Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing


CloudFab – matching product designers to digital manufacturing services

CloudFab logo

CloudFab.com is  a new distributed fabrication service that connects buyers who need digital fabrication (3D printing, laser cutting/etching, etc.) to the sellers who have the capacity.  The goal of the project is to provide a central marketplace to connect buyers and sellers in the digital fabrication sector.

The ethos (if that is the right word)  behind CloudFab is that a vast reservoir of spare capacity exists in digital manufacturing resources, waiting to be tapped by latent demand.   Similarly, many people have ideas, and design skills for individualised parts and products, but lack the means to produce them.  Therefore the CloudFab platform has been developed to enable those with the fabrication equipment to share their machines with the greater public.

The founders of CloudFab are Nick Pinkston and Steve Klabnik.  I asked Nick to tell me the story of the founders backgrounds and how CloudFab came into existence.  This is his response:

“My background is  more in making physical things. I started out with Lego, moved to rocketry and when I last had free time I loved developing / tuning automotive turbocharger systems.  My car hobby showed me how difficult / expensive it was to access the equipment that I needed to complete my projects.

Steve has been programming for the vast majority of his life.  He’s used to building digital products as both the current maintainer for the Hackety Hack project and director of the open source operating system XoMB.  When I told him about the digital fabrication scene, he was blown away by the future that the movement was ushering in.  He’s excited to be able to use his computer skills to facilitate “physical compiling” “.

On the origins of CloudFab:

“We started out trying to build something like TechShop in Pittsburgh, but we quickly found that the numbers don’t work very well.  That’s why we started HackPittsburgh – Pittsburgh’s hackerspace – so that we could get a shared workspace up and running locally.  We wanted to tackle the problem on a broader scale though, so we looked into how we could better utilize existing equipment to make it more accessible for the rest of us – the idea was born.

We received some financing from a State program funding technology to give us money to develop the original concept and later were accepted into the AlphaLab program, Pittsburgh’s version of Y-Combinator.”

Now, it’s fair to say that the easiest part of an online venture to match buyers and sellers is the design of the website.  It’s the business of convincing enough of each to register that is the difficult part.  The founders of CloudFab haven’t simply built a website in the hope that business will come.

Beyond the website, they’ve started by forming a local microcosm of the market by signing up all the local fabrication shops and design firms in their local area of Pittsburgh USA, as well as talking to local hobbyists and artists.  Nick Pinkston says:

“In the beginning, we’re focusing on 3D printing processes, and will soon be moving into laser cutting, CNC, etc.   Also, we’ve been building a lot of relationships with others in the industry and maker community.

Now that we’re going into private beta, we’re opening it up for both sides.  We’re excited to hear back from people and interate from there.  Also, there will be some new features and services coming in the following months.”

CloudFab, like any other marketplace matching buyers and sellers, earns income from trade through the website.  It’s current advertised rates are determined by total gross transaction cost, following this schedule:

  • $0 – $100: No commission charge.
  • $101 – $300: 6% of cost
  • $301 – $1,000: 5% of cost
  • $1,001 – $3,000: 4% of cost
  • $3,000+: Flat rate of $90.

It’s remarkable that two separate services have appeared within a few weeks of each other, linking buyers of digital fabrication services with providers of those services.  Whereas the 100kGarages.com joint venture between Ponoko and ShopBot (see previous post) initially links buyers with providers of CNC routing services, CloudFab’s current focus on 3D printing services means that the two will not be going head-to-head in direct competition for the present.

So, the new age of online trade continues to gather pace.  It could be argued that the inclusion of Microsoft Internet Explorer with the Windows 95 operating system was the tipping point for the explosive growth in the World Wide Web that occurred from the mid-1990′s.  The big question is, what will be the tipping point for digital manufacturing?  It may be the growth of online marketplaces like CloudFab, but no-one really knows.  That’s the thing about tipping points, they only become obvious after they happen.

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One Response to “CloudFab – matching product designers to digital manufacturing services”

  1. Distributed design and manufacturing is here; or How I correctly predicted the future… | co>innovative Says:

    [...] UPDATE: A few weeks after 100KGarages launched, a similar idea was introduced through CloudFab.com, “a central marketplace to connect buyers and sellers” of 3D printed parts and objects. So, for now, think of this as very similar to 100KGarages, with the main point of differentiation being that CloudFab is focused on 3D printing, and 100K Garages is focused on 2D materials. More info at MadeForOne [...]

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