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.
Challenges in Sustainability
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