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Manufacturing Close to Home?

The shrinking of some machine tools enables them to be used in non-shop locations.

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The shrinking of some machine tools enables them to be used in non-shop locations.

It might seem ironic in an age when we have gotten used to seeing manufacturing sent as far away as Asia ... but I think a long-term trend will be the growth in manufacturing that is very close to home.

I saw a glimpse of this the last time I attended a conference on additive manufacturing. One of the commercial uses of 3D printing relates to making custom figurines based on computer games. A service such as this could be provided on a small machine within a home. Think of it as “bedroom manufacturing.”

CNC machining is not quite that accessible, but certainly its ease of use is increasing. Our industry has a long history of garage shops—start-up shops founded by machinists. In the future, I foresee a different and even smaller kind of start-up shop. That is, the home-based captive shop that is focused on a niche product conceived by someone who has learned manufacturing on the fly.

A machine tool already does not need a machinist. The most memorable example of this I’ve seen involved a radiation technician who engineered an automated machining process for a cancer-treatment device. His shop has evolved since the linked article was written, but the application described here is striking nonetheless.

Even job shops today find themselves conceiving standard products as a natural application of the equipment they have. Cases of shops with standard products can be found here, here and here.

As CNC equipment continues to get easier, more compact and more self-contained, I see machining moving even closer to home—and increasingly moving within reach of people who simply have ideas, but might never have imagined manufacturing before. “Bedroom manufacturing” might never describe machine tools, but in some future decade we are likely to see “basement manufacturing” accounting for a small but noticeable percentage of how machining technology is used.