+1 for breakfast with a smart friend. Always good for taking a step back & seeing a bit of perspective.
I like mass market products a lot. But I want to really love the things that I make, and that's hard to do if you're trying to appeal to a mass audience. Compromises need to be made when you're designing for a diverse customer base; when the market is smaller, it allows the product developer to be a bit more choosy.
I'm excited that making short-run products is getting easier - but there's still a lot to be done. These are a couple of the things that have been bothering me.
Soup to Nuts design toolchain.
As a designer of traditionally manufactured parts, features are specified according to more or less knowable tool properties. When I place a drilled hole, the results will be predictable, regardless of my supplier's equipment or process.
The same is not the case with additive manufacturing, where build orientation and support structures matter a lot. As a designer of these parts, I want to be able to simulate varying configurations myself, so that I can specify the build procedure to my suppliers. Simplifying the CAD/CAM toolchain - ideally with solid/NURBS, T-Splines, topology optimization *and* build plate prep all in one application - will be crucial to lowering the barrier of entry to AM.
Surface finish specs.
When designing a part - especially those used in assemblies - surface finish is often critical. With additive manufacturing, surface finish may vary widely, depending on build orientation and support structures. In some cases it may be possible to reorient a part in order to improve finish.
But today, these determinations are preformed by machine operators whose knowledge of the process is experiential and not publicly available - making it difficult for designers to know precisely what they'll get. Machine manufacturers and job shops should work together to develop design guidelines and detailed surface finish specs, alleviating this uncertainty.
Full service plastics prototyping.
I love Shapeways. But they *need* to offer secondary services, i.e. tapping and tolerancing.
Advanced Manufacturing 3PSCM.
Again, I love Shapeways. But they *need* to offer assembly, and custom packaging, and small parts that are traditionally manufactured (i.e. bolts).
3D printing is a cool technology. But so is stamping, and you don't see sheet metal shops selling useful products directly to consumers. Without a supply chain management offering, I believe that Shapeways will be confined to just selling parts - not products.
Industrial supply catalog APIs.
I love McMaster-Carr. But they need an API that can talk to both my e-commerce and the API of my manufacturer. When my customers purchase an assembly from me, my supply chain manager (whether it's Shapeways or somebody else) would automatically place orders through McMaster-Carr and my manufacturing partner(s) - with all parts being shipped to the SCM and assembled just-in-time for shipment.
A word on MFG and Alibaba.
I'm all for services that provide me access to a wide range of manufacturers. But it is critical to the design process that that service be completely transparent. Like it or not, most designers are *not* manufacturing agnostic, and speaking directly to a manufacturer - and preferably to the machine operator who will actually be setting up & running your part - is key to producing successful designs.
Too much effort is being spent trying to disrupt procurement in ways that adds an opaque layer between me and my supplier, and the end result is that I learn little from the process. All I want is for you to put suppliers in front of me and then get out of the way.
Everyone in the supply chain should have a blog.
Why aren't these people talking about their processes? Why aren't they sharing the non-NDA work they've done? Why aren't they showing me the capabilities of the new machines they have? I would gladly pay a premium for a shop that's actively showing me the engineering feats they're accomplishing. Get bloggy - the openness is quite becoming.
I hope it is, at least :)