A few days ago, Derek Elley from Ponoko gave me the good news that Ponoko has finally signed up a network partner in Europe.
I wrote about Ponoko several times. It is an online marketplace for everyone to make real things. Just like eBay provides the marketplace for buyers and sellers to engage, Ponoko provides the marketplace for buyers and sellers of product designs and digital making services. More than 40,000 user-generated designs have been instantly priced online, made and delivered since Ponoko launched in late 2007. It is a perfect illustration of the "user manufacturing" economy that Chirs Anderson features in the recent WIRED title story.
A core idea of Ponoko is that they want to connect a network of independent "mini factories" where the digital creations of users are turned in the moment. For a long time, this vision only worked with the two making hubs owned by Ponoko in in San Francisco, California and Wellington, New Zealand. But now, the first independent network hub has opened — and I am please to notice that it is in Germany.
Here, Ponoko now has partnered with fabber Formulor to open a making hub in Berlin. It means EU-based creators using the Ponoko online making system can now choose to have their products made in Berlin – paying just a fraction of the shipping costs which has made ordering products from Ponoko’s US and Pacific-based making hubs prohibitive.
The development also opens up the European market for creators around the world. Items can now be produced in the EU and shipped locally.
“It provides a glimpse into what we see as the future of Ponoko,” Ponoko CEO David ten Have is quoted in a press announcement, “Over time we see our role expanding to be about connecting creators, digital fabricators, materials suppliers and buyers of goods rather than simply providing manufacturing services ourselves. So just like eBay provides the marketplace for buyers and sellers to engage, Ponoko provides the world’s first marketplace for buyers and sellers of product designs – and now digital making services.”
Ponoko is working with other digital making service providers to add more making hubs around the world.
The big question, however, is: Is this development particularly relevant given HP is now selling 3D printers and you can have your own manufacturing hub in your home?
Yes, I will argue.
- Shipping costs between the US and EU are reduced from $60 to $9 for for smaller goods — so before you buy your own 3D printer, you can first try it out and get experience.
- US creators (like ESTY and Adobe users) can ship their products to EU customers at 85% less cost, and with less environmental impact.
- And the quality of home 3D printing and cutting may still be inferior to producing your stuff at a professional outlet.
But this is a very interesting question for research, one for which I hopefully will find time to think about more in the next months: When will you produce at home, when use a mini factory hub like Ponoko, and when just buy a standard product from your local superstore.