Ponoko has taken a step to solving one of the biggest problems in the 3D printing/making industry today: How do you make custom items?
The problem is straightforward: 3D printers and other making devices can produce pretty much anything, once provided with a design. However, the goods produced are typically more expensive than those made by mass manufacturing. Thus, the best use of such technologies is for custom, one-off items that are highly personalized.
But how do you get a personalized or custom design? Up to now, you'd have two choices: find an existing design somewhere that miraculously matches your custom needs, or design it yourself using 3D modeling tools. Unfortunately, only 99.999 percent of the population is not capable of doing such modeling. That's a major barrier.
Enter Ponoko's Personal Factory v5. While Ponoko has long been able to make pre-fab designs, they now offer "Making Apps". Here's how it works: Ponoko shoppers will see a directory of Making Apps, and select the one that purports to make something close to what they desire. The Making App then, with the aid of shopper input, creates the required design files on the fly and then transmits them and materials specifications to one of Ponoko's manufacturing sites. A sophisticated Making App could provide different sizes of an item, or even different features. And remember, Ponoko's manufacturing services include not only 3D printing, but also CNC and Laser cutting - and electronics. One can only imagine the products that could be made using this innovative approach.
So far the "Awesome Apps" section of Ponoko's site offers only the Autodesk 123D solid modelling tool, but "coming soons" include: SketchChair (design your own chair), Magic Box (customize a variety of small goods), GTX (Buildings), Tinkercad (simple solid modeling), Facespark (printed circuits), RealGame (Trophies), Fabripod (lamps) and Housifier (Doll houses).
Well done, Ponoko guys!