What if every district, village, or town could have a localized furniture designer, fabricator, and distributor?
With computer controlled manufacturing, this is becoming a reality. In fact, there is already at least one growing network, OpenDesk, built around a similar concept. The company curates a collection of designs you can download and make yourself, or contact one of the makers in their network to make it for you. The price includes money that is paid back to the designer and OpenDesk who prototypes and tests the designs.
In theory, networks like this can be created anywhere and in any number of ways because the designs themselves are digital, similar to those found on open and free 3D printing libraries like Thingiverse or YouMagine.
As public awareness of digital fabrication increases, methods like 3D printing and CNC (computer numeric controlled) routing, milling, and lathing will become more accessible to a growing number of people. It is inevitable that furniture-making will decentralize and designers, makers, and distributors will merge into one localized shopfront.
Distributors of course can have additional furniture delivered either to them or to customers, but they also usually keep a large stock of furniture on hand to sell directly. This often takes up multiple floors of shophouses. Undesirable designs are left in the back, collecting cobwebs and represent a loss on investment for these family small businesses.
What if instead of 4-5 floors of furniture, there was one floor of wood sheets, a CNC router and assembly area, and a small showroom and office where customers could browse a digital inventory or even customize their furniture before having it built and delivered that day or the next?
The advantage of digital fabrication is that instead of designs being limited to what local wholesalers offer or what is on hand at the shophouse, an infinite number of designs can be browsed, created, and downloaded for production.
In the future, could we see overstuffed shophouses replaced by digital fabrication? 3D printing is already catching on in Thailand and elsewhere around the world. People are beginning to move past the novelty of the technology and are discovering practical uses for it not only to profit themselves, but to improve the way we live and work. Furniture appears to be a viable next step for digital fabrication to catch on in.
Many furniture companies already deploy 3D design programs like free to download and easy to use SketchUp, to improve existing designs or to create new ones. Sending those designs to a CNC router in-house instead of to a factory is the next logical and likely step.
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