P2P Foundation's blog

Researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices


    Sites/Publications


    Bookmarks

    More in Diigo »

    Books


    Free Software, Free Society

    Community


Admin


Featured Book

“Stop, Thief!” – Peter Linebaugh's New Collection of Essays


Open Calls


Mailing List

Subscribe

Translate

  • Recent Comments:

    • Elias Crim: Brilliant, timely and much needed. I do hope this letter will draw a good deal of attention!

    • Keith: Re-posted and shared https://medium.com/p/ca78e03a9 664

    • John Medaille: This is no more than a call to the Church to return to the role it had before the State displaced the Church in the regulation of...

    • Eimhin: “…projecting on to the English riots of 2011 a political motivation that simply wasn’t there.” I want to comment on this...

    • Ellie Kesselman: I retract every bad thought I’ve had about the P2P Foundation, most recently about some of the more Blue Sky aspects of...

The Third Industrial Revolution Won’t Be As Easily Coopted as the Second

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th June 2013


The new technologies of abundance, by their very nature, thwart the enforcement of state-imposed artificial scarcity. The present corporate-state order, exhausted and bankrupted from the sheer cost of subsidizing inefficiency and protecting it against competition against the superiority of free cooperative labor, has reached the breaking point. It is a dying system.

Republished from Kevin Carson:

“In the late 19th century, the decentralizing potential of the Second Industrial Revolution — the introduction of electrical power into industry — was a common theme in social analysis.

The idea was that electrical power was destroying the technical rationale for large factories. The main reason for the Dark Satanic Mills of the First Industrial Revolution was to economize on power. The prime movers that powered industrial machinery — typically steam engines or water wheels — were very large and expensive, so it made sense to concentrate as many machines as possible in one building and power them all with belts running to a central drive shaft.

The electric motor eliminated this imperative. Since you could build a prime mover into each machine, it became economical to site it near the point of consumption and then scale its output to fit demand. The ideal production model for taking full advantage of this new technology’s potential would be craft production in small shops using general-purpose electrical machinery to produce for the local market on a lean, just-in-time basis — in other words, what job shops in places like Italy’s Emilia-Romagna district do today.

The liberatory, decentralizing potential of electrical power was the theme of works like Pyotr Kropotkin’s “Fields, Factories and Workshops,” which envisioned a world of small-scale relocalized industry integrated into village economies with raised-bed intensive horticulture. To repeat, this would have been the most natural use of electrically powered machinery — what Lewis Mumford called the “Neotechnic” revolution, in contrast to the Paleotechnic Era of coal, steam, iron and Dark Satanic Mills.

(The Paleotechnic Era itself — the First Industrial Revolution — was of course thoroughly statist in its origins. Its choice of production technologies and industrial focus were determined by the interests behind it: an alliance between the absolute states whose gunpowder armies had suppressed the free towns of the late Middle Ages, the big landed interests who switched to capitalist agriculture and enclosed peasant land, the mining and armaments industries, and the imperial fleets and colonizing corporations that plundered the globe.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Neotechnic Revolution. To make a long story short, the state happened. Neotechnic technologies like electrical power were co-opted and enclosed by the existing economic interests that controlled the state in the U.S., Britain and Germany.

Instead of small, general-purpose machines making a wide variety of products in short runs as orders came in from the local market, electrical machinery was organized according to the mass production system. Large, product-specific machines engaged in long production runs to utilize maximum capacity and minimize the unit costs of the expensive, capital-intensive machinery. And all this was done in giant factories, with machines lined up in endless rows, just like in the Dark Satanic Mills. The new wine of neotechnical industrial technology was poured into the old bottles of paleotechnic institutional structure.

This was only possible because the state intervened to make it economical. Large-batch production in round-the-clock shifts could only be feasible if market areas were large enough, and shipping costs low enough, for the factories to dispose of their output. The whole system could never have come about in the first place in the United States, had not the federal and local governments massively subsidized the creation of the national railroad system and created a unified national market with artificially low shipping costs.

Because of the enormous capital outlays required for mass-production machinery, and the imperative of utilizing capacity to amortize those capital investments, it was also necessary to create political and social mechanisms for guaranteeing the entire output would be consumed. This mean cartels based on patents and other forms of regulation to stabilize control of industry in the hands of a few big producers, so that they could use monopoly pricing to pass the costs of idle capacity on to the consumer. It meant the use of mass consumer credit (and debt) to increase aggregate demand. It meant a planned obsolescence model which relied on the patent system to criminalize generic spare parts and design for interoperability, and on the schools and other organs of cultural reproduction to stigmatize homemade goods, conservation and reuse as “old-fashioned” and even “un-American.” And it meant, finally, direct state action to utilize idle productive capacity when all else failed, through things like building the civil aviation system and the Interstate Highway System, or the permanent war economy we’ve had since about 1940.

