Ponoko, the company that’s created a thriving ecosystem of designers, manufacturers and consumers, where you as a designer can get your product made one at a time via a global network of fabricators that use 3D printers, is now working with Makerbot to give people the ability to make/have made a 3D printer for their own use.
What’s significant about this is that it gives people with the creativity and design ideas the ability to both test out these ideas, and make the final product for customers. Or just for their own enjoyment. While the Makerbot at this point has a fairly small size capability at 4” x 4” x 6”, there is probably a lot that can be made by assembling a number of pieces together.
The question some might have is, why would Ponoko, which until this point has derived much of its income from making and facilitating the making of things for people, now enable people to do it themselves? It’s simple: They’re expanding their market, by being the maker of the pieces people will use to make their own maker. Making sense?
And, in line with the rest of their product fabrication offerings, they can make the parts for the Makerbot in any number of materials that the customer wants, including bamboo.
Likewise, if you’re happy with the Makerbot design as is, Ponoko can create everything needed for a basic version, you supply the tools or even send you a kit with absolutely everything, including the tools to make it.
The design plans for the printer are being made available to the public for free, the only requirement being that, should you modify them, you make them public via the Thingiverse site, so that others can benefit from your design thinking, able to further improve (or make look just plain cool) the Makerbot.
While this does entail a certain level of trust that people will follow through on the license agreement, it does mean that Makerbot and Ponoko have the additional income that comes from making the parts from these modified mini factories. And, in creating a wider and higher profile for DIY manufacturing, it will likely then increase the market for their products, as not everybody will want to design and assemble their own 3D printer.
Is this collaborative, iterative, open source model of doing business the way of the future? One way, to be certain, and one that, in these volatile, interdependent economic times we find ourselves in, is a durable, malleable way to go that many other businesses could do to learn from.
Readers: What's your take on Ponoko & Makerbot's collaborative, open source model? Are there any other businesses or business models you're seeing out there that you think we can learn from? Please share below, in the comments.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, blogs weekly on green start ups of note at Triple Pundit and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.