From Global Supply Chains to Local Freedom With Personal Manufacturing

global_to_localBy Brian Berletic

Go to any logistics company’s website, and they will be more than proud to tell you just how far your consumer goods travel (thanks to them) from factory to storefront before ending up in your hands. And to a certain extent it really is truly amazing how supply chains have fueled the rise of modern society.

However, all good things come to an end, and sometimes, that “end” is the beginning of something much better. And the end of modern consumer supply chains is just such a case.

Think about how it is now…

Your shoes were likely made with raw material sourced from socially and economically precarious monoculture rubber farms in Southeast Asia, shipped to a sweatshop somewhere else in Asia, where workers toiled under conditions you likely would find unacceptable, before being loaded onto a truck or train and sent to a port.

From there, thousands of tons of fuel will be burned to ship it across the sea to reach the shores of your country, where another truck, burning yet more fuel, brings it to distribution centers, to be brought by yet more trucks to your local retail store.

You get into your car, burning more fuel still to reach that store, enjoying the controlled climate and well-lit aisles while you shop (consuming yet more energy) before buying the shoes and finally bringing them home with you.

For a society becoming ever more conscious about energy efficiency and “carbon emissions,” our shopping experience seems like one of the first things that should be looked at and changed if possible.

An alternative

Now, imagine a product that you need or want and instead of hopping in a car and going to a store to get it, you could get it either on your desktop or locally around your block from someone else’s desktop.

The “shopping experience” need not be diminished (if you don’t want to) with malls and markets simply sourcing their products locally instead of globally. For those who want to forego the shopping experience, it would likely be possible to buy directly from the producer.

This is the future of “consumerism.”

Personal manufacturing is gaining grounds in impressive ways. And while it hasn’t broken the chains of consumerism quite yet, there is a steady and growing number of examples that prove it is not only possible, but preferable.

202c5f0ec8c13e8463cf7cd228c78221199742013D printing, for example, is becoming so prolific that you are likely to already have a local makerspace equipped with them, local companies providing 3D printing services, and even locally brewed opensource 3D printers you can buy yourself for an affordable price with a variety of higher-end models available online.

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3D printing lets you print out for yourself virtually any plastic item you might find at your local dollar store (or 100 yen/60 baht shop). It also lets you print out cases and components for larger and more complex items. You can print out spare parts for your existing appliances, modifications for them, or components to build an entirely new system.


Thailand-based DIYbio lab F.Lab has begun creating its own line of opensource 3D printed lab equipment. So far the collection is limited to a laboratory magnetic stirrer, a mini-centrifuge, and some tube racks. If you wanted these within a traditional consumerist economy, you would order some from F.Lab, and they would ship it to you wherever on Earth you happened to live.

6f96abfae92f3d747669ab2a76622333_preview_featuredThis magnetic stirrer was printed out in West Virginia, virtually the other side of the planet from Thailand where it was originally designed and developed. It was “shipped” to the US digitally, for free, without a drop of diesel fuel spent in the process. 

However, F.Lab has put all of its designs online for free, and users can download the files and print them out wherever on Earth they happen to be. F.Lab’s magnetic stirrer, for example, has already been built by a user in West Virginia, virtually on the other side of the planet.

No tons of fuel for ships, no trucks, no store lights and air conditioning running for hours a day for the user to obtain their new magnetic stirrer, just a few clicks of their mouse, a few hours to 3D print the parts, and another hour or so to assemble the equipment.

But how does F.Lab profit? F.Lab’s strategy, like many other opensource enterprises, including some very old and successful ones like Linux, profits from providing a community platform, services, and training.

Thingiverse, an online 3D model library where you can find F.Lab’s equipment, has value as well. For a growing community who all personally possess the means of manufacturing, the only missing ingredient are things to make. By giving and taking from this online 3D model library, each user is gaining something of value, even without the direct exchange of money. Think of it as massive, high-tech, 3D printing bartering.

The next step…

IT has already made the concept of shipping digital media as physical CDs or DVDs more or less obsolete, and 3D printing is beginning to do the same for plastic goods. However there is a lot of room for much more. 3D printing alone is starting to move into other materials, including metal, glass, and even concrete. Computer-controlled mills which operate much like 3D printers, but cut material away rather than add it layer-by-layer, have yet to drop in price and accessibility as 3D printers have, but when they do, it will have a similar impact on consumerism.

