Based on web 2 technologies, a growing variety of production processes are becoming easily accessible for anyone.
An online interface makes highly specialized technologies available. Once you setup your account, payment and shipping options are selected you can start producing and in some cases have access to a network of like-minded users or potential customers.
Companies like Ponoko (laser cutting and engraving), RedEye (Rapid Prototyping) and blurb (bookmaking) can successfully contribute to a designer/maker practice. A competent level of computer skills are required to address these services to achieve the best outcome. For waterjet or laser cutting, which are essentially two dimensional processes, of flat or sheet materials the mastery of a vector-based graphics program like Adobe Illustrator is essential. To use the RedEye ‘factory of the future’ one needs to generate a .stl file of a virtual 3D object that had been modeled in a CAD program.
The underlying specialized technology, for a long time the domain of the manufacturing industry, is expensive and usually out of reach of a single craft practitioner. If acquired, such equipment would ‘tie’ the individual maker to this technology for a long time and introducing a high level of risk to their business. Not to mention high running cost and that these digitally based technologies become obsolete within a few years.
I have used several of these processes while designing and making the ‘desk light‘, it has a waterjet cut stainless steel plate, a lasercut lamp shade (Ponoko) and Rapid Prototyping parts. Using these technologies has led the design process to new solutions and made the making of this light relatively easy.