10 Questions with Inventables

The mission statement of Inventables is "to ignite the digital manufacturing revolution by simplifying the path from idea to finished product."

Inventables An online hardware store for designers, Inventables streamlines the process of local manufacturing by selling materials in small quantities and sizes for desktop fabrication. Their selection of 30,000 products range from basic supplies like acrylic sheets in dozens of colors to sophisticated equipment, including 3D carving machines.

Thirty employees staff and serve Inventables' diverse customer base, which includes product designers, custom manufacturers, inventors, artists and researchers. Jameco is proud to be a supplier for Inventables. Our questions about this innovative business were answered by Inventables CEO Zach Kaplan.

Q: Where did the concept for Inventables come from?

"The original concept was born out of interviews with designers and engineers, along with our passion for new materials. We observed that most people we talked to had a hard time finding the right materials for their projects."

Inventables CEO Zach Kaplan Inventables CEO Zach Kaplan

Q: What makes Inventables a unique business?

"In everything we do, we try to make it inspiring and easy to manufacture products on your desktop. We have tremendous customer service and ship 99% of orders the same day they are placed."

Q: What challenges has the business had to overcome?

"The biggest challenge was also the biggest opportunity. We transitioned from only servicing the largest companies in the world to focusing on smaller teams and individuals. Starting in 2009, we observed the world starting to change. The price of digital manufacturing tools started to decrease dramatically, crowdfunding sites started popping up, and sites that aggregated artisans made it possible to make and sell your own products. This change has been the most rewarding challenge in Inventables history."

Q: How has the company grown/changed from concept to implementation?

"In the beginning we only focused on materials. Today we also sell 3D carving machines and offer a free in browser app called Easel."

Q: How does Inventables choose what types of equipment and tools to feature on the website? For example, there are several 3D printers available – how does Inventables decide on which one to choose from a large range of similar products?

"We tried to collect a set of equipment and tools that is both affordable and provides everything you need for a Maker Lab. We tested out a number of machines and selected the most user-friendly ones."

Q: What is the "digital manufacturing revolution"?

"The digital manufacturing revolution is defined by two significant trends. The first is the transition from analog to digital manufacturing tools. The new breed of tools are controlled by personal computers. The second is the dramatic reduction in cost of digital manufacturing tools over the last decade. Our Shapeoko 3D Carving machine cost $650 and our Easel software is free. We believe these two trends are critical in changing not only what can be made but who can make it."

Q: What part would Inventables like to have in igniting the digital manufacturing revolution?

"We hope to lead the world in this trend and empower a generation of designers, engineers and micro manufacturers to create products and prototypes that otherwise would not have existed."

Inventables Offices in Chicago IllinoisInventables Offices in Chicago Illinois

Q: Could you share any stories of how Inventables has positively impacted an individual?

"At a recent Maker Faire, I met one of our customers that had experience working with manual machine tools. He now has Parkinson's disease, which is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that effects movement. As a result he has moved towards digital manufacturing. He bought every machine we sell at Inventables and is able to continue his work because the machine is doing the detailed work while he operates the computer. This story really warmed my heart."

Q: How long has Inventables provided a print and digital catalog, and why?

"We have offered a print catalog for about a year now. We found that it is faster for people to flip through a catalog than it is to search on a website. Also, people tend to keep the catalog in their shop where they don't always have access to a computer for surfing the Web."

Q: What is Inventables' vision for the future of the business?

"We believe that in the next decade we will move from an economy where the majority of manufacturing is done by large companies, to an economy where micro manufacturing is the norm. This transition will empower people and companies that are not traditionally considered 'manufacturers' to participate in the digital manufacturing revolution.

We believe the cost of the tools will become even less expensive, software will get better and robots will participate in assembly. As this future unfolds, we are working on becoming the leader by continually launching new products and making the process easier so more people can get involved and start making."

To learn more, visit the Inventables FAQ page.