A few generations ago - before steam engines and motors became commonplace - every purchase that you made was custom, handmade. Now handmade items are considered luxury!
In a world where the per capita income is increasing and the cost of manufacturing items is going down, can we dream of a world where everyone can afford custom physical products again?
The advent of last mile manufacturing will look different than the kind of centralized manufacturing we have today. A surprisingly large number of physical products are manufactured in Southeastern part of China today. Things have been changing though with more manufacturing moving to places like Vietnam now. A centralized system is vulnerable to disruptions - like COVID or the Russia-Ukraine war.
When it comes to PCBs - PCBWay, GroupGets, OctoPart have shown that people are open to the idea of other people self-serving the production of their original designs. This means that you make your designs available but not necessarily sell them.
The number of 3D printable designs on platforms like Thingiverse and Printables is mindboggling. Just search for "Raspberry Pi case" and you'll find hundreds of designs on these two platforms!
More software people getting involved in hardware will lead to more project variables and configuration. Which means more modularity and hence more customization. Look at Zephyr - and compare that with FreeRTOS from a few years ago. Amit Kucheria recently said something quite quotable to me - he said Zephyr is not an RTOS but a product toolchain!
How would such a store look like? Take a look at Robu in Pune - they offer products as well as services like laser cutting and 3D printing. So, I could download a Raspberry Pi case from Printables, upload it on Robu and ask them to ship that along with a Pi, power supply and a SD card to a customer of mine!
To be clear, I am talking about two distinct but related concepts here –
- Customizing products at scale
- Assembly based on mass manufactured and on-demand parts
We can have both the above separately, but I think we can bring both the above together to build a
If there exists a product compiler - not unlike a C compiler which takes standard libraries, and your custom code - to build something that's uniquely yours
That would make an amazing "virtual factory" that acts as a plumber that connects different sources/sinks together to build anything that can be conceived by the human mind.