Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Print on demand flat pack furniture

Laser cut tableOne of the revolutions now happening in publishing is print on demand books. You can now do the same thing with furniture: Up load your furniture design to Ponoko, and they will laser cut it from sheets of wood or plastic. You then assemble the parts.

At present Ponoko are only offering to do the cutting; you have to do the sales and distribution. But I expect it will not before such companies offer the additional services the print on demand companies do: they will also sell and distribute the items for you. With this you could design a table and upload the design. When a customer paid for a table, the laser would cut one out and ship it. You would then receive the payment, minus cutting, shipping and handling costs. You would not have to handle any wood, just bank the money.

Of course the catch with this is that the laser cutter is limited to smaller size sheets of thin wood and plastic. The items currently displayed by Ponoko all have a cardboard cutout look to them. Also on demand production is more expensive than mass production.

However, such a process can produce wonderful products in the hands of a skilled designer. The University of Tasmania Architecture students are trained to make designs using a Computer Numerical Control router. One graduate is Peter Walker, who makes wooden surfboards, when not teaching furniture design. prefabricated computer equipped classrooms could be made this way, including ones for remote indegnious communities.

It would be interesting to imagine a store like Ikea, but which make the furniture on demand. The store has no furniture in stock, just a large supply of designs, sheets of wood and a machine to cut it with. You try out the design in the store and then they make you one to take home.

Stewart Brand mentions laser cut plywood in his book The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility as does Alastair Fuad-Luke in ecoDesign: The Sourcebook.

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