The next Industrial Revolution is here

November 11, 2013


Image source: ZDnet.com


We have all seen trends such as the craft movement merge into mainstream; life as an appreciation of old skills that appeared to be on the way out has found new life. This trend is happening mostly in response to the increasing pace of life, the homogenisation of society, and a lust for efficiency in terms of production.

At the same time the craft shift has been occurring, technology has been moving in leaps and bounds. Technology’s unstoppable waves of development has crossed a new line. They have now begun to democratise production and manufacturing.

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired Magazine, released a book entitled “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution” (2012). Post reading it, you feel like you want to drop everything and start designing the products you have always thought about, but never acted on. The book amongst other things, walks us through the ‘next industrial revolution’, whereby the web takes on the real world not just tech stuff.

For a long time, producing things on a large scale has been the domain of big companies and trained professionals. From here on in, this no longer needs to be the rule.

3D printers are now the equivalent of the digital camera and music editing tools to their respective categories. “They allow anyone to create one-offs for their own use. World factories are opening up to web-based manufacturing with on demand services to anyone with a digital design and a credit card”, Anderson explains.



Image source: Courtesy Random House


Introducing - The Makers

Makers are people who have and are taking traditional crafting into high tech electronics. They are using digital tools to design product (or whatever takes their fancy) on a computer and then are outputting to desktop fabrication machines, mostly 3D printers.

Makers have essentially taken DIY and brought it online. Anderson describes three (3) characteristics of a Maker:


1  Using digital desktops to create digital designs for new products to prototype them,

2  They capitalise on a cultural norm to share those designs and collaborate with others in online communities,

3  They use common design standards that allow anyone, if they desire to send their designs to commercial manufacturing services to be produced in any number of factories around the world.


The exciting thing about what Anderson describes is that the barriers to production of products are smashed. It is potentially such a fundamental shift for the manufacturing industry, and for how we ‘set up’ as economies. Think about the following that Anderson discusses in the book:


·  “The past 10 years of the net has been about discovering new ways to create, invent and work together on the web. The next 10 will be about applying those lessons to the real world.” (The internet of things)

·  “From now on, the process of making physical stuff will look more like the process of making intangible stuff (websites/ apps).”

·  “The web has now democratised both the tools of invention and production. A huge shift from yesteryear where you could patent an idea, but still need to get it made somehow. You needed to be able to control production. Now you can control production.”

·  “For all the hype. According to Citibank, the digital economy is valued at circa $20 trillion. The real world economy is valued at circa $130 trillion.” When the web gets its mitts on the $130 trillion, you can expect huge shifts to occur.



Shifting Sands

Progressive companies and governments are already beginning to harness the power of the Makers. Lining up to take advantage of the dollars being generated.

For example ‘Makerspaces’; shared production facilities are already being developed across the world. In Shanghai alone, 100 spaces were being built when Anderson’s book was being printed. According to the book, there are an estimated 1000 ‘Makerspaces’ globally.

TechShop is perhaps commercially the most developed and is run by former executives of Kinko printing.



Beyond these spaces, the really exciting potential is that production can be open sourced, just as design can be. Now you can design a product here in Melbourne and have it produced by factories in China with state of the art technology. It is not about runs of millions; these production facilities are designed to cater for variability.

In fact according to Anderson, variability is the key. The equation is different. There is no saving for huge runs, the per item cost of producing one, is the same for producing a quantity of 1000. This is essentially a new kind of factory, one that is bottom up.

The US Government has even funded the new form of school workshop in 1,000 schools nationally. These digital workshops all have digital fabrication tools like 3D printers and laser cutters.



In digital spheres, open source production and idea generation have resulted in many hits, Firefox, WuFoo, Drop Box, Air BnB and Reddit, to name a few. Real world hits are yet to make their mark. It seems like only a matter of time before we see the fruits of the ‘Makers’ labour.


Looking ahead

The implications for people are huge. Both in how they live and more specifically for marketing. Below are some of the many implications we have thought about:

Millennials well placed to capitalise

Firstly, for school children and today’s youth, the flipping of the requirements for production is empowering to say the least. It will be true that for many that they will be designers and producers, arming them with ability and understanding to design, conceptualise and share will be important.

Design local and sell global

Importantly, because the web will form the grounding for the market place, barriers that were once huge will be broken down. No longer will people have to worry about – is there enough people who might like this to get it distributed? Is there enough support for this that it is worth making communications? And of course, can I get people to support it to get it made? What ever you design, can be opened to global market places.

Uniqueness and variability

We all want to feel different. This new approach to production enables this want more so than the previous mass style of production. As the old saying goes, ‘Variability is the mark of all things handmade’. Excitingly, variability can be built into the digital design chain, enabling a sense of differentiation and personalisation never seen before. It may even raise prices people pay for products because people typically pay more for something that they feel is rare.

Meaning not profit maximisation

Given that individuals will be producing, not corporations, the orientation of a business may change. It is hypothesised that the hyperspecialization available through digital production will orient producers to maximizing meaning, rather than profit. Commercial success will remain important, but the ‘actualisation’ of an individual’s vision becomes more powerful.

Sharing

A crucial dimension of the Maker is that they share ideas with people of similar mindset and inclination; sharing and building on each others ideas in order to get further along the line. They tip their hat if someone thinks of something they are working on that they didn’t see, rather than shying away from it and trying to protect what they have. The general principle being, a project shared, idea shared, has a better chance to become bigger. This raises questions for ownership and IP rights, however initial web-based open sourcing suggests different models of ownership are possible.

The home as a place of production not relaxation

This may be an overstatement, but we would anticipate that this technology will enable people who are typically housebound or choose to stay at home to become bigger economic contributors once again.

It could really change the dynamics of a household. Maker spaces are great as they facilitate like-minded people to come together, but the studio, shed, spare room, or attic, could become a huge driver of production and investment.

In the marketing world

It is obvious that behind the scenes, the marketing world will be altered too.

Internal innovation and prototyping can become more common place, changing the innovation process and development approach of many companies.

Open sourcing of ideas and potentially even changing production methods for mass produced goods. Co-creation has been around now for a while, but typically companies look to guard their thinking a lot more. 

A different mentality to the notion of privacy and IP may also result. Why keep things close to your chest when you can benefit in so many ways by opening yourself up? Sounds risky. As individuals this feels more palatable. For corporations, the hurdles may be too big. Telstra’s recent campaign for its online community is a manifestation of this. People working together to help overcome issues and challenges.

Distribution will also continue to evolve. We would anticipate variability in supply chains as individuals look to maximize their returns. New market places online will also sprout. Etsy is already turning over $500m. This may be the tip of the iceberg.


Brands

We would anticipate the notion of sharing, variability, personalisation and the entrepreneurial spirit will grow in importance over the next 10 years as The Makers of the world grow in numbers and the technology filters to more people.

Local design and the people behind the products will also become more critical dimension of marketing.

All in all, it may even begin to challenge existing distribution systems and create greater fragmentation of products and services. The Wesfarmers and Woolies grasp over so much of the nation’s product mix through their different retail outlets could even be challenged.

The term generation flux is being used a lot at the moment. With this type of technology available, the name seems to be very apt to what is occurring around us.

This all may seem a little “pie in the sky”, but shifts start somewhere. They start with new drivers and in this instance, there is a new opportunity. It is up to individuals now to see how far it can go.


Paul