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What Happens When Micro Scale Manufacturing and GPS Meet Up?

| Friday September 3rd, 2010 | 3 Comments

ban-startup-fridayI have to admit, when I first saw the obscure (to my eyes) circuit boards that you’re presented with when you go to the new collaborative maker/seller store that Ponoko and Sparkfun are offering to enable people to design their own electronics, I thought, oh boy, it’s 70s Radio Shack tinkering all over again.

But, looking a bit deeper, I saw these circuit boards are accelerometers. You know, what’s used in iPhones and other devices to detect and react to movement of it? Ah, now it’s getting interesting. GPS chips and antennas. Wireless components. A finger print scanner!

What does it all mean?

It means that you can be the designer of devices exactly to your specifications, from what’s inside them to what encases them. No waiting for Apple to update its devices. No tracking down an in demand item with the masses.

It also means that Ponoko, now employing a web of small scale manufacturers to fabricate the components, will increasingly be able to economically support people and businesses, both on the making and selling end. What you design need not simply be for yourself. Think it has potential as a commercial product? You can, at no start up cost, open your own Ponoko storefront. It handles everything, from building to shipping.

I can’t say what this will result in, but with all the creativity and intelligence out there, something like Range Networks off grid capable open source cellular network aren’t too far fetched.

Materials choice expands

When I first knew of Ponoko, its choice of materials was fairly limited, none of if what could be considered sustainable. Now, bamboo and cork are offered. Aluminum as well.

While not all Ponoko’s materials and Sparkfun’s components would meet sustainability standards of any sort, what is sustainable about this is that you as a product designer/would be consumer company can test out the market interest of a product, without the typical start up costs, unsold inventory, and waste of materials as a result. Only when a purchase has been made is a product created.

Couple this with Ponoko’s collaboration with Makerbot to allow people to have/build their own product fabrication device, and the power gets further distributed to use outside the consumer products sphere.

Mind you, it still takes a certain level of technical proficiency to make use of what these companies are offering, and most people just aren’t will to spend the time and effort to make what they could otherwise just go down to the mall to buy. But for a small and growing contingent, Ponoko and its allies are opening possibilities nobody can yet predict.

Readers: Have you/will you be making things via Ponoko? What, beyond consumer trinkets do you see emerging from this?

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, 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.


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  • http://woodmarvels.com Jon

    Doing personal electronic upgrades is something I never considered… but you are right except it’s a far more expensive proposition as you don’t benefit from the economies of scale.

    Jon @ WoodMarvels.com

    • Jorge

      You mean a lot more money goes to materials. You don’t benefit from the economies of scale, but you don’t have to pay the salaries of a long line of suits: marketers, financiers, managers, lawyers. I bet the cost to you is not much higher, if at all.

  • Bob

    I am an embedded electronics designer, and can tell you that enclosures for prototype and micro-marketed products is an area perfectly addressed by Ponoko. They have a developing market channel which makes them ideal as a SparkFun reseller. We need to see the community submit more enclosure designs to the Ponoko user store.

    Take note that the Sparkfun also has a service called batchpcb which is similar to Ponoko’s user store.