A reader recently pointed out that dMASS is “entirely consistent with the very great value of intellectual property today, compared with the more traditional ownerships of tangible material wealth. An example would be the huge value of the patents in Apple Corp’s safe compared to the lesser value of the silicon, plastic, solder, etc., in their contractors’ factories.” If the real value is in patents and designs, what happens when your customers have access to fabrication tools and can manufacture a part or even an entire product for themselves? Teenage Engineering is sharing replacement part design files for its synthesizers so that customers can print parts on their own. (Parts are available through 3D printer Shapeways too.) According to the company, it’s been difficult to find a cost-effective shipping method for small parts. By sharing the files, it no longer has to produce, warehouse, or distribute the parts.

In this case, the design files are free. Sharing them is a good customer service move. It raises an interesting question though about the potential for companies to sell knowledge rather than physical products. How long before companies primarily sell designs while customers fabricate them on-demand, locally? Will this happen on a large scale? What would it mean in terms of shipping- and warehousing-related resource savings? What would it mean in terms of risk management for companies that no longer have the liabilities associated with the environmental impacts of manufacturing and no longer have resource supply problems?

Obviously some products lend themselves more easily to this model. But with advances in printable electronics, there might be more than you think. A shift of this kind would have big implications for industries and investors.

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