The Business Model of making things

What if you could make anything you wanted? What would it be? This is the question that Clive Thompson asks in a great Wired Magazine article about customized manufacturing for ordinary people. It is a little bit like printing out something you drew on your PC only that it comes out in 3D. This goes way beyond the mass customization that we know quite well today.

The thought is quite crazy: everybody can become a designer of his object of choice if he has access to the right machines. All you need is to design your gadget in a Computer Aided Design (CAD) program and feed it into the right machines. Robots will do the rest.

The question I am interested in, of course, is what kind of implications this may have for business model design? What does it mean for companies when people start manufacturing their own exteriors for their new iPod or cell phone? Does it matter if they design their own electrical guitar like Clive in his Wired article? Companies like eMachineShop have already jumped on the opportunity and do the producing for the home made designs. Thinkers like MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld, who directs the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, have long tinkered with the idea of homemade products – the ultimate customization. Check out his website to learn about his so-called “fab labs” where ordinary people around the world have design objects to resolve their own little personal or business problems.

However, ultimately I have been intrigued by the idea of thousands of hobby-designers posting their blueprints, CAD files and instructions on a wide range of objects openly on the Internet. Open Source Manufacturing (OSM) this would be. Wow! In fact, a group of MIT alumni have already kick started the idea at Instructables.com.

I think companies will have to get used to the idea that they must open up the boundaries of their firms to integrate the design potential of ordinary people around the world. The frontier between customer and employee will take another pounding and it will force companies to think out of the box for issues like intellectuel property...