. Where building a washing machine becomes a community project, done for the fun of it as well as the need.

    1. Hm I suppose you could order pumps, motors, gears, chain, and build yourself a washing machine. Obviously it’ll cost 10x more since you can’t use the specialised parts used in mass-production. Then take it apart and make a bike.

      Problem is if you need a bike and a washing machine at the same time. Poor countries don’t have the spare resources. And there’s a lot of useful things (solar panels, fridges) that you can’t print out of plastic.

      That said I think repair shops, local mechanics, are more popular in poor countries, people do repair stuff and cannibalise old broken things for parts. If labour costs are cheap, and goods are very expensive, it makes sense. A lot of Western garbage (literal garbage) gets sent to Asia where people pick it over and recycle useful components. There’s an economy there, if a very harmful one, for health.

      It depends. Hi-tech things like hard drives, cannot be recycled to anything but scrap metal, when they break, they’re beyond fixing, only the factory would have the tools to do it. Chips become obsolete. Repairing only works when manufacturing technology is below a certain level of advancement, and labour is below a particular price.

  32. I think everyone is too focused on 3d printing and not thinking enough about traditional manufacturing methods. Casting, forging, milling, turning, cutting, etc…

    The key part is automating these methods on the small scale. Doing jobs in batches helps. Casting for example. Casting 100 parts isn’t much more work than casting 1. The big thing people overlook is that those 100 parts don’t have to be the same(They do have be somewhat similar in size). So maybe we have an open source CAM program for doing lost wax castings. It automatically calculates the flow pipes and stuff. Then once 100 people submit there projects it generates the gcode for a CNC mill to cut all the parts out of wax, add registration points for further automated machining and so on. From there the wax can be automatically back in sand and the metal poured. Then once cooled a robot arm can retrieve the parts and place them in a CNC machine using the registration points. The CNC would then cut the pipes off, drill holes and bring the part down to a machine finish.

    My idea is get away from the idea of one off or mass production. Its more like mass one off production.

    Forging, extruding and injection moulding are much more difficult processes to replace as they need specially made dies. Forging could maybe be done with a set of generic dies that are CNC controlled to build up more complex forms. Its like going back to forging by hand where the blacksmith would use a selection of hammers and punches with different techniques to get the desired shapes.

    I’m honestly not sure why injection moulds are so expensive to produce. Are we not at a point where software could automate the design and then CNC machine them?

    1. There’s a number of reasons injection molds are so expensive.

      1. Engineering time to design – the more complex the part, the more difficult the design. There are multiple plates in a mold, with multiple sides, this adds to machining setup time. Mechanisms such as ejector pins need to be added to properly eject the parts.
      2. Materials – Production molds are made from tool steel, this is expensive and takes longer to cut
      3. Finish – All tool marks will show up on the completed part, the mold surface needs to be highly polished.

      1. Still, a bit of polish, it’s not like they’re telescope mirrors, and the rest too I’m sure isn’t TOO hard. Could it be they prefer to spend money on the moulds, knowing that once you’ve made 100,000 plastic doodads, it’s far too late? If we were only making 200 doodads, could we cut back a bit on the quality control of the moulds, less inspection and certification, cos there’s less to lose? Would that make it cheaper by a noticable amount?

  33. The examples OP gives are never going to replace the traditional methods.

    1. Greeting cards – give me a break. It’s easy enough to walk into the local shop, get a card and pop it in the mail. The example of having some shop receive the order and print the card on demand sounds SO complicated. Then I can’t write in my custom message in pen either. Besides that, paper is still going to have to be shipped anyway! The paper mills are going to be close to the raw materials, or otherwise the raw materials will have to be shipped to the paper mills. Ditto on printing. My guess is you’ll find at least some large printers/box makers in close proximity of paper mills.

    2. Replacement parts – 3d printing is never going to replace mass produced parts, it’s too slow and always will be.

    1. UV cured SLA printers can achieve a print rate sufficiently high that you could print a part, rinse, convey to a cure oven and refill the reservoir for small parts in less than the time it takes to water-cool an injection mold, let alone do the injection.

      Unlike the injection mold, the retooling cost for a line like that is negligible. Injection molds aren’t cheap, and the expertise required to design a mold is extremely expensive.

      If research in resins keeps increasing at the current rate, we’ll have workable production lines which can outstrip any existing form of additive or subtractive fabrication inside of 15 years.

      I’d hold off on the “always will be” judgement until we see where people like MakerJuice and the guy with the oxygen-retarded UV-cured resin printer go in the next 5 years.

      There will always be parts which are impractical to print due to the material strength requirements – people are still using Bakelite in some applications, ffs. But if a cheaper and faster method of fabrication comes along, you can bet the industry will go that way. If the traditional fabricators don’t, you can bet experimenters like Amazon will.

  34. To a very large degree, this has been happening with food and booze in urban areas – local gardens, co-ops, microbreweries and craft distilleries are feeding foodies all over the US and Europe. In some parts of the world this sort of tradition never went away, but in the civilizations which industrialized in the 19th century, we forgot that this was possible.

    In the last two days, for only a bit more than the price of a regular factory farmed or mass-produced meal, I dined out on locally caught fish, locally farmed beef, locally brewed whiskey and beer, and drank some locally-produced ginger ale and root beer.

    The local farmer’s market is getting more of an assortment of unusual locally-produced goods, not just the typical soap, weird teas, honey and holistic medicines – people are selling locally made laundry detergents, furniture, custom bicycles, novelty electronics etc. in rural USA.

    I’d like to think that people are starting to remember that it’s somewhat rewarding to make your own versions of common things, and the passion that people bring to their individual crafts is infectious. More people making things locally, food, booze or electronics, means higher supply and a lower price for these locally-produced goods.

    The Maker movement is helping get people out of their shells and excited about doing things with their hands again. Fun time to be alive with a disposable income.

  35. The main thing a consumer saves by locally producing something is time. Is the product time sensitive? There you go.

    The secondary thing that can be saved by local production is on transportation waste, but ONLY if the materials can be somehow got from the immediate environment. This is why NASA is interested in Moondust laser sintering robots: its easier to build stuff on the Moon locally rather than spend the fuel to cart stuff there.

    On Earth, maybe we can do the same thing. Particularly in the oceans it may prove advantageous to pull carbon out of the water and make items, much like a mollusk or coral.

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