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« MIT Course on Product Platform and Product Family Design, June 2007 | Main | How Mass Customization Addresses the Challenges of Tomorrow’s Supply Chain: Vlerick Supply Chain Conference 2007 »

May 04, 2007


Jorge Barrera

I greatly enjoyed reading the comments. And believe there is room for both unlimited design, and controled possibilities. What really intrigues me is the roles and the machines. As mentioned there will be designer-manufacturers-consumers and there will be new tools (software and hardware) to continue to shape this three way ecosystems. People talk about 3D printing which I spend some time toling over at a previous job at a big print company but it is only one of the may tools that need to come into play if we ever intend on replicating Prada shoes at home. I also wonder what will happen to the Prada store...will it be similar to what happen to music? 10 years a go as a college student I hardly bough any music at all. Now a days it is simply too convenient to use itunes and I don't care about the cost as much.

Frank Piller

Chris, Thanks for the extended comment. I see your company and Ponoko at two sides of one continuum of user-driven product design. You want to provide large scale industrial customized products. Using your manufacturing technology, you have many opportunities for flexibility, but also have to set specific design rules. Also, 3D design is not for everyone, so you have to use libraries of existing designs etc. ... Ponoko, on the other side, enable the full range of designs, but leave the user alone with a number of steps you mentions in your post. But I totally agree that it will be very interesting to see how both of your models develop! Much success with launching your company.

Chris Norman

There are very important aspects to design-by-customer that get left out. I mentioned who's going to design the products but I was asking a rhetorical question because I knew my own answer. First, lets talk about nick-nakcs. These are likely great opportunities for consumer design. The things will inlude items as simple as the ones Ponoko shows on their site. Whats interesting, and what led me to my original post and question is the big "L" or Liability. Who takes responsability for product liability when a customer designs something like...say a hammock made from whatever. You make it, you deliver it and it breaks. Who pays for the injury?

lets expand this to more intricate products, ones with assemblies, electronics, electro-mechanical parts and other mechanisms. What about structural parts like a chair, swing, stool, etc. I would argue that customer-based design of this level will NOT occur until product liability concerns are at least somewhat mitigated. This is new ground and attorneys love to get into new areans where their is no precedence for a judge to rely on from a previous case.

Mass customization simply means delivering consumers what they want. It says nothing of HOW the product is manufactured. My opinion is that the paradigm for true MC will come when everyone realizes that 3D printing technology is the mechanism that will allow widespread one-off manufacturing. The technique is referred to as Direct Digital Manufacturing. this methodology allows real and useful products to be produced without labor, based directly from a 3D data file. That data file will more often than not be produced by a designer selling to consumers and providing hooks into the design for personalization. I believe the right method for deployment is to let desigenrs design, consumers consume and manufacturers to manufacture. A deployment model that combines crowdsourcing so ideas can find a designer, a "tweak interface" that lets designers add the hooks so consumers can apply whatever modifications the designer allows and a database to store all those designs that is searchable by consumers. It will be open source, similar to Maya, allowing programmers to develop tweaking tools and wrap the designs into embedded websites for solid customer experience. The bad news is that we aren't there yet. The good news is that my own company, Digital Reality has been working on it for 4 years. We hold several patent pendings and are working toward our own beta. When we launch, it will be the first enterprise-wide deployment of a system for consumer-driven mass customization that incorporates both the supply chain AND the web 2.0 interface for the customer. This is why we refer to our patents as Made-To-Order Digital Manufacturing Enterprise and it will overshadow everything you have seen to date.

How much time do you think a customer isoing to spend designing something and not knowing that what they will get will work properly! Are you going to offer a refund? Finally, 3D CAD software tools are advanced enough to provide significant levels of design-intent engineering analysis and optimization. What that means is that the computer can calculate the engineering safety margins of a product behind the scenes after a customer tweaks their widget. This will remove much of the product liability concern. As in the chair example, the software automatically applies a 2X or 3X static load safety margin to the product design which ensures it won;t fail when you sit in it.

I hope Ponoko succeeds but frankly, I am concerned that they are trapped in the high-volume, low value product world and until I see differently, I'll continue to be skeptical of paper cutouts making a company profitable.

Frank Piller

Nic: Nice post, and congratulations to the Ponoko Beta. I agree that in the end, design opportunities are limitless, but today, design still is the limited factor as most engineers do not know how to design product in a way that they fully utilize the manufacturing capabilities of modern rapid manufacturing machines. Especially when it goes to some extreme new functional elements, e.g. laser-sintering a functionally integrated part.

But in general, I strongly believe that companies like Ponoko or Fab@home will increase the design skills: Now, people not just can play around in CAD, thy also can produce their stuff easily and thus learn by doing.

Nic Ward Able

Yep, good points Frank - but don't necessarily think that designs are the 'limited' factor but more so the 'unlimited' factor. The desktop manufacturing software you mentioned, as well as www.desktopfactory.com and www.ulsinc.com are all innovative firms that are contributing toward this unlimited future of design and manufacture. And www.ponoko.com provide the platform for one-off design, manufacture and the sales potential if that's where you're heading. Or just designing and manufacturing for one if that's your thing! Alternatively, as purely a consumer, platforms such as www.ponoko.com are where you can source the kind of thing you're after. We've just finished our initial closed beta stage and our beta users have already turned out some fantastic products - some of them first time designers, like Jeff. You can check out his amazing table on our blog www.ponoko.com/blog. Jeffrey's blog has also had some great responses with many wanting to know where they can purchase, get this, his FIRST EVER DESIGN!! While Jeff is a graphics designer and an artist, this is his first effort at designing and making furniture. This is certainly one of the many incredibly exciting aspects of Ponoko - in that we're creating the platform to encourage people who've never really considered design/creation to give it a go (and those who are already great designers, a cool platform to showcase without all the costs). Initially designing for one, and then if your product appeals to others (there's always more than one, no matter how lateral the creation!) Ponoko will be that platform for potential customers as well. As you can tell, I'm 'slightly' excited about where Ponoko's heading too. cheers, Nic.


I think that's the exciting thing - that everyone can design products; and that there can be central platforms that have downloadable designs from it. So as a consumer you can download from a credible source and fab at home. This future is being built by innovative firms like www.desktopfactory.com and www.ulsinc.com (who also provide the desktop manufacturing hardware you need) and http://www.ponoko.com who provides the personal manufacturing platform you need to buy, sell and share your product designs, and to make them for real with the click of your mouse.

Piller's comment re. 'who would have thought that nearly every western home would have a laser printer' is so true, and probably even moreso in today's society where we are so much more open to these technologies, so 20 years may potentially be a lot closer! So cool.

Frank Piller

Great comment, Chris. This is the crucial question with regard to digital fabrication / fabbing / rapid manufacturing (RM). The machines will come and will be easy to operate, but the designs are the limited factor. But I believe with software like Google SketchUp and design repositories online where users share designs, the capability for individuals to design products for RM will increase in the community of users. And there also will be guys like Ronen who share their designs with a Creative Commons license (see: http://tinyurl.com/24fhrh).

Chris Norman

While the idea of a fab at every house is nice, I want to ask the difficult question; the printer is great at home but who's going to design the product?

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