An IKEA In Every Basement

Originally posted at http://supernovahub.com. By the way, if you’re not currently following @supernovahub on Twitter you’re totally missing out.

AT SUPERNOVA 2009, Chris Anderson (Wired, @chr1sa) “beta tested” his newest thesis: “Atoms are the New Bits.”

Here is the presentation:

Here is the video (@chr1sa presentation starts at the 10:00 mark in this clip):

In his presentation, Chris noted that personal “3-D printers” can now be had for about $750, down from about $25,000 in 2004, which puts them in the range of a mid-quality wide-screen TV for a typical household. So, what does this mean?

Here are seven implications that I see:


1) The rise of an App store for designs

In the same way the Apple redefined how distribution of first music, then applications, was done via its iTunes Store and App Store, there will be the rise of an “App Store for Designs.” From it, individuals will be able to download “designs” that can be printed on their 3-D printers in their office (or garage, or even kitchen). The implication: whoever owns the distribution of the bits will own both the distribution and manufacturing worlds. As I type this, I realize that creating a 3-D printer would be a perfect product line extension for Apple, and enable Cupertino to replicate (pun intended) the strategy it pursued first in computing then with the iPhone into even more areas of the household.


2) The rise of a new open-source movement

Of course, as someone creates the App Store for Designs, there will be an open-source counterpoint. They key bit, again, will be findability and usability for the mass-market. Watch the Android market (and, in particular, how apps end up on Android phones) for clues to see how the open-source side of the personal manufacturing market evolves.


3) Disruption of supply chains

If you are a manufacturer or distributor or transporter of any commodity-type hard good that’s under, say, the size of a breadbox, prepare to have your world rocked. Just looking around my home office, I see hangers, a file box, picture frames, bookends and a portable camera tripod that all are candidates for MIY (“Manufacture It Yourself” or “Make It Yourself”). A glance into the kitchen reveals the same results: stirring spoons, cups, plates, bowls and utensils all could be made on-demand, right here, right now.

Unless you are (a) creating designs or (b) creating or distributing the feedstock that goes into a printer, at-home manufacturing is your Tunguska event. Deal with it.


4) A counter to the offshoring of manufacturing

Ok, Detroit. Here’s your chance. Ok, NAFTA-haters, you too. All the stuff that’s cheaper to make overseas or south of the border no longer needs to be. If you’ve been downsized, hone up your design skills, or join the Assemblers Local 517.


5) Assemblers Local 517

Just because everyone can manufacture their own things at home, doesn’t mean that everyone will want to. IKEA cracked the code on “design for transportability” and, in the process, outsourced assembly (and a few hammer-smashed thumbs) into all of our living rooms. Smart designers in the MIY realm will create designs that can be assembled into a final product, much in the same way that IKEA designs the Bjørn bookcase to be put together by the end customer.

This means that there’s an opportunity for a new role for the neighborhood handyfolk: the Assemblers.

6) A “new green”

We need to start thinking about out to how to make affordable, sustainable (either recyclable or compostable) feedstock from the get-go. There is a huge opportunity here. Think about it — we have the chance to eliminate the carbon impact of transportation (again, oftentimes from overseas) for billions of manufactured goods every year. Let’s not screw it up.

Again, judging from the incredible stacks of paper that are strewn about my “paperless” home office this morning, we are going to be 3-D printing stuff willy-nilly. Can’t find a bottle opener? Print one. Need a doorstop? Print it. This will lead to an even greater creation of disposable stuff in a disposable culture. Let’s make sure that that disposable set of coasters you printed up don’t end up being taken out of the loop, but instead get refashioned into next week’s utensils and then into next month’s shower squeegee and next year’s whisk broom, none of which should have to cross an ocean on a container ship.

7) FedEx and UPS play out their strategy

As I was thinking about the supply chain and distribution impacts, I realized the two folks in the economy who also will be hugely affected by this shift are FedEx and UPS. Now, both organizations have moved past their transportation-only roots and into local markets here in the States, where FedEx purchased Kinko’s and UPS purchased Mail Boxes Etc. This means that both organizations are sitting on the “danger/opportunity” saddle point.

On the “danger” side, there is the likelihood of massive dropoff in the amount of “stuff” that will be shipped through both of their networks. That said, there is huge opportunity here. Both offer local points-of-presence in tens of thousands of neighborhoods, an existing culture of “printing” and a control of the supply lines for feedstock. If FedEx and UPS are smart, they will turn those former Kinko’s and MBE locations into the corner manufacturing centers. In fact, they both have the opportunity to jump in front of this game now, and be the ones to challenge Apple to create the Design Store noted earlier. Yes, the Network Age is the time and place where FedEx and UPS compete with Apple in the manufacturing industry. Rock on.


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