By all these means, the state and the coalition of interests that controlled it were able to stave off the threat liberatory technologies posed to their centralized power. The Second Industrial Revolution, which offered to destroy the factory system, free labor from the domination of capital, destroy decentralize production to the neighborhood and village, and abolish the divisions between both town and country and hand-work and brain-work, was instead co-opted into the institutional framework of the First Industrial Revolution. The technology that should have destroyed the old system of power was instead harnessed to serve it.

There are many today who fear that the big players in the corporate economy will enclose the technologies of the Third Industrial Revolution — based on micromanufacturing technology and networked communications — the same way their great-grandfathers enclosed those of the Second. Hilary Wainright (“Peer-to-peer production and the coming of the commons,” Social Network Unionism, September 2, 2012) asks, what is to prevent distributed, peer-to-peer production technologies from being integrated into capitalism, rather than replacing it? “…[I]f the most intelligent predator companies are already exploiting commons production, what is to stop the corporations from fencing this commons in?”

In this nightmare scenario, corporate assembly lines full of 3D printers churn out goods, billionaires and cowboy CEOs get even richer — and millions fall victim to technological unemployment.

And make no mistake: The dominant economic interests today would love to do just this.

The new technologies of liberation, if allowed to develop according to their own interior logic, render obsolete the entire material rationale behind the wage system and the factory system, and threaten to destroy corporate power. The factory system and wage system originally came about because of the technological shift from individually affordable, general-purpose craft tools to extremely expensive industrial machinery. Combine this with a state of affairs in which the propertied rich of Britain had already robbed virtually the whole peasantry of its rights in the land with the help of the state, and forcibly converted them into propertyless wage laborers, and you get a system in which only the very rich can afford to buy production machinery, and then hire factory laborers to work it for them.

The revolution in cheap, garage-scale CNC machine tools reverses this shift. The current trend is toward general-purpose machine tools whose most efficient use is in craft production in small shops. Open-source 3-D printers, cutting tables, routers and lathes can be had for $1000 or less apiece. When the cost of a garage “factory” is the equivalent of six months factory wages — how ya gonna keep ‘em down in the factory?

But the dominant economic interests of the day are doing their best to stave off this revolutionary threat by domesticating the new technologies, co-opting them into the existing corporate institutional framework, and enclosing their productive potential as a source of rents. GE’s “Industrial Internet” report is a perfect illustration of their preferred model of the Third Industrial Revolution.

Just imagine a sped-up and Taylorized version of today’s corporate economy, with all production and distribution everywhere integrated into one seamless flow by means of the same technologies Walmart currently uses to track inventory through its “Warehouses on Wheels” wholesale and distribution system.

* INTELLIGENT MACHINES New ways of connecting the word’s myriad of machines, facilities, fleets and networks with advanced sensors, controls and software applications.

* ADVANCED ANALYTICS: Harnessing the power of physics-based analytics, predictive algorithms, automation and deep domain expertise in material science, electrical engineering and other key disciplines required to understand how machines and larger systems operate.

* PEOPLE AT WORK: connecting people, whether they be at work in industrial facilities, offices, hospitals or on the move, at any time to support more intelligent design, operations, maintenance as well as higher quality service and safety.

In GE’s power fantasy, all the digital machine tools are heavily DRMed, the digital designs are proprietary, and “intellectual property” law enables corporations to capture the unprecedented productivity for themselves via 2000% brand-name retail markups rather than passing the savings on to the consumer. Sound familiar?

Perhaps even worse, some members of the Left whose hearts are clearly in the right place nevertheless unwittingly advocate a vision of “progressive” economics that amounts to a greenwashed version of corporate enclosure.

Jeremy Rifkin writes of “a Sustainable Era of Distributed Capitalism” (World Financial Review) in which green, decentralized technologies will provide the basis of a new 21st century industrial boom. Such technologies will lead to long-term economic growth and jobs. The Green Party takes a similarly misguided view, promoting the so-called “Green New Deal” and “Green Jobs” as an agenda for economic growth.

All these people see new technologies like wind farms, smart grids, hydrogen power, high-speed bullet trains and 3D printing as the foundation of a new long-wave cycle of investment of the kind Kondratiev wrote about, in which building a fundamentally new system of infrastructure and rebuilding industrial plant and equipment will soak up surplus investment capital for decades — the same kind of industrial boom generated by building the railroad system and the civil aviation and highway systems.

