making our stuff by distributed digital production

ex one corp logo

When I did the posts on desktop fabrication (here and here), I had no idea that the godfather of this field had just died here in Hawaii.

That's right, Lawrence Rhoades, CEO of Ex One, expired while scuba diving on the Big Island in late April.

Bruce Sterling turned me onto Rhoades' writing on distributed digital production (DDP).

Says Rhoades, DDP "is a harbinger of twenty-first-century production" where we will "build spare parts and new products flexibly and without cost sensitivity to production volumes."

Generically, DDP involves "the construction of functional metal work pieces by assembling elemental particles, layer by layer, with no instructions other than the computer design files widely used to define objects geometrically."

Rhoades predicts that "the perceived advantages of high-production volumes, concentrated manufacturing sites, and complex distribution logistics will yield to the advantages of products designed to meet the specific preferences of individual customers that can be produced on or near the point of consumption at the time of consumption."

Rhoades cites the example of automotive spare parts produced at a dealership.

Here's the logic:

  1. The design freedom enabled by constructing objects in thin layers from particles with dimensions in microns will significantly reduce a product’s component-parts count.
  2. This, in turn, will reduce product weight by eliminating attachment features and fasteners and optimize functionality by eliminating excess material and wasted energy. The particles that are not needed for the part produced can be recycled to become the next—maybe very different—part.
  3. The metal in older, no longer useful products can be locally recycled to become metal powder feedstock for tomorrow’s production.
  4. Thus, inventory carrying costs and risks and transportation costs can be dramatically reduced, increasing savings in energy, materials, and labor.
  5. Finally, because these processes are highly automated, the size of the workforce required to produce and deliver manufactured products to the customer will be greatly reduced.
  6. Consequently, low-cost, so-called touch labor will lose its competitive advantage in the production of physical objects.

So, your future products may be designed remotely, yet production will be done locally. Physical objects will be produced “at home” or “in the neighborhood” from locally recycled materials.

Published by Ken on May 6th, 2007 tagged Community Initiatives, Systems Thinking

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