James Cascio has a piece in Fast Company introducing the basic concepts and present status of desktop manufacturing:
This doesn’t mean that Wal-Mart will go away any time soon, but it does mean a pretty big shift in the relationship between individuals and their material world. Most notably, it would open up the possibility that the kinds of personalized products now available to those with the right money and know-how may soon be available to everyday people. Thinking of this simply as traditional manufacturing moved from the factory to the neighborhood (or the home office) misses the larger revolution. This isn’t just desktop production (figuratively or literally), it’s democratized production. It will have its own intrinsic dilemmas, from liability to spam, but it will pose a powerful challenge to the status quo.
Comment from Dominic Muren:
I think you can (and should) take it one step further. Not only are objects print-outs of some design, but there is no reason that the design cannot keep evolving, or become differentiated based on the interests and values of various niches. As I said in this Ignite talk a few months back (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIoU1pemi18), “products should be a crystallization of a conversation” — that is, desktop fab means that we no longer have to be content with the values and consequences that the market forces us to choose from. We can articulate our own.
As we develop these new technologies and the social conventions which govern them, we face a choice between a walmart-like “pay to download and print” model, and a sourceforge “mix and match pieces for free” model. Certainly both methods have their benefits, but if we can figure out a way to make open source work more broadly for objects, then I suspect we will have discovered our best possible chance for avoiding the continued flowering of “data piracy”. I only hope it works, not only for the sake of our future iPods, but our future freedom:
Fast Company: The Desktop Manufacturing Revolution
I would also mention that desktop manufacturing won’t be limited to only inorganic products either, see:
Cornucopia: Digital Gastronomy, “a three dimensional printer for food, which works by storing, precisely mixing, depositing and cooking layers of ingredients.”
The 3D bio-printer, which makes human tissue and organs.