I've spent the last week swamped with work, out of town taking depositions, and preparing my presentation for the upcoming ASPO conference in Denver. As a result, I haven't been making the hoped-for progress on my Diagonal Economy series. However, I have been spending some spare time thinking about distributed economies, and specifically distributed manufacturing. Ponoko seems to be the current leader in this area--they aren't especially distributed yet, but there's certainly promise. However, as I've wondered before, how much are current distributed manufacturing efforts focused on the creation of "trinkets," and how much promise do they hold to provide what I'll call "primary" goods in the future?
First, two definitions. "Trinkets"--I'm using this term to describe most everything that seems to be currently available on Ponoko. Some of them are pretty nifty, but not exactly essential to sustaining our civilization and quality of life in a post-peak energy world. "Primary" goods are, by this makeshift definition, the opposite of trinkets--things that can play an integral role in our future production of food, water, energy, shelter, communication, materials, etc.
Now my question to ponder for the week: Do you think that a system like Ponoko can currently, or will in the future, facilitate the distributed production of primary goods? Let's take that 1 step beyond a simple yes/no answer--can you describe such a good that can presently be produced via Ponoko? How about one that could be produced via Ponoko with minor modifications to their system and infrastructure? My intent is not to promote Ponoko per se, but rather to use its very well defined parameters to facilitate this conversation on distributed production in general.
Primary good that can be presnetly produced via Ponoko: a bat box. Sounds simple, admittedly, but it's well suited to the current production capabilities of Ponoko. Additionally, this qualifies as a "primary good" precisely because, by housing bats in one's yard, it's possible to 1) control insect populations, and 2) accumulate valuable fertilizer from the bats for use in localized food production. Bee hives and relate systems are another good example, though the need for wire mesh is slightly beyond the current Ponoko capabilities. Another: cold frames. Worm farm. The list goes on.
Primary good that can be produced via Ponoko with modifications to its capabilities: A hand pump. This would probably require the ability to work with metal, in both sheet and tube form. I recognize that this is well beyond the current capability of Ponoko, but it's not theoretically that big of a change. Also, if you added the ability to work with sheet metal and pipes/tubing, the universe of potential "primary" goods would open quite quickly (e.g. solar water heaters, stoves, etc.).
Other ideas? And a related question: what primary goods are most important for future distributed manufacture (such that we can guide the evolution of distributed manufacturing systems in a direction, rather than hoping the needed capability arises)?
Final thought: to what extent must distributed manufacturing networks also address local sources and production of the input mateirals? Distributed wood milling? Distributed bioplastics production? Metallurgy?