2014 CNBC Disruptor 50

Pandora's Printer: a Disruptive Manufacturing Era

Eric Rosenbaum, CNBC.com
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Human organ trafficking, weapons manufacturing, drones. These are things we associate with criminal organizations or the stealth maneuvers of governments, not something we do ourselves.

Welcome to the new era of manufacturing. From 3-D printing to unmanned aerial vehicles you can buy online for less than a computer, the disruptions to the traditional manufacturing model have opened up a world of possibilities in product creation.

The manufacturing names on CNBC's inaugural Disruptor50 are more alike than different, exhibiting characteristics that have come to define successful disruptions across all major sectors of the market.

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How 'Quirky' Is Disrupting Manufacturing

—A leap from hobbyist zeal with copter kits to monitoring agricultural fields and executing search and rescue missions. For around $400 you can (kind of) have the power of a U.S. president with your own drone.

—A collaborative, crowdsourcing platform that spans from the germ of an idea to manufactured product. In this case, it sometimes even has a manufacturing model involving patents from an industrial giant: GE.

—An online market of 60,000 product templates from which you can order a 3-D product—if you can't think of your own design to feed into the machine. Or just fire up the 3-D printer in your living room for a little over $2,000.

We may still be far from the era when you can do in your home what scientists have claimed to do in laboratories, such as "growing" a human ear on a 3-D printer. And that's probably a good thing. Printing guns or replicating human organs involves ethical boundaries as fundamental as those of cloning.

(Read More: Prime Time Disruption: Endangered Media)

Nevertheless, the 3-D printing market is expected to reach $6.5 billion over the next six years. Shapeways has already printed 1 million products. Everyone can make a market in manufacturing today.

The lone outlier among the inaugural list of manufacturing Disruptors seems downright quaint in its approach compared with the pioneers in the Maker Economy—and, to think it's a high-tech robot with the potential to make all kinds of small and midsize companies more efficient, competitive and profitable via production line improvements. It aims to return some of the outsourced manufacturing complex to the U.S., with man and machine functioning together again, though in new ways.

It would have been difficult just a few years ago to conceive of a manufacturing renaissance simultaneously occurring online, in your kid's room and under the intelligent eye of a factory floor robot named Baxter. Now it looks like we're poised to make it happen.

(Read More: CNBC Disruptor 50 List)