Hotchkiss enjoys the innovation as much as anybody. But his message about the limits of the Maker Movement should not be ignored by investors. First off, he points out that as cheap as tools such as Autodesk's 123D might appear, they are simply not up to the task of designing packaging for the heavily catered to world consumer. "The tools you really need start at $3 million," he explains patiently to me. (My sense is that he gets this question all the time.) "And they are never going to get cheaper." He used a system from Belgium-based Esko to explain why. The software is a seven-figure investment and can easily take six months of intense training for engineers to start to learn how use, never mind master. Then the evolution of packaging design never stops. Next year's package and next year's packaging tools must do more than last year's. "What we do is like Hollywood in the sense where major investment must be made year in and year out to keep the experience of shopping, opening and using something competitive globally," he says. Next, Hotchkiss points out that products -- especially those sold via decentralized Web channels -- must work ever better in an ever-leaner retail environment. There is no margin for returns, customer service or time lost teaching people how to use something fresh out of a box. And then there is real killer of the Marker Movement: the U.S. Interstate Highway system. "At the end of the day, whatever you make has to get shipped in a container," he says. Hotchkiss reminds me that all highways are a standard size and require standard-sized containers, pallets and boxes -- which require pricey engineering to maximize for shipping. Any shop that does not maximize the space in a container will probably not survive. "Merely wrapping an item in bubble wrap and tossing it in a shipping box will not work," he says. Worse, the players in the Maker Movement seem unaware of Hotchkiss' concerns. When I ask Fried about the limits of decentralized manufacturing, all I get is a polite non-answer. "Very interesting points of view and insights, " she writes. "Thank you for sharing them." Makers will make no money
So yet again investors are up against a firestorm of digital unthink. Desperate to keep the start-up party going, the usual troika of vested media parties, investors and entrepreneurs took an interesting little idea -- being able to make cool stuff with cool new tools -- and turned it into a much bigger trend than it really is. Now, sure, interesting new ideas will spin out of next-gen fab. I personally cannot wait to have a pen that thinks. But at the end of the day, very few of these Big DIY operations stand much of a chance, which puts them on the ever-growing list of good-sounding ideas that never make money. "This is just too tightly run a sector for amateurs," Hotchkiss says. "Reality just doesn't work that way."