As rapid prototyping is progressing, low run manufacturing is becoming more and more realistic. The idea that you could imagine an object, have it drawn and then printed was once science fiction. The technology has progressed but not quite far enough, at least not for my taste. The print quality is rough at best, the materials do not perform as consumers expect and the level of detail is just not there. It just isn't a cost effective product yet.
What has happened is that the print houses that started out printing objects and tediously cleaning them up for their clients has seen a need. They are offering low-run manufacturing. This allows the hesitant start up to give their product a try. It also allows for quicker product change based on real product experiences. You can hold a real ABS plastic part before dumping the cash into a million-quantity order.
High run plastics manufacturing involves cutting steel molds. Molds are costly but super durable. The steel can consistently reproduce your product in the millions. It works for the big box store orders where everyone gets the same thing. Change the mold making process, reduce the cost and in the long run offer consumers more options. This is a beginning of something new. I can only imagine where we are headed next.