(Photo by Tyler Woods)
Imagine if the products you bought were fully customizable to you. You don’t need a shoe size or a belt size, and your virtual reality headset will conform exactly to the contours of your face.
Such is the dream of Max Friefeld, the cofounder of East Williamsburg’s Voodoo Manufacturing.
“Henry Ford said, ‘You can buy any car you want as long as it’s black.’ Manufacturing has made products so similar,” Friefeld said on the fire escape of his new factory building.
"We're trying to reverse 200 years of evolution in manufacturing."
It was the launch party and official opening of Voodoo, and a band the company had found on the subway was playing an up-tempo mix of jazz and marching band music inside.
“You can do custom, low-volume items and you don’t have to make them by hand,” Friefeld continued. “When we succeed, products will look different. The past two industrial revolutions are being reversed because of 3D printing.”
— Justin Day (@potatono) November 12, 2015
Right now the knock on 3D printing is that it’s just for prototyping. Someone needs to know how something will actually look and feel and they can 3D print it and make tweaks to their design and then get it sent away to China or elsewhere to be made.
And right now, Friefeld’s company is sitting in that space as well. It’s mostly used for low-volume manufacturing. If you need something made but you don’t want to pay $20,000 or $30,000 for injection molding in China, you can hit up Voodoo and they’ll do it for you without a mold and here in Brooklyn. You could probably pick it up the next day.
Fine. But that’s not the extent of Friefeld’s vision. First, a little history.
In high school in Southern California he had access to a 3D printer, which he used to print parts for robots he was working on.
“It seemed like this magical technology that was available only to engineers, and we wanted to make it available to everyone,” Friefeld said.
He went to the engineering-heavy Harvey Mudd College, and while there, he and a group of friends started a 3D-printing software design company called Layer By Layer. In 2013, Layer By Layer was accepted into the prestigious Y Combinator, and shortly thereafter was acquired by MakerBot. Cool. While at the Brooklyn 3D-printing giant, Friefeld and his cofounder developed software that would allow the MakerBot machines to be networked and build the same thing at the same time.
And that’s more or less what Voodoo is doing now. The studio has 127 of the latest MakerBots primed and ready to go. But the dream is making end-use parts, or things that actually wind up in people’s hands, rather than just prototypes. And being able to manufacture in small quantities ennables a sort of reverse economy of scale: You can make products different and customized for the same price that you can make them all the same.
“We’re trying to reverse 200 years of evolution in manufacturing,” he said. “All that has brought us to where everything looks the same. And it doesn’t have to be that way, we can economically make things that look different now, thanks to 3D printing.”
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