Automated Manufacturing with Unprecedented Reductions in Costs, Carbon Emissions & Labor.
Until the 1980s most of our stuff was “Made in America.” Then, we got drunk on the low cost labor in Asia and started having everything made halfway around the world. If you live anywhere else, the story is probably similar
Unethical labor practices, supply chain fragility, long product cycles, extraordinary carbon emissions from shipping, I won’t drag you through all the problems, but they are huge and growing. Deglobalization, geopolitical tension, general pandemonium are all pushing us to reshore manufacturing to the United States and elsewhere, but how?
The only conceivable ways to make stuff in the world’s wealthiest country are: import people, or import robots. What sounds better to you?
Factory automation as we know it has been a huge boon. When you want to make a hub cap, you buy a machine that presses metal, you make a custom tool for the shape you want, then you amortize the cost of that machine over a zillion units. Want a bigger hubcap? Start over.
Modern automation with robotics allows us to build programmable tools. A 3D printer is the best example, it never has to make the same thing twice. Want a hubcap? Draw it in CAD and click print. Want a bigger one? No problem. Want a coffee mug, a pair of sunglasses, a bicycle, just click print. You amortize the cost of the the machine over a zillion units but now you get the flexibility to change your mind every day, or whenever your customer changes their mind.
3D printing for manufacturing has largely been overhyped and failed to be put to good use. There’s two big reasons for this. First, 3D printers usually print one pixel at a time. Like Matisse painting with tiny dots, this is slow. Second, these printers need high quality input materials which are expensive. A the end of all that, you are usually competing with injection molding, which is about the lowest cost way of making anything.
One exception is the 3D printers that print with powdered metal. These kind of print “a layer at a time” instead of “a pixel at a time,” which means they’re much faster. Metal parts tend to be higher value and so this is starting to work industrially.
Marvel Labs invented a way to use the powdered metal type of printer, but their input material is used coffee grounds. They’re printing sinks and light fixtures and bicycles out of biomass they get paid to haul away from Starbucks. They print parts and then powder coat or metalize them. You wouldn’t know they’re made of coffee, but these parts can be made on demand, here in the United States with nearly full automation. This manufacturing process is lower cost than doing it in Asia for many durable goods.
I got to help Makerbot create the first consumer 3D printer 15 years ago. I have dozens of patents in 3D printing, and I’ve long been pessimistic about the economics of using these machines in manufacturing. Marvel Labs founder Jake Miller instantly won me over with the potential for this technology – and the products they make keep biomass out of landfills as a free bonus.
With a backlog of purchase orders, this team is going straight into production. If you know people who want to build the future of manufacturing in America, or companies who want to produce products with this new capability, please reach out and we’ll connect them to Marvel Labs.