Cloud manufacturing is a new approach to manufacturing that combines easy-to-use, online, self-service software for uploading design specifications and managing projects with state-of-the art prototyping and manufacturing services. Cloud-based manufacturing eliminates the delays, errors and frustrations common in the traditional email-and-wait experience.
The old approach to electronics manufacturing is overly complex, time consuming, and intimidating for small businesses and makers. That’s because even low volume orders are funneled through the same process as the one used for high-volume mature products and many large electronics manufacturers won’t even take any order unless it’s in the 1000s or 10,000s. Cloud manufacturing, on the other hand, is designed specifically to make it easy, inexpensive, and quick to produce prototypes and small batches, allowing designers to iterate, improve and deliver on time.
A good analogy is Amazon Web Services. Software companies leverage Amazon to deliver their products to customers. Amazon owns and maintains all of the servers and network infrastructure so that the software providers can focus on what they do best. The cloud approach to manufacturing does the same for hardware designers. You focus on finding a market need and developing a product to support it. You upload your designs through an easy-to-use online interface and your manufacturing partner brings your vision to life, giving you instant visibility into the progress of the project with online reporting.
The traditional manufacturing process is fine for large organizations that need to produce hundreds of thousands of products for the lowest price possible. But it is not at all well suited for small businesses, entrepreneurs, engineers or hobbyists. This new approach to hardware manufacturing opens up avenues previously out of the reach of these constituencies.
Small and growing businesses often don’t have the demand required to get reasonable pricing from large scale manufacturing outfits. They also are usually under financial pressures that make large inventories out of the question, and just-in-time delivery a necessity. Cloud manufacturing supports the needs of small businesses by making small quantity runs affordable. The best solutions also offer storage and shipping services, complete with APIs to automate order fulfillment. When a customer orders a product, it is shipped without any additional effort on the part of the business. This creates an excellent customer experience, reduces costs, and frees employees to focus on more strategic business needs. For small businesses, cloud-based manufacturing can be the key to accelerated growth.
Kickstarter and other similar services have changed the playing field for fundraising and early stage product sales. You no longer need to know somebody, who knows somebody, who is a venture capitalist to bring your idea to market. But an idea is one thing, a completed, high-quality product delivered on time is quite another. For a long time, manufacturing was too high of a hurdle and many great innovations languished in basements. Not anymore! Because cloud manufacturing supports both final product delivery and prototyping, today’s entrepreneurs have an inexpensive and timely way to bring their ideas to life.
Even for large institutions tinkering with new product ideas, manufacturing prototypes has always been an obstacle. Large-scale operations aren’t interested in your order of one unit, even if you’re Google or Apple. Manufacturing in the cloud solves that problem. Cloud manufacturers are happy to have your order of one and will be delighted to help you iterate until you have the result you want.
The Maker movement has energized amateur inventors, designers, and creators across all the generations. 3D printing has spurred countless new and innovative ideas. Similarly, cloud manufacturing helps hobbyists take their projects to the next level by making it possible to automate the assembly of their latest creations.
The benefits of cloud-based manufacturing are significant. They include:
At MacroFab, we believe that anyone with a great design should have access to a manufacturing partner who can take them from concept to customer. You focus on designing your product, we take care of the rest. Cloud manufacturing represents the future of how things will get made, and that’s a good thing for hardware developers and consumers alike.