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Reach the World With Just One Click Using Ponoko

Reach the World With Just One Click Using Ponoko

In this blog I'm going introduce you to the New Zealand company Ponoko, which is at the early stages of implementing a powerful vision for global, decentralized, on-demand manufacturing. Ponoko allows anyone to have the just-in-time inventory of a Fortune 100 company and the chance to manufacture something professionally with an unheard-of economy of scale.

I've always been fascinated by the vision of distributed, decentralized manufacturing made possible by such technologies as 3D printers and other digital-manufacturing processes. The idea is simple, but so very powerful: You create a design on your computer, perhaps a design for a dress, a piece of jewelry or the proverbial "widget." Whatever it is, you then upload it to the cloud, and when someone orders it in Chicago, Tokyo or Istanbul, the product you designed is manufactured on the spot at a local hub and delivered minutes later. It's an intoxicating and powerful vision. No waiting. No large carbon footprint for transporting the product continent to continent. No large inventories.

That's the vision that Ponoko co-founder David ten Have (yes, that's really his name) is espousing. David wants everyone to become a maker. It's a thrilling vision of the future.

David lives in New Zealand (by the way, the name Ponoko comes from a local dialect word meaning "community"), and living in this distant, faraway land was what got David thinking about this very business. "Everything we import and export into New Zealand has a huge carbon footprint and leads to a big and exciting problem," said ten Have. "So rather than using a traditional factory approach, this got us thinking about how we might keep the point of creation as close to the point of consumption as possible."

David, who had been a software designer, got the inspiration for Ponoko when he saw a television show that featured a store in Tokyo with its own onsite manufacturing component. "It tumbled from that," he says.

"Ponoko is enabling people to produce products that are directly relevant to themselves. Where mass manufacturing is successful is in 'mass,' in developing products that fit the 95th percentile," explained ten Have. "Distributed manufacturing is developing product for you and your community, in batches of 1,000 or 100 or, in the extreme, just for one person. You recognize a need in your community that isn't being met, and you meet it. That's what it's about."

What I find exciting about Ponoko is how it brings manufacturing back to the local level. Ponoko is still in its very early days. Far from having a massive global manufacturing network, Ponoko has five manufacturing facilities in places like Wellington, New Zealand; Oakland, California; London, England; Berlin, Germany; and Milan, Italy. In time, Ponoko hopes to have manufacturing capabilities in every major city, to return the art of manufacturing and craftsmanship to local roots. "Ten years from now my ideal goal would be that we would feed every shop on the High Street -- instead of having boxes of stuff sent to their shops, they have the product made there." It's local manufacturing enabled by sophisticated online communication and design.

"Unfortunately, one of the things that mass manufacturing has done to our society is remove the understanding that anyone can actually come up with an idea and make it," ten Have says. "We've become dumb in that area. In centuries past, it used to be where people in communities made things that they desired. We need that variety back."

Ponoko already has tens of thousands of customers, and has manufactured hundreds of thousands of products, from jewelry to robotics to furniture and more.

"When you give people the ability to make stuff," David explains, "they express themselves personally. It's deeply moving."

In my next blog I'm going to write about how Ponoko works with its creators, and how it has used the Internet to create this network of local creators with a global reach.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

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