100kGarages project. Source: 100kGarages.com
The New Zealand-based online fabrication service Ponoko has recently joined forces with CNC router company ShopBot to launch the 100kGarages project, a platform that harnesses the power of 100,000 fabricators, welders, sculptors, and other small-scale builders throughout the world to make products for designs submitted through Ponoko’s web portal. The concept is based on a question delivered by Tom Brokaw during a 2008 presidential debate, in which he asked, "Should we fund 100,000 garages across America, the kind of industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?”
This idea not only turns centrally based manufacturing on its head; it also promises to reduce transportation costs for designs sold to consumers located near each “garage.” Such a model is unthinkable in traditional mass production methods, in which specialized machines and well-trained labor help to ensure quality control from a central point—but which also result in high transportation-related fees and energy consumption. With 100kGarages, precision is controlled largely by machine-driven processes, allowing fabricators to be more involved with assembly and finishing near the point of delivery.
Could this be the product design version of “the revenge of the long tail”? Could emergent designs go “viral” just as popular blogs or YouTube videos have done?