Lately, I’ve been building a reprap prusa. I’ve cut the steel myself, soldered together a RAMPS kit, bought stepper motors, and drilled countless holes for the parts. I’ve also spent a lot of money — probably around 800 USD, including the tools — since I didn’t have most of them. Also spent tons of time — at least 30 hours so far, with more to go as I continue drilling holes, aligning things, hoping I don’t start a fire when I power up, etc…
Incidentally, and not at all related to the RepRap, I’m visiting Hong Kong. While I’m here, I decided to see if I could find some cheap parts for the RepRap I’m building. Boy howdy could I! Parts that are hard to find and expensive in the states are cheap and plentiful here.
Which leads to my synthesis. China will soon be suppliying ready-made repraps. The design is open-source, so no western entrepeneur would bother( no way to stop competitors, plus patent and supply chain risks ), and some open-source hardware enthusiast here will put the pieces together and sell them in the west. There’s no barrier to this happening — there’s only a demand problem.
The demand problem is that not enough people in the west know about 3d printers. A few people do, but the average person doesn’t know and doesn’t care about it. Hence, the supply is low and the demand is low. If demand picks up to where a few thousand of these could be sold a month, then a Chinese supplier will step in and supply it. And it will be a Chinese supplier.
America is in deep trouble — we’ve lost so much industrial capacity, that unit prices and availability of prototype parts has become poor. This means that it’s getting hard to do new design work in the US. We still have a skill gap — our people do currently know more — but that’s trailing off. The cycle time from design to outsourcing has become really small, meaning that we simply can’t do any scale-up work at all. Without that, the skills needed to make new inventions falls out of society. New technologies may be invented in the West, but only a few people in the West will benefit from it. It’ll simply outsource faster than a person can sneeze, and thousands of good paying jobs will disappear. Even though the lack of import duties benefits me( as do the low taxes in the US ), we need to fix this. New import duties and higher taxes are needed to preserve the US quality of life. The alternative is becoming visible, and scary. Underinvestment in new capital is looming — and this is a society killer. Economically, we might soon become Russia.