PC Magazine had an article about eMachineShop an online fabrication company. The article discusses how a user
can download a powerful yet straightforward CAD program to design objects. You then specify the material and submit your design to the site, and eMachineShop will price it according to the materials and machining or forming difficulty, along with the number of steps involved in manufacturing and finishing. The available materials range from every imaginable kind of plastic to metals such as aluminum, brass, and steel. You can specify bending, drilling, milling, turning, and various other operations. You can also specify finishes, including plating and powder coating.
The eMachineShop software prices your job on the spot, while the 3D rendering is on your screen. You find out what your part or run of parts will cost you in minutes, not days. When you give the okay, eMachineShop makes your parts and ships them to you. It's a full-capability fabrication facility that you pay for on an as-needed basis. Customers have created both simple and complex parts; you can see some photos on the site.
As someone who just had a product prototype built I love this idea. It would have given me a better product in less time. I cannot speak for the cost (yet), but "Oh, the potential for this." What will smart people and technology bring us next?