Food trailer? No way – a 3D printer trailer.

So, shortly after I got my Makerbot Thing-o-Matic, and while I was thinking about what the “killer app” of 3D printing was going to be, I had an idea. I shared this idea with several friends under a Friend-DA (“shhhh – don’t tell no one”) because I had considered it a viable start-up option, and one that I would pursue. It got lots of positive feedback.

Today, seeing the post on Unfold’s idea of a 3D printer bike, I was reminded of my idea and realize that I’m not going to actually do it (too many other things going on), so why not share with everyone. Maybe someone will take the ideas and run (also, there’s a quantum-subconscious thing going on here — the more people think about these things, and with the interconnected-ness of the internet, ideas are brought forth more and more rapidly without isolation).

Here in the Austin area there are many, many food trailers. I pass almost a dozen just on my 3/4-mile walk to work. You can find them in every neighborhood, suburb, and all around downtown.

So I thought – why not a 3D printer trailer.

Unlike the Unfold bicycle/kiosk, my trailer wasn’t an on-demand on-the-spot printer. Instead, I had imagined a trailer stocked with items that are incredibly cheap to make, but cost a fair amount at the “big box” store (and even more at the local hardware stores). Besides the items I was personally printing to fix things around our house, people on Thingiverse were uploading new items that were going down the same path; things that were useful to more than just nerds and geeks.

  • Things that are common, and often overlooked: outdoor faucet knobs, 2-liter bottle watering heads, light-switch covers, oven/grill knobs
  • Things that could be used to both repair and augment: snap-in buckles for straps, doorbell buttons, closet rod holders, window blinds pulls, remote control holders
  • Things that were decorative, utilitarian, mundane, exciting

Unlike most of the food trailers in town that are fairly stationary — only moving to go to large events — my 3D printer trailer would go where it was needed, perhaps playing a little tune like an ice cream truck to draw attention. Building sites, parts of town where folks may not be able to get out as readily as others (lower-income, elderly, etc), maybe the hipster areas on weekends were places I thought this would work.

In addition to items that would be constantly stocked, there would be both a printed catalog of items to select from and the ability to talk to the driver to discuss what is needed, perhaps designing in the moment, taking measurements, color choices, and what-not. Upon return to the “garage”, the items ordered would be printed for delivery on the truck the next day, as well as replenishment of stock items that sold. Certainly in this connected world, printing could get started sooner than end-of-day, perhaps with same-day turnaround. Try that, Home Depot!

The potential for studying customization and needs at a macro-level seems really exciting. While folks talk about “buy local” when it comes to food, to the point of having neighborhood garden co-ops, I bet even their minds would be blown by the “design and manufacture local” level this would take things to.

  • I think it is possible that one could sell printed items — even custom ones — for super cheap, under-cutting the hardware stores. The under-cutting part isn’t the motivator, but rather that the people who need the items have easier/cheaper access to them.
  • I think it is possible to have more than one truck going to different areas each day. Or maybe vans or Smart cars (EV?) as the pieces are small and don’t need much (if any) packaging.
  • I think it is possible to empower the residents at a hyper-local level to be part of this; who knows best what is needed in each neighborhood than the people who live there? Teach a few how to use an app like SketchUp and let them email objects into the “factory”.
  • The cost of plastic and the electricity to run a garage full of printers is negligible. The cost of gas and maintenance on the trailer is the bigger on-going cost.
  • The benefits of teaching a new skill to folks who want to learn is enormous. Putting people to work in all new ways is powerful, especially when it’s to help their local community.
  • I think it is totally possible for a motivated social entrepreneur to get VC funding for a system like this.

And, of course, the trucks could also sell tacos.

6 thoughts on “Food trailer? No way – a 3D printer trailer.

  1. Have you read Kiosk by Bruce Sterling? I think you’d get a real kick out of it. It’s about a guy who starts a little pop-up business based around his 3D printer. It was a short story that is a little difficult to find as some of the links to it are broken. But, with a little googling, I’m sure you’d find it. πŸ™‚

  2. Found “Kiosk” online – thanks to the Internet Archive. Compiled it all (it was 4-5 pages), emailed it to my Kindle, and read it there. πŸ™‚ Thanks, MakerBlock, for pointing it out – was a good read.

  3. So basically you’re talking about a mobile fix-it shop with a 3D printer on board?

    Not saying it’s a bad idea, just let’s call it what it is. I’m down with the idea but I think people keep forgetting that 3D printing is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. You want to use your 3D printer to lower costs on your mobile fix-it shop? Great, go for it. Me, I want to design toys and games and sell them in small batches so that’s what I’m going to do with my 3D printer.

    • You are absolutely correct – it’s a “mobile fix-it shop”.

      But, what I’m doing is using something familiar to a group of people to relate a concept; kind-of like advertising. πŸ˜‰

      Anyone can have a “mobile fix-it shop”, but people get more excited when I describe it as a “3D printing taco truck”; at least those that understand the relevance and importance of a taco truck to a community.

      This is very much like Stratasys using the little girl’s arm supports to sell their 3D printers. Except I’m trying to “sell” a social innovation concept–a way for everyday people with little cash to pay back their community on a micro/macro scale, and to possibly earn a living by DIYing.

      And, really, I’m just trying to tell a fun story to get people thinking about possibilities. Otherwise I could have just said “why bother – Home Depot has everything you need to fix anything”. πŸ™‚

      And I truly wish you the best selling your toys and games; I think that’s awesome, and have witnessed the excitement in kids of all ages faces when they see something cool coming off the printer and know it was made just for them. Good stuff.

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