Distributed manufacturing

Distributed manufacturing also known as distributed production, cloud producing and local manufacturing is a form of decentralized manufacturing practiced by enterprises using a network of geographically dispersed manufacturing facilities that are coordinated using information technology. It can also refer to local manufacture via the historic cottage industry model, or manufacturing that takes place in the homes of consumers.


Within the maker movement and DIY culture, small scale production by consumers often using peer to peer resources is being referred to as distributed manufacturing. Consumers download digital designs from an open design repository website like Youmagine or Thingiverse and produce a product for low costs through a distributed network of 3D printing services such as 3D Hubs or at home with an open-source 3-D printer such as the RepRap.[1][2] Distributed manufacturing with distributed generation using solar photovoltaic cells and 3-D printers has been proposed as a means for off-grid rural area residents to manufacture themselves out of poverty.[3] Recent advances in solar-powered 3-D printers have made manufacturing of a wide range of products possible in isolated communities.[4]

An example of such an application are spectacles. As Gwamuri et al. point out that while it is "still not yet feasible to print the lenses (the most critical component of the eyeglasses)" and in current prototypes "only the frames and syringe are printed" and that "aesthetics is another challenge" the "primary cost of the glasses could be reduced to about one dollar for a highly customized/individualized design, which could be printed on site in under an hour" (presumably excluding the lenses) and "it seems clear that other products could benefit from the same approach and that distributed manufacturing can assist in sustainable development, particularly in isolated rural regions".[5]

Initial life cycle analysis indicates that distributed production can have a smaller impact on the environment than conventional manufacturing and shipping because of reductions in transportation embodied energy.[6][7] There are now several types of open-source solar-powered 3-D printers,[8] which can be used for production in off grid locations.[9] This can be taken to the extreme with RV owners using mobile 3-D printers to make fixtures for RV rooftops for solar photovoltaic panels.[10]


The primary attribute of distributed manufacturing is the ability to create value at geographically dispersed locations via manufacturing. For example, shipping costs are minimized when products are built geographically close to their intended markets. Also, products manufactured in a number of small facilities distributed over a wide area can be customized with details adapted to individual or regional tastes. Manufacturing components in different physical locations and then managing the supply chain to bring them together for final assembly of a product is also considered a form of distributed manufacturing.[11][12] Digital networks combined with additive manufacturing allow companies a decentralized and geographically independent distributed production (Cloud Producing).[13]

Social change

Some[14][15][16] call attention to the conjunction of Commons-based peer production with distributed manufacturing techniques. The self-reinforced fantasy of a system of eternal growth can be overcome with the development of economies of scope, and here, the civil society can play an important role contributing to the raising of the whole productive structure to a higher plateau of more sustainable and customised productivity.[14] Further, it is true that many issues, problems and threats rise due to the large democratization of the means of production, and especially regarding the physical ones.[14] For instance, the recyclability of advanced nanomaterials is still questioned; weapons manufacturing could become easier; not to mention the implications on counterfeiting[17] and on "intellectual property".[18] It might be maintained that in contrast to the industrial paradigm whose competitive dynamics were about economies of scale, Commons-based peer production and distributed manufacturing could develop economies of scope. While the advantages of scale rest on cheap global transportation, the economies of scope share infrastructure costs (intangible and tangible productive resources), taking advantage of the capabilities of the fabrication tools.[14] And following Neil Gershenfeld[19] in that “some of the least developed parts of the world need some of the most advanced technologies”, commons-based peer production and distributed manufacturing may offer the necessary tools for thinking globally but act locally in response to certain problems and needs. This can take the most radical form --individual personal manufacturing.[20]


