Innovation That Matters

Desktop manufacturing for consumers


New Zealand-based Ponoko is offering consumers a new way to turn their creative ideas into real-world objects. After uploading their design to the website (in EPS file format), users can choose from a variety of materials. Ponoko then runs the design through a laser cutter. Besides offering access to professional tools to manufacture products, Ponoko also helps users bring their products to market. Once they’re ready to sell, members add photos of their product to their profile page, together with a description, pricing information and descriptive tags. If a product needs to be assembled before being shipped to customers, Ponoko delivers the bits and pieces to the designer. If the product is self-assembly, Ponoko can ship directly to the end-customer. Equally important, Ponoko serves as a community where fledgling one-off fabricators and designers can exchange ideas and help solve each other’s problems. The larger goal, according to Ponoko, is to be a catalyst that helps bring personal manufacturing of individualized products to the masses. Users who aren’t interested in selling physical products can opt to sell or give away their design, for other manufacturers to produce and sell, which makes Ponoko stand out from creative consumer marketplaces like Etsy. As Ponoko explains: “By giving away the EPS files that make up your product, you allow other people to extend and improve your product, whether it’s by trying out new materials, adding decoration or simply finishing the job.” Ponoko encourages licensing under Creative Commons, to stimulate users to remix each others’ designs. Ponoko currently only offers two-dimensional sheet cutting, which limits designs to flat objects or three-dimensional objects that can be assembled from flat pieces. Plans for 3D printing are in the works. Available materials are plastics and various types of wood, which users so far have used to create jewellery, furniture, lighting fixtures and speaker boxes. The concept is mainly targeted to consumers who are good at the design part, but less interested in manufacturing, or just don’t have access to the tools needed to produce something. While contract manufacturers are only interested in high levels of production, Ponoko takes down that barrier to entry, allowing designers to manufacture a single unit. The startup launched in open beta in New Zealand recently, and will be rolling out worldwide over the next few months. Ponoko is looking to establish physical points of presence in other parts of the world. One to partner with for regional distribution or manufacturing? Or if you’re a brand that caters to creative consumers, then it’s time to figure out how you can work with companies like Ponoko to help your customers turn their creative notions into real-world products. (Related: eMachineShop.) Spotted by: Bill McMahon



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