The problem is that decentralized, ephemeral technologies are by their nature deflationary. They reduce the need for investment capital and for labor. They destroy exchange-value. They do so for the same reason that the replicators in Star Trek: The Next Generation make it impossible to make a profit or earn a wage selling “tea, Earl Grey, hot.” Open-source, garage-scale CNC machine tools reduce the capital outlays for manufacturing by two orders of magnitude. A desktop computer costing a few hundred dollars can do the work of a TV station or newspaper publishing facility costing many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Rifkin, God bless him, says — entirely accurately — that the new technologies will enable each person to be their own manufacturer, power company and media production company. What he fails to realize is that it’s pretty hard to make large amounts of money in an economy like that.

Even in the heyday of mass production, the economy was plagued with a chronic tendency toward having more investment capital than it could find profitable outlets for, and more plant and equipment than it could run at capacity and still dispose of its full product. The recent revolution in ephemeral technologies — technologies that require one, two or more orders of magnitude fewer material inputs to produce the same goods or serve the same function — has accelerated this tendency beyond belief. According to Douglass Rushkoff (“How the Tech Boom Terminated California’s Economy,” Fast Company, July 10, 2009), the implosion of capital outlay costs required for production in the information industries rendered most of the venture capital previously invested in those industries obsolete.

The fact is, most Internet businesses don’t require venture capital. The beauty of these technologies is that they decentralize value creation. Anyone with a PC and bandwidth can program the next Twitter or Facebook plug-in, the next iPhone app, or even the next social network. While a few thousand dollars might be nice, the hundreds of millions that venture capitalists want to–need to–invest, simply aren’t required.

And micromanufacturing technology is doing the same thing to physical production.

“Economic growth” is a perverse metric in which anything that increases the total cost of inputs consumed also increases the value of economic output. It’s essentially a cost-plus accounting system in which the consumption of inputs is by definition a source of value. Corporate management uses the same accounting system, running up enormous administrative costs and sinking billions into ill-advised capital expenditures and then incorporating the bloated overhead cost into the transfer prices of goods “sold” to inventory.

By the same token, anything that reduces the total cost of labor and material inputs required to produce a given standard of living will reduce GDP by the same amount. The natural course of affairs is for the drastic reduction in labor and capital required to produce goods, and the drastic reduction in waste production )like the military-industrial complex, planned obsolescence, the car culture and guard labor), to result in an implosion of nominal GDP.

The natural effect of networked communications technology and ephemeral production technology, therefore, is to shift a major part of economic activity to self-provisioning outside the cash nexus altogether, in the informal and household sector, and to reduce the total cost of the remaining portion of our consumption needs to the point that we can pay for them by working (say) ten or fifteen hours a week.

If such people on the Left should know better, there are others backing the same greenwashed capitalist vision — the Warren Buffets and Bill Gateses of the world — who know exactly what they’re doing. The future of the world, if these people get their way, lies with Buffet’s giant corporate wind farms (linked to distant cities with a heavily subsidized “smart grid”), Microsoft’s proprietary software, and Monsanto’s proprietary biotech.

The new technologies, if left to themselves, would destroy the profits of such people. They would give the rest of us historically unprecedented abundance, independence, leisure, and control over our working lives. This is the natural effect of technologies of abundance in a freed market, when market competition socializes the benefits of innovation and efficiency.

The only way the propertied classes, the rentier classes, can prevent this is by relying on the state to step in and snatch scarcity from the jaws of abundance. The masters of our corporate economy dream of a world in which factories full of 3D printers churn out $2 widgets that sell for $200 at Walmart, farmers have to plant each year’s sterile crop with new genetically engineered seed from Monsanto, and $50 e-books wink out of existence after five readings.

Throughout history, the propertied classes — landlords, usurers, capitalists, state bureaucrats — have used artificial property rights, artificial scarcities and monopolies of all kinds to arbitrarily increase the amount of labor required for us to support ourselves. They have compelled us — as the price of being allowed to produce to feed ourselves — to work hard enough to feed the parasitic rentiers in addition to ourselves.

The paradigmatic example of this is the landlord, who imposes his rule on a population of peasants already peacefully supporting themselves on their own land, and demands rent for “providing” them land to work (i.e., not evicting them from it). Throughout history, they have set up toll gates between us and natural opportunities, between our own labor and the satisfaction of our needs, so as to collect tribute for the “service” of not preventing productive labor.

And that is what they want to do with the new economy of abundance.

Fortunately, as much as they desire this, this time around they can’t have it. The legal monopolies their artificial scarcity rents depend on are becoming unenforceable. What Wikipedia did to Britannica, what the file-sharing movement is doing to the record industry, open-source micromanufacturing will do to corporate industry.

No doubt corporate interests will make a valiant effort to lock their digital design files with “unbreakable” DRM, Congress will mandate the production of 3D printers only with massive built-in safeguards against patent infringement, and circumventing DRM will be massively criminalized. That’s what the record and movie industries already tried to do, with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and subsequent legislation, to stop file-sharing. That worked out great, didn’t it?

