Distributed user manufacturing network started: Ponoko and ShopBot announce partnership to provide users access to over 6,000 digital fabricators around the world

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During the 2007 US Presidential debates, journalist Tom Brokaw asked candidates Obama and McCain whether our challenges would be best solved by … "funding a Manhattan-style project or by supporting 100,000 garages across America to encourage the kind of industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?"

A new website takes the second approach! Inspired by Tom Brokaw's question to the presidential candidates, 100Kgarages is a community of workshops all over the world that are run by "Fabbers", with digital fabrication tools for precisely cutting, machining, drilling, or sculpting the components of any user  project.

The site has been launched on Sept. 16 by Ponoko and ShopBot, expanding the opportunities for ordinary users to get almost anything custom made and delivered from local state-of-the-art digital makers.

I have written several times about Ponoko in my blog, an online marketplace for everyone to make real things. It brings together creators, digital fabricators, materials suppliers and buyers. Since its launch in 2007, more than 30,000 user-generated designs "have been instantly priced online" (the official wording in the press release, I believe this means "uploaded and finished", but not ordered and delivered).

ShopBot is a manufacturer of affordable, high-performance CNC tools for digital fabrication of wood, plastic and aluminum products. With more than 6,000 ShopBots in thousands of shops in the US and 54 countries around the world, ShopBot is one of the largest producers of CNC routers in North America.

With the cooperation of the both companies and the launch of the 100kGarages website, anyone can get their ideas made locally with the click of a mouse, and delivered within just a few days.

Users can go to the site to get things custom made by searching a map for a local garage workshop, or submitting a request and choosing from bids placed by a range of ShopBot owners to make almost anything. It’s free for everyone to search and submit requests, and for fabricators to post profiles and bids.

People are creating a wide range of products like tables, chairs, cabinets, car parts, signage, boats, musical instruments, gaskets, sheds, housing and all of those impossible to find things made from wood, plastic, metal and composite materials.

“Our partnership means everyone now has easy access to their own local 3D fabricator. This is the first step to providing a solution for the doers and makers out there who want to join in re-building America, one garage at a time.”, says ShopBot’s President Ted Hall in the press release.

In the moment, the site still looks a bit beta, but it is a great starting point and another sign of the coming age of user manufacturing.

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.