West Marine in 3D

Golfers and sailors share a secret knowledge of physics that most people can’t fathom: water gravity runs sideways. And, it does so with irregular force that defies Newton’s law. This truth will selectively reveal itself when you’re a stroke up with one water hole to go; or you’re on a broad reach making 7 knots in steady wind between islands somewhere in paradise. Had modern physics been informed by the common experiences of golfers and sailors, there would be a set of Rational Exceptions. These would include at least the two: 1) water draws golf balls with unusual force amplified by money; and, 2) land draws boats toward the least forgiving shore amplified by the lack of skill of the skipper.

I bring these up as examples of knowledge. Every religion, industry, sport, hobby, species, locale, gender, cuisine, technology, and passion has its set of rules and exceptions. And amplifications. So, though invention and innovation can help span dimensions, it’s a bigger moment when amplification is added. Here’s an example: I believe that the boating industry is about to dramatically change due to newly-available technology. I also believe that the company best able to capitalize on this may not recognize the moment and seize it. I hope by publishing and promoting this post, others will compel West Marine to action. Is it because I love the company enough to want to spur its further success? No. It’s because market forces (like sideways gravity) have resulted in one dominant provider of goods and services to boaters. But we need something better. So, despite the sad facts that:

  • local chandleries are disappearing due to overwhelming competitive disadvantage
  • the knowledge of their purveyors is not at all replicated by sales training or FAQ at West Marine
  • the odd (yet useful) parts they once carried are migrating to eBay (if we’re lucky), or get stored or scrapped (if we’re not lucky)
  • many new parts are poorly made – and odd sizes are rarely available
  • used boats break often and many manufacturers are no longer in business…

…there’s still some good news on the horizon that might overcome those drawbacks.

To date, West Marine is shore bound – like a lighthouse – and we must seek it out to provision our needed parts (as well as the impulse purchases that make up 99.999% of the transactions there). But there’s a broadcast option (amplification) that will revolutionize sailing perhaps more than water makers, roller furling, bow thrusters, GPS, AIS, or even the iPad…. <insert Jaws music here> It’s West Marine in 3D. A Cloud-based service with a spare parts marketplace and community tied wirelessly to the 3D printer that fits in the space once occupied by the comparatively useless microwave oven on most boats.

Imagine spare parts manufacturing themselves aboard. Whereas once I might have to limp ashore only to have a week’s wait to receive five new replacement impellers – the most agitating top of the list critical engine part that finds a way to break at the worst moments – I can now connect to West Marine in 3D, select my engine’s impeller from a list, and make one durable enough to continue my voyage uninterrupted. Or any number of other pieces and parts that I can’t have foresight or money enough to carry as spares. Precious cargo space once devoted to bin after bin of extra toilet valves could now contain food. Having broken nearly everything aboard at least once, I am aware that some boat components cannot be replicated in plastic. But having inventoried the candidate list, it is certainly long enough to warrant an investment in a 3D printer. Even if lacking the durability of metal, temporary parts constructed of strong plastic could certainly suffice in many circumstances. Granted, my use of duct tape and Krazy Glue would diminish. But every gain comes with some losses – as West Marine well knows.

I freely share this concept with West Marine in the sincere hope that it can operationalize its 3D program soon enough for me to become its early adopter. It would be nice if – as a Beta test – the printer could create a replacement for a wall-mounted shower handle holder that I broke off just last Tuesday. That would be much better than my temporary coat hanger fix.

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One Response to West Marine in 3D

  1. Excellent use case for 3D printing. I too believe that it is a game changing technology…and that the CAD drawings will become a mainstream content type!
    –Lubor

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