Maker to Manufacturer: Part 1

I was fortunate to attend the Maker to Manufacturer summit at the White House yesterday — the summit was about what startups, entrepreneurs, and makers need from U.S. manufacturing to support low-volume production, on the way to finding product/market fit.


Other topics include: what aspects of hardware and software will increase the variety and value of what can be designed, prototyped, and manufactured? How can the U.S. strengthen the manufacturing know how of it’s workers? Especially given that it’s not often taught in formal university programs? What public and private actions can maximize the economic impact of the democratization of manufacturing?


Here are some of my thoughts and ideas about specific technologies and best practices that would make an impact:

  • A significant portion of product development and manufacturing is project management. While technology has enabled a lone maker to create prototypes that would once be prohibitively expensive, it does not prepare them for the discipline of manufacturing at any sort of scale (even as low as 100’s of units). An industry-working group to arrive at a standardized BOM would help first time makers self train and organize and would facilitate the quote process with manufacturers.
  • From my personal experience in the New England area, the manufacturing workforce is aging. It’s IT savvy has not caught up to the speed of modern e-commerce. Even basics such as a website with information about the types of jobs a company can run (i.e. processes and volumes, value added services, typical lead times) make it difficult to connect makers with manufacturers. There is no “yelp for manufacturers” yet, although some companies are starting to tackle the issue.
  • Modern content marketing suggests giving away content for free and establishing expertise leads to inbound sales leads. Manufacturers, take note! Makers want design guides and know how! What’s too big? Too small? Too detailed? Too hard to reach? And most importantly, WHAT DOES IT COST? Or at least, how can I ball park it for design and planning purposes? Protomold.com is a shining example of this in practice.
  • While the “3-d printing revolution” has been overhyped, I believe that it’s true strength will lie in reducing tooling costs. A piece of injection-molded plastic may cost 25 cents, but even from the cheapest sources, the mold to make it costs $3000. Reducing the cost and lead-time of tooling and setup would be transformative.