3D printing vs mass production: Part III Everything you own sucks…

This is the third installment of a series of blog posts on 3D printing vs mass production. The other parts are: The Power of Unique, Manufacturing Complexity and Marketing Promise and Wish Fulfillment.

Everything you own sucks…

There has been a widening credibility gap between the promises marketing makes and what is actually being delivered for years now.  And even though some marketeers struggle with the underpinnings of their industry they also need to keep telling us lies.  They can not admit that they”ve been lying to us for so long. They can not just come out and say, “buying a new toothpaste will never make you happy.” Also they”ve been obscuring an even darker deeper secret. That secret is that Mass Production is by design unable to give us the “best of anything.” Mass production can provide us with wonderfully complex things and cheap things but it can not give you the best shoe, camera or shirt. Mass production is bound to making millions or thousands of things for the largest identifiable group. They have to make things for many people for their model to be viable. This standardization means that by design everything you own is mediocre. Its meant for the many, not for you. All mass produced things suck. All mass produced things are in fact designed to suck. Conceived to appeal to the largest identifiable group they can not meet the precise needs of any one individual. They are OK for all and perfect for none. Once someone realizes this he will be on his way towards 3D printing, inexorably.  And who will these disaffected  people be? The early adapters/adopters, this Bleeding edge.

Cost gap

Simultaneously mass produced good”s high margins  are narrowing the costs between mass produced things and 3D printed things. Even though the unit cost of 3D printed things is much higher, the increase in the specificity of the design and the corresponding higher utility of this design to its designer more than offsets this price difference. Furthermore, other things like limitations in materials will be waved away initially in light of the consumer seeing themselves as a pioneer. After all, these people aren”t just any consumers, these are the people that bought the first DVD players, the first BluRay players both for $1000 each. These Bleeding edge consumers have been continually exposed to the worst of the high promises, teething problems and failed initiatives. They”re a hardy lot.

Once they have nestled itself in a comfortable nook of 3D printing the long drawn out deflating of Mass Production will really begin. The loss of this Bleeding edge group of consumers, this small percentage of people who actively seek out “the best” and “the new” in all fields, deprives mass production of its vanguard.  Slowly much of the cutting edge will lose its shine and the creativity, innovation and effort will be directed to 3D printing. Mass production will continue to exist but not be a store of much new value and hopefully as the years go on its rapacious appetite for more and more of the world”s resources in name of higher resolution and other false dreams will diminish.


Images are of the Creation Lamp by Xander Clerkx. Part IV: Ever more beautiful landfill will come out next week.

  • http://www.dotsan.com Vijay

    Really enjoying this series, well done. It would be great to replace want with need and to raise awareness of other values in product design other than false hopes.

  • http://www.bixworks.com Dale Emery

    Interesting insights as you proceeded with the blog. A year later we see some developments and vindication – but many questions remain: Although mass production makes something “mediocre” for the many, it also is producing configurable products which take on relevance to the user who takes advantage of all the features. As well, the highest-tech products are far out of reach of any shlub with a reprap. (We need microprocessor and IC printers!) But the hype continues. I”ve seen uninformed semi-technical people getting the impression that we”ll be printing office supplies like we now print homework assignments. In general the blogosphere (and the press) needs more realistic views on what 3D printers are doing and a lot less speculation and hype about what they might do. I”ll keep watching for Mr. Peels” insights!