3D libraries like Thingiverse do already contain files used for laser cutters and mills, just not as many files as for 3D printed objects.

Then there’s networks like Mayku. The people behind Mayku seem to understand the shift that’s taking place perfectly, and have decided to work on expanding just how much you can actually “make” on your desktop locally.

Of course, as this shift takes place, you will have people that point out, “but your input materials are still imported,” and yes that is still true. However, people are also working on that aspect as well. We have already covered the Perpetual Plastic Project, and the localizing of plastic recycling so that once you source your plastic, you can continue using and reusing it perpetually.

Growing and/or sourcing material locally, will gain traction as personal manufacturing catches on, and the ethos alone of doing everything locally spurs the more adventurous among us to take up the challenge of achieving 100% localization.

perpetual-plastic-project-1-e1417759214556Imagine a near future where “maker markets” replace our big-retail chains, and local people profit from local money, and produce and consume in ways best suited for that community.

And what about sweatshops and boat captains and truck drivers?

They all live in communities that need to buy things too. They would have local “maker markets” to not only buy from, but to sell at. This is why education, and in particular, design literacy will become as important tomorrow as computer literacy is today.

We’ve heard of the cliche, “the future is what we make of it.” With 3D printing and other forms of personal manufacturing, that is becoming quite literally the truth day by day. If you feel like it’s time to change the consumerist paradigm, the maker movement is probably where you belong, building an alternative that satisfies you personally, and benefits your community and the world.

Brian Berletic writes for Follow on Facebook here or on Twitter here.

  • Numb3rTech

    This is okay for a minimal number of things, but it will not put food on the table or clothes on your back. I still prefer to purchase physical LP records, cd’s, dvd’s & blue ray media. I prefer to purchase items made in my own country that supports local jobs. I guarantee my meat is produced local and free of genetically modified feed-stocks. I only purchase locally grown produce. I drive a small SUV unless I need to haul something in which case, I have a large pickup. It is up to people to be smart and promote sustainable living.

    Unless you have a printing device that actually prints quality metals or large items, these toy plastic printers are mostly a waste of time. They have made some decent prosthetics with them, though. There are limited applications where they are good things!

    • Pa55

      Good points. You should check the website out, it is all about farmers’ markets and other local solutions. I think they are mentioning 3D printing and other things for manufacturing because manufacturing is one of the areas we still can’t do locally very well without huge investements.

      • Numb3rTech

        There are many manufacturers located almost everywhere. I’ve found them hidden out in farmed fields, behind auto body shops and mostly just outside the city limits due to local taxes. I have helped design, manufacture and mass produce protective electronic equipment for the energy industry that is used in the oilfield. These little plastic printers will be good for some businesses and the growing youth that are inventive, but will not have a lot of really productive use in the real world. Their use is still limited due to size and material. However, the printers that can print various exotic and plain metals will have an increasing market. Unfortunately, the energy requirements for those printers along with the cost and speed will still limit the actual use and value of what they produce. This is a step forward, though!

  • John Cook

    Another thing that could be manufactured locally is books.

    Imagine a printer that also binds it’s output. Once I was an old style printer and I know that this is possible. It might have to be a bit elaborate to give the option of various sized books etc but one that only did A5 (half the standard A4 sheet) or A4 would be relatively easy.

    This could replace Amazon – we are talking about a market worth billions of dollars.

    You can get, for free, from the Gutenberg Project text files of virtually All the out-of-copyright books ever published. Combining that resource with a system of paying authors of new books the minimal amount they actually get per copy and you could have a booth sized shop where you could get virtually any book, even one you had written yourself, printed on the type of paper you choose, in a font and font size you like and with the type of binding you like for a very small price.
    Imagine no shipping cost and an immense choice of title and form of book. No normal or online bookshop could compete.

    Another option for special books (or maybe some rich dudes library) would be using this machine to print out the pages then passing them on to a hand craftsman for a beautiful binding to be made for you.

    I’m usually about 15 years ahead of the market and I first imagined this machine about 10 years ago so I expect they will happen soon.

Thank you for sharing.
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