Zach Kaplan, CEO of Inventables tells me he sees the day coming when the world will go from perhaps 2,000 major manufactures to 2 million. Actually, the whole idea of “major manufacturer” will change completely. Instead of just a few big players dominating the world of consumer goods, we’ll have a nearly endless variety of them, each with its own fan base.
This revolution in manufacturing is already underway, driven by digital manufacturing technologies, including 3D printers (for manufacturing parts out of extruded plastic) and affordable computer numerical control (CNC) mills (for making parts out of wood and other materials) like the Inventables Shapeoco 2 shown here.
“The manufacturers need to start thinking of themselves more like rock bands as opposed to manufacturers,” Kaplan says. “The reason that people are buying from these new manufacturers is because they’re fans of them. They’re fans of the kinds of work that they’re doing. It’s more about building a community than building a product. The product is an outlet for the community. And that’s really the world that we’re moving into.”
The potential already exists for people with ordinary means and a good idea for a product to take charge of their own means of production and to reach consumers directly. It’s even possible for a maker to earn more as a manufacturing entrepreneur in a garage or spare room than as a worker for a traditional manufacturer.
This could change everything as the manufacturing pyramid turns upside down and local manufacturers pop up in communities around the world. The shift will also empower consumers (or, to use Kaplan’s term, fans) as they develop a personal connection with the people who make the things they buy and have a direct influence on product designs.
Kaplan is helping to lead the charge with Inventables. As of today, the company’s newest product, the Shapeoko 2 CNC mill, has 447 preorders, for a planned ship date of December 21. That’s up 30 orders from when I checked yesterday. Its popularity, even before shipping to customers, is partly due to its low cost: $649 for the full kit, including electronics and cutting tools. The competing ShopBot Desktop goes for $5,798.95, including tools.
In answer to what Kaplan says is one of the two most-asked questions from prospective buyers (along with “When does it ship?”): Yes, it does aluminum.