A distributed, virtual manufacturing company


We were talking about violins in a chat room. One of us makes them the old fashioned way: from wood. Custom made. As you expect artisanal violins to be made. The initial question was whether you can 3d print a violin or not.

After a short google search, people have already done the 3d printing of violins. Not the entire part though (strings still need to be strings), but most of it can be printed.

Further thoughts

3d printed violins can be for beginners. They don’t sound as good as wooden ones, because plastic is not wood, and the body plays a big part in the sound, but you can get to great lengths with a plastic one. They can be beginner violins.

They can also be used for 3rd world violins. Problem in places with different environments than Europe / North America (like Haiti and Afghanistan) is that the violins react differently to the humidity / heat. A printed, plastic one would not have to be repaired time and again.

Distributed manufacturing

If you can print a violin, you can, in theory, have a manufacturing business that’s almost entirely digital. There’s no shipping involved (apart from the things you can’t 3d print, like raw materials and strings).

One of the main problems with mass manufacture is that you have one factory somewhere (usually China), and then you have to ship your stuff to a port (usually Hamburg if you’re Europe-bound), and then you have to pick up the stuff from there and move it to a local warehouse (one in Austria for Central Europe region), and then from there you need to move them to the shops. This is tedious, takes a long time, involves a lot of paperwork, and incurs taxes on import and whatnot.

On the other hand, if you have the design, you can just send that design to whoever has a decent 3d printer, and they can print one on demand. No stock to keep, no import fees, no waiting for ships to get to Hamburg from China (takes 40 days), nothing.

If you still want to maintain a manufacturing status, you could have the warehouse in Austria, and print the violins there. You design it in Denmark (or wherever you happen to be on the globe), send the file to the printer, get it printed in a huge quantity, and you’re done. No need to set up Chinese manufacturing chain, no need for the shipping thing, no import taxes. Everything is produced locally.

On taxes

I’m not a lawyer or an economist, so I don’t actually know, but this is how I think it would work:

  • you don’t pay on importing the physical violin, as that never crosses borders
  • sending digital plans do not incur import taxes (yet, it’ll be interesting to see how governments will try to figure this out when 3d printing is more widespread)
  • you may need to import the raw materials, so you’d probably pay tax on that. Tax is paid on the value of the thing, and raw materials are incredibly cheap, so that’s not going to be a problem
  • you can probably recycle other plastic things and make your own printing material out of those (see http://3dprintingindustry.com/2014/12/19/protocycler-filament-extruder-indiegogo/)
  • you can either have incredibly big margins on your product, or you can offer them cheaply (no need to cost for excessive shipping / taxes / labour to make it)
  • once you have a warehouse with industrial 3d printers, you can potentially lease out the machine time for other companies to print their stuff
  • at which point you might spin off another business, and establish a network of 3d printing centers with warehouse attached (these companies already exist, such as http://www.3dcreationlab.co.uk/, but they aren’t really ready for high volume production)
  • the downside is you’re automating a lot of things, so you’re not employing a lot of people, so you’re not really helping the unemployment figures at all
  • the upside is you can get things to places where it’s been a bit hard before provided you can get a printer, electricity, internet and raw materials there.
  • NASA is doing it

Thanks for the thoughts about violins to the people in the chat room! Anything I wrote about violins I learnt from them.