Factory@Home – report for Whitehouse Office of Science & Technology Policy

Hod Lipson (Fab@Home) and Melba Kurman were commissioned by the US Office of Science & Technology Policy (Executive Branch) to write a report on the emerging economy of Personal Manufacturing (aka Fab Lab tech).  The full report Factory @ Home: The Emerging Economy of Personal Fabrication” (PDF) is available from Hod’s Cornell U website.

I am only part way through reading but it looks like a very good report.  I recommend downloading and reading.  Here is the Executive Summary:

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. Emerging manufacturing technologies will usher in an industrial “evolution” that combines the best of mass and artisan production models, and has the potential to partially reverse the trend to outsourcing. Personal manufacturing technologies will unleash “long tail” global markets for custom goods, whose sales volumes of will be profitable enough to enable specialists, niche manufacturing, and design companies to make a good living. Underserved communities will be able to design and manufacture their own medical devices, toys, machine parts and other tools locally, using local materials. At school, personal-scale manufacturing tools will empower a new generation of innovators, and spark student interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.Barriers and challenges: A number of barriers stand in the way of mainstream adoption of personal manufacturing technologies that discourage widespread home, school and business use. A chief barrier is the “chicken and egg” paradox, where today’s current consumer and education markets for personal fabrication technologies is too small to attract the attention of companies, discouraging company investment in creating products and services, hence failing to attract more consumers. Other barriers are safety concerns, part standardization and version control challenges, intellectual property issues and a lack of appropriate safety and regulatory controls.

Recommendations: Over thirty years ago, our nation led the way in the personal computing revolution. Today, we need to ensure we lead the way in the personal manufacturing revolution. Thoughtful and visionary government investment is needed to ensure that the US remains competitive in an era of personal fabrication and realizes the potential benefits of personal manufacturing technologies.

This report recommends the following actions be taken.

1. Put a personal manufacturing lab in every school

2. Offer teacher education in basic design and manufacturing technologies in relation to STEM education

3. Create high quality, modular curriculum with optional manufacturing components

4. Enhance after school learning to involve design and manufacturing

5. Allocate federal support for pilot MEPs programs to introduce digital manufacturing to regional manufacturing companies

6. Promote published and open hardware standards and specifications

7. Develop standard file formats for electronic blueprints design files

8. Create a database of CAD files used by government agencies

9. Mandate open geometry/source for unclassified government supplies

10. Establish an “Individual Innovation Research Program” for DIY entrepreneurs

11. Give RFP priority to rural manufacturers that use personal manufacturing

12. Establish an IP “Safe Harbor” for aggregators and one-off producers

13. Explore micropatents as a smaller, simpler, and more agile unit of intellectual property

14. Re-visit consumer safety regulations for personally-fabricated products

15. Introduce a more granular definition of a “small” manufacturing business

16. Pass the National Fab Lab Network Act of 2010, HR 6003

17. “Clean company” tax benefits should include efficient manufacturing

18. Offer a tax break for personal manufacturing businesses on raw materials

19. Fund a Department of Education study on personal manufacturing in STEM education

20. Learn more about user-led product design

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