For the past few days, I’ve been jumping-out-of-my-shoes excited from reading the cover story of the February 2010 issue of Wired magazine entitled “The New Industrial Revolution,” by long-tail theorist Chris Anderson, and the related issue of Make magazine, the theme of which is “Desktop Manufacturing.”
The Wired article is simply a must-read for anyone interested in making things — in turning ideas into physical reality.
The basic premise is this: The tools of digital design and fabrication — which traditionally were high-priced, closed-source, corporate-entity terrain — are now becoming cheap enough to find their way into the hands of small startups, hackerspaces, and even individuals.
Digital Fabrication and the MakerBot
What is digital fabrication? 100kGarages says it best:
Digital fabrication allows a precise design to be created using computer software and then passed to another computer attached to a fabrication or CNC tool, which are capable of producing the 3D design with high precision and detail. This fidelity to the design means that the parts or components are cut, drilled, or machined exactly as expected and exactly the same each time.
Both Make and Wired profile MakerBot Industries, and their associated physical and virtual communities, NYC Resistor and Thingiverse. MakerBot is a three-person startup in NYC which sells kits for their “Cupcake CNC” 3D printers — computer-controlled devices that can take a digital file of a 3D object and “print” the real thing right on your desktop — all for under $1000.
NYC Resistor is a Brooklyn hackerspace where the MakerBot founders met and tested ideas for their prototype device, and Thingiverse is their online repository of downloadable and printable objects — all created and uploaded by their community of MakerBot users.
Open-Source Hardware and the Long Tail
What this means is that more and more garage and basement hackers are going to be able to bring their ideas to marketplace. They’ll be able to create the long tail of products that the big corporations can’t, while retaining the flexibility to change direction swiftly and iterate more often.
What’s more, the shared nature of what Tom Igoe calls “open fabrication” will allow makers from all over the world to collaborate on open-source hardware projects, just like they do with software today.
Big changes are coming.
Some popular 3D CAD software:
- SolidWorks: The (pricey) real deal.
- Rhino 3D: Free trial.
- Alibre Design: Free (Xpress version).
- Google SketchUp: Free.
Some Personal CNC tools:
- Lumenlab: “micRo” universal fabricator.
- ShopBot: Shop-sized mill/router.
- Tormach: Bench-top CNC mills.