  1. Sells, Ed, Zach Smith, Sebastien Bailard, Adrian Bowyer, and Vik Olliver. "Reprap: the replicating rapid prototyper: maximizing customizability by breeding the means of production." HANDBOOK OF RESEARCH IN MASS CUSTOMIZATION AND PERSONALIZATION, (2010).
  2. Jones, R., Haufe, P., Sells, E., Iravani, P., Olliver, V., Palmer, C., & Bowyer, A. (2011). Reprap??? the replicating rapid prototyper. Robotica, 29(1), 177-191.
  3. Pearce, J. M., Blair, C. M., Laciak, K. J., Andrews, R., Nosrat, A., & Zelenika-Zovko, I. (2010). 3-D printing of open source appropriate technologies for self-directed sustainable development. Journal of Sustainable Development, 3(4), p17.
  4. Gwamuri, Jephias; Franco, Dhiogo; Khan, Khalid Y.; Gauchia, Lucia; Pearce, Joshua M. (2016-01-15). "High-Efficiency Solar-Powered 3-D Printers for Sustainable Development". Machines. 4 (1): 3. doi:10.3390/machines4010003.
  5. J. Gwamuri, B. T. Wittbrodt, N. C. Anzalone, J.M. Pearce. Reversing the Trend of Large Scale and Centralization in Manufacturing: The Case of Distributed Manufacturing of Customizable 3-D-Printable Self-Adjustable Glasses, Challenges in Sustainability 2(1), pp. 30-40 (2014). DOI: 10.12924/cis2014.02010030
  6. M. Kreiger, G. C. Anzalone, M. L. Mulder, A. Glover and J. M Pearce (2013). Distributed Recycling of Post-Consumer Plastic Waste in Rural Areas. MRS Online Proceedings Library, 1492, mrsf12-1492-g04-06 doi:10.1557/opl.2013.258. open access
  7. Megan Kreiger and Joshua M. Pearce (2013). Environmental Life Cycle Analysis of Distributed 3-D Printing and Conventional Manufacturing of Polymer Products, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, DOI: 10.1021/sc400093k Open access.
  8. Debbie L. King, Adegboyega Babasola, Joseph Rozario, and Joshua M. Pearce, "Mobile Open-Source Solar-Powered 3-D Printers for Distributed Manufacturing in Off-Grid Communities," Challenges in Sustainability 2(1), 18-27 (2014).open access
  9. D.J. Pangburn, How 3D Printers Are Boosting Off-The-Grid, Underdeveloped Communities - MotherBoard available at http://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-3d-printers-are-boosting-off-the-grid-underdeveloped-communities Nov. 7, 2014.
  10. Ben Wittbrodt, John Laureto, Brennan Tymrak and Joshua M Pearce. Distributed manufacturing with 3-D printing: a case study of recreational vehicle solar photovoltaic mounting systems. Journal of Frugal Innovation 1(1), 1-7 (2015).
  11. Chrisman, Ray. "Enhancement of Distributed Manufacturing using expanded Process Intensification Concepts" (PDF). University of Washington. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  12. Hermann Kühnle (2010). Distributed Manufacturing: Paradigm, Concepts, Solutions and Examples. Springer. ISBN 978-1-84882-707-3. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  13. Felix Bopp (2010). Future Business Models by Additive Manufacturing. Verlag. ISBN 3836685086. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  14. 1 2 3 4 Kostakis, V.; Bauwens, M. (2014): Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. (wiki)
  15. Kostakis, V.; Papachristou, M. (2014): Commons-based peer production and digital fabrication: The case of a RepRap-based, Lego-built 3D printing-milling machine. In: Telematics and Informatics, 31(3), 434 - 443
  16. Kostakis, V; Fountouklis, M; Drechsler, W. (2013): Peer Production and Desktop Manufacturing: The Case of the Helix-T Wind Turbine Project. . In: Science, Technology & Human Values, 38(6), 773 - 800.
  17. Campbell, Thomas, Christopher Williams, Olga Ivanova, and Banning Garrett. (2011): Could 3D Printing Change the World? Technologies, Potential, and Implications of Additive Manufacturing. Washington: Atlantic Council of the United States
  18. Bradshaw, Simon, Adrian Bowyer, and Patrick Haufe (2010): The Intellectual Property Implications of Low-Cost 3D Printing. In: SCRIPTed 7
  19. Gershenfeld, Neil (2007): FAB: The Coming Revolution on your Desktop: From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication. Cambridge: Basic Books, p. 13-14
  20. Mota, C., 2011, November. The rise of personal fabrication. In Proceedings of the 8th ACM conference on Creativity and cognition (pp. 279-288). ACM.
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