Factory @ Home: The Emerging Economy of Personal Fabrication

This is a report commissioned by the US Office of Science and Technology Policy about personal manufacturing, Fab Labs, and related efforts:

From the report:

This report outlines the emergence of personal manufacturing technologies, describes their potential economic and social benefits, and recommends programs the government should consider to realize this potential.

Personal manufacturing machines, sometimes called “fabbers,” are the pint-sized, low-cost descendants of factory-scale, mass manufacturing machines. Personal-scale manufacturing machines use the same fabrication methods as their larger, industrial ancestors, but are smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. Home-scale machines, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and programmable sewing machines, combined with the right electronic design blueprint, enable people to manufacture functioning products at home, on demand, at the press of a button. In just a few hours, these mini-factory machines can produce a simple object like a toothbrush, or make complex machine components, artisan-style jewelry or household goods. Within a few years, personal manufacturing machines may be sophisticated enough to enable regular people to manufacture complicated objects such as integrated electronic devices.

A number of converging forces are bringing industrial-scale design and manufacturing tools to a tipping point where they will become cheap, reliable, easy, and versatile enough for personal use. The rapid adoption of personal manufacturing technologies is accelerated by low cost machinery, active online user communities, easier-to-use computer aided design (CAD) software, a growing number of online electronic design blueprints, and more easily available raw materials.

Personal manufacturing technologies will profoundly impact how we design, make, transport, and consume physical products. As manufacturing technologies follow the path from factory to home use, like personal computers, “personalized” manufacturing tools will enable consumers, schools, and businesses to work and play in new ways.