Although the trend in manufacturing has been towards centralization to leverage economies of scale, the recent rapid technical development of open-source 3-D printers enables low-cost distributed bespoke production. This paper explores the potential advantages of a distributed manufacturing model of high-value products by investigating the application of 3-D printing to self-refraction eyeglasses. A series of parametric 3-D printable designs is developed, fabricated and tested to overcome limitations identified with mass-manufactured self-correcting eyeglasses designed for the developing world's poor. By utilizing 3-D printable self-adjustable glasses, communities not only gain access to far more diversity in product design, as the glasses can be customized for the individual, but 3-D printing also offers the potential for significant cost reductions. The results show that distributed manufacturing with open-source 3-D printing can empower developing world communities through the ability to print less expensive and customized self-adjusting eyeglasses. This offers the potential to displace both centrally manufactured conventional and self-adjusting glasses while completely eliminating the costs of the conventional optics correction experience, including those of highly-trained optometrists and ophthalmologists and their associated equipment. Although, this study only analyzed a single product, it is clear that other products would benefit from the same approach in isolated regions of the developing world.
Gwamuri, Jephias, Wittbrodt, Ben T., Anzalone, Nick C., & Pearce, Joshua M. (2014). Reversing the Trend of Large Scale and Centralization in Manufacturing: The Case of Distributed Manufacturing of Customizable 3-D-Printable Self-Adjustable Glasses. Challenges in Sustainability, 2(1), 30-40. http://digitalcommons.mtu.edu/materials_fp/3