[Discuss] discuss Digest, Vol 10, Issue 30

Tom Igoe tom.igoe at gmail.com
Wed Mar 6 20:26:07 UTC 2013

Terence, you bring up a lot of good points here, but I want to focus on one:

On Mar 6, 2013, at 12:34 PM, Terence Tam wrote:

> I think our value as an open source business is really applying economies of scale to make it "worth while" to produce the product.  I've had multiple people ask me about manufacturing OpenBeam right now - and so far no one had actually done it.

In one of the early discussions around the formation of OSHWA, the question came up of how we, as an industry, collectively mature. In one way, it's easiest when you are the only maker of a given thing. But when there's a market and multiple competitors, it gets trickier to maintain openness.  What do you think will be the best way for you to remain open when there are a dozen companies making openBeam and competing products? What would you expect from your competitors in terms of fair competition?  Those are also things we need to wrap our heads round when it comes to best practices.

>  The reason being is that we run our extrusion die at multiple kilometers of extrusions at a time and multiple 10s of thousands of injection molded brackets to keep the prices where they are.  And, frankly, the margins are not great (certainly not enough for me to leave my nice engineering day job).  We therefore openly share with people the profile and the manufacturing processes, as it's a fascinating thing to be able to share (http://blog.openbeamusa.com/2012/05/18/behind-the-scenes-injection-molding/ for example).  We actually try to work with all our CMs so that we can document the process involved and blog about it.  Most are happy to do so as they don't typically get to showcase their work.

To answer my own question a bit, this is one of my favorite side effects of this movement. I'm seeing more and more companies (not all of them OSHW) sharing their process in company blogs.  While it's not the nitty-gritty details, I think it is an important change for the better. I think it's too early to talk about expecting it, and way too early to talk about standardizing it, but we should celebrate it and encourage it nonetheless.

> Echoing Nathan's point about sharing vendor information - I think a lot of it has to do with the community you serve too.  We at OpenBeam had made a little inroad with the Reprap community and, frankly, they are some of the worst customers out there.  As such, there's no way I'd want to share my sources for all my mechanical components that I bring in to make my OpenBeam 3D printer kits or the ordering process I use to order them and bring them into the country for resale. 

Which suggests another possible ideal:  when something ceases to be a significant competitive advantage (your "secret sauce" so to speak), it's good practice to open it up.  What's commodity to one is valuable learning to another.  You're at a stage where your vendor list is still special, part of your competitive advantage, which is why you protect it. Many businesses in this area feel the same way about their vendors, I think it's a reasonable response.  

I wonder, what are the elements of our practice that we consider commodity, not part of our competitive advantage, but that we haven't yet bothered to talk about? Most likely we don't talk about them because we consider them so unimportant that it's not worth it.  But we could encourage Q&As at the summit to draw those out....


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