In Chris Anderson’s newest book, Makers, he describes how a desktop manufacturing revolution is already upon us; a bringing of the philosophies and democratization of the world wide web of bits to the physical world of atoms. In essence, a long tail of things.
I’ve seen reviews that claim he’s talking about the death of big manufacturing. He’s not – just its transformation. Some of the stories he describes even depend heavily on the recombining of stock parts or outsourcing production to flexible companies that have reasonably traditional facilities.
I’ve seen those that claim the basic ideas are nonsense and point out all the things that can’t be made this way. But I believe technology will overtake them in some form even as things remain that require different processes.
I’ve seen a review that says the concept is simply about outsourcing and redundant. Which seems to be missing the social aspect entirely.
Makers Make From Materials = Opportunity
What I saw when I read the book was a world of new opportunities for the companies that make materials. (This was after I blinked away the little starry “oooo, so cool” comments that were dancing in my head. Yes, I’m a geek.)
All of these new, customized, small batch, printed products are going to have to get their atoms from somewhere.
Since all atoms are not the same and arranging atoms to have needed properties is not always simple, these products are going to require a supply chain and some additional expertise, at least for the foreseeable future.
What we will see is simply more. More innovation, in more places, from more people, focused on more narrow niches. – Chris Anderson
Sourcing – Or Where Atoms Come From
Technological advances on the supply end in partnership with the manufacturers of the equipment will be needed to provide the materials that feed the printers. Somehow I don’t think that you can just put any form of ABS into the equipment and have it work, and that polymer still has to be made in the first place, probably in bulk, as just one example. As the ability of the printers increases in complexity, new processing techniques will be developed and the materials that feed them adjusted to fit. New materials might even be designed that optimize the application. (I know I’ve seen stories of interesting possibilities cross my feed reader and now I’m curious to go find them again.)
Distribution – Or Corner Markets versus Club Warehouses
The needs of many small businesses could change the way that materials manufacturers do business. There are significant differences in how you sell large quantities of material and how you sell small quantities. It is often difficult to do both at once, even when both businesses are considered value added and not commodity. Therefore, greater resources may need to be paid to either building in-house capabilities or developing stronger relationships with distributors who are willing to make their profit from the service of selling in smaller quantities.
Content and Contribution – Or Helping Pays Off
It could also change the way we market our products. A major aspect of the revolution that Chris describes is the community factor. The execution of marketing strategies could become, in part, a job for engineers who are participating in and becoming part of the community. Content marketing, already an effective strategy, could become even more important with the expertise of the materials manufacturer propelling the end-users driving the innovation of the final product. Especially since many of these end-users may have a shallower depth of knowledge in this particular aspect of their creations.
Concluding into the Future
Eventually, many aspects of the materials manufacture could also become democratized. Perhaps someday all that will be needed is a soup of molecules supplied by one massive company and everything else is built from in it and our children will wonder why we ever marveled at Star Trek’s replicators.
But in the meantime, there are as many more opportunities for manufacturers of raw materials as there are for individuals who want to become makers.
I highly recommend reading Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson and seeing what you think based on your own experiences. At a minimum, you’ll enjoy some entertaining, well-told business stories, but I believe there’s more to discover.