1. What’s been the breakthrough hit on Ponoko so far – the product or design that went through the roof (sales wise)?
Breakout products for us are a little unusual… we’re an “all tail” business. The most recent break-out like product is the Folding Ukulele – Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman made reference to it in their twitter streams and it took off from there.
2. What sort of trends have you seen in the Ponoko community – has it become the sustainable marketplace for designers and creative DIYers that you envisaged when you started the company?
Yes, people use Ponoko is many of the sci-fi ways we initially envisaged. There is something very powerful that you see emerge when you give the right people tools and then get out of the way and let them express.
3. Cubify got a lot of buzz at the recent Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. Are they a competitor to Ponoko? Is competition heating up in this space and what do you think of their offering?
The 3D Systems Cubify is a nice entrant into the market. They are not a competitor (they are fighting more with the likes of MakerBot). At this point any entrant that drives up the collective understanding of the market is welcome for us… all boats rise and the market is growing faster than we are collectively.
4. Wired magazine editor in chief and author of The Long Tail Chris Anderson came on board Ponoko last year as an advisor. What has been his advice so far?
It has all been focused on pragmatic execution… we are very lucky in that respect. All our advisors are good at cutting thru the sci-fi and driving for immediate deliverables.
5. 3D printers in general are getting smaller, better quality and cheaper. Are we approaching the stage where it will be reasonably affordable for consumers to own one, in the way they might buy a high-end laser printer?
We are. Where 3D printing differs from the laser printing analogy is that, by and large, you got a largely complete product off a laser printer. The set of “complete products” you get off a 3D printer are much smaller percentage of the use cases… so we’ll see a different dynamic over time I think.
6. You partnered up with design software maker Autodesk. What has the relationship offered up so far?
Resources, further validation of our work and access to scale.
We spent 4 years screaming into the wind… with Autodesk we got an answer back :-)
7. You’ve started an app development programme – is this aimed at making designing products easier for those outside the maker community – drag and drop design on the iPad, if you will?
That’s correct… we are starting to see some fascinating application emerge. In 2012 we’ll start showing off those apps.
8. As 3D printing takes off are we going to see a whole new set of issues around intellectual property similar to what we saw with the entertainment industry? If you can eventually replicate a design of say, a car part or electronic component, will that enable a cloning industry that might threaten more traditional industries who haven’t been so impacted by the digital revolution?
It’s already happening… 3D printing isn’t required. I have heard stories of wheel designers in the US showing off designed at SEMA in Las Vegas and having those wheels turn up for sale in China the next week (with the flaws that were in the original US designs). The fashion industry is built on this concept and largely embraces it.
What we are seeing is that as more software people get into the space they are forgoing the IP part of the picture with their own designs because it’s expensive, clumsy and most importantly they’re iterating so fast that it simply doesn’t make sense. I am hearing “I’m not protecting it because I will have moved on to my next project by the time it’s an issue.” This is directly analogous to the approach taken by the fashion industry.
9. Ponoko and the “maker” movement seem to embody the openness that has underpins the growth of the internet, including the sharing of ideas and intellectual property. How is it working in practice – are people respecting the licensing conditions people are placing on their work?
Yes, they are.
10. What’s your favourite item that’s appeared on Ponoko so far? Got a picture of it?
The octo stool by Wellington design Tom Kluyskens.