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Distributed Manufacturing, DIY, and Microfactories: Industrial Revolution in the Making

Lux Research
Distributed manufacturing has popped out products from smart watches to cars, but scale economics and demand for novelty show which industries it will disrupt, says Lux Research

BOSTON, MA – January 7, 2015 – Just as technologies can be disruptive, the way we make technologies can be disruptive, too. Distributed manufacturing (DM) – local, small-scale, rapid design and production – comes from the ability to engineer and make few parts as cheaply as many, rather than the current model of high-volume, centralized manufacturing. However, it's not the answer for every product, and its impact will depend on economics and the demand for flexibility, according to Lux Research.

“DM is the web browser of manufacturing, with the potential to do to manufacturing what web browsers did to news, music, video, software and other media,” said Mark Bünger, Lux Research Director and the lead author of the report titled, “Distributed Manufacturing: The Next Industrial Revolution.”

“If the Internet’s attributes like modularity, distributedness, and open standards can port over to physical things, manufacturing of all kinds of products stands on the top of a revolution as profound as the one that recently razed news, music and software,” he added.

Lux Research analysts evaluated the emerging impact and potential of the disruptive technology. Among their findings:

  • Powerful tools emerging. 3D printing and scanning, CNC milling, and laser-cutting are already DM workhorses. 3D printing, in particular, is poised for more rapid and more powerful disruption in many industries ranging from simple consumer products to aviation. In addition, more advanced robots costing about $4,000 each have arrived, while printed electronics and synthetic biology are on the horizon.

  • Sign of things to come. Currently, thousands of products ranging from trinkets to real cars use DM. Examples include Pebble’s crowdsourced smart watch, Local Motors’ open-source car Rally Fighter, AtFAB’s furniture, and U.K.-based Facit’s custom homes.

  • DM needs alternate funding. With traditional venture capital funding declining, besides narrowing to fewer sectors, DM companies will need to tap alternate funding sources, including corporate VCs; conscious capital, or “impact investment;” innovation competitions; and crowdfunding.


The report, titled “Distributed Manufacturing: The Next Industrial Revolution,” is part of the Lux Research Autonomous Systems 2.0 Intelligence service.