The problem is, prohibiting the manufacture of “unauthorized” 3D printer and other machine tool models is a lot easier said and done, when the technology is self-replicating. What happens when a garage factory can churn out new tabletop machine tools, and the people working in it don’t care what the law is? And there’s 50,000 such garage factories, scattered through every neighborhood in America? On top of that, it’s a 100% certainty that CAD/CAM files will be available on torrent download sites, stripped of DRM, on the same day they’re created. The law, as the saying goes, is an ass — and it makes an even bigger ass of itself every day.

The new technologies of abundance, by their very nature, thwart the enforcement of state-imposed artificial scarcity. The present corporate-state order, exhausted and bankrupted from the sheer cost of subsidizing inefficiency and protecting it against competition against the superiority of free cooperative labor, has reached the breaking point. It is a dying system.”

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditShare

7 Responses to “The Third Industrial Revolution Won’t Be As Easily Coopted as the Second”

  1. Patrick S Says:

    As usual, Kevin makes some very strong points, but as usual, I feel he also tends to overstate his anarcho-libertarian case in a few places in a way that I feel deserves a (hopefully not over-long) response.

    I do agree with aspects of his core proposition, in line with P2P thinking more generally, that new tech and modes of production both supports and makes feasible a more decentralised, open, resource-efficient economy :- and we should change both ‘the state’ and ‘the corporation’ as a result to speed and encourage this.

    But to imply that once the big bad State is out of the way, it’ll all be rosy and market competition will produce things effectively and efficiently is a big over-simplification in my view. A few aspects:-

    First: a more realistic critique of the political-economy of high technology:- yes, the internet infrastructure, and existing software tools (many of them open source) as a large networked society-wide investment, reduces the cost and delays of startup companies to individuals. And yes, theoretically anyone around the world, and in some cases innovation has happened from developing countries, can take advantage of it. But this ignores 2 things :- ‘agglomeration economies’, whereby even with the internet, innovation still happens often in prosperous regions, with stable governance and idea exchanges, large universities, critical masses of educated, ambitious, and sufficiently economically secure people to take risks and think big.

    And second:- all the criticism of monopoly IP does tend to hide the fact that good ideas and systems do need time and hard work, funded _somehow_, to bring them into existence. This may not cost a lot of _physical_ capital, but to turn a software project from a cool startup idea with a few users, to a real big workable platform in our current economy with a polished UI and stability :- takes the _time_ of smart, well-fed, well-paid engineers. Yes, Twitter, Facebook etc may employ way less than General Motors, but they all employ now 10K+ smart IT people, and that costs real dough. I’m keen on Open Source and can see how it challenges these economics, in some cases very successfully :- but in others not, as Nokia’s loss of the Phone OS wars with their more genuinely open-source Maemo showed.

    My point here? (a) The state is very big in funding high-tech innovation historically. Even if it doesn’t appear so in the case of the innovative garage programmer, they got to that point via an education, food, transport, communication system that was at least in part state funded, in all developed countries in the world today.
    (b) If we want to help shift the balance from the Googles and FBs of the world to small-scale distributed production and still keep a decent standard of living, I think it’ll take more than fighting over-reaching IP laws and state complicity in monopolies. It’ll also require supporting a strong and explicit _commons_ of health, food, transport to support the self-provisioning of groups using new tech etc.

    I guess an anarchist-libertarian P2P-ist like Kevin would argue that this necessary ‘commons’ of sustenance and re-producion would still manifest in his desired stateless future. Perhaps because people would probably all have some share of the surplus via small-scale local cooperatives earning value in a market economy? And secondly, that any necessary extra coordination and commons provisioning (which he would probably see as small) would occur via non-coercive, democratically agreed local arrangements?

    Whereas, as a more social-democratic P2P-ist, I have a problem with this and see several flaws.
    1) I’m less convinced than the market always does a better job than collective (state) approaches to provisioning of services, both in terms of social justice and economic efficiency. I see flaws in all approaches, but it seems in areas like healthcare and education, given the history of the 20th C and relatively good performance of scandinavian welfare states in particular, and the bad outcomes of neoliberalism on the working class in so many countries, the burden of proof is on the ‘marketeers’, of whatever stripe, that their system can be both better and acceptably just.
    2) While appreciating the value and effectiveness of markets in certain ways, I’m a lot more concerned with ‘market failures’ than a libertarian P2P-ist. For example, even without state support of monopolies, isn’t there always an interest in a strongly market-based society to grow businesses and destroy competitors, leading to oligopolies over time? Even with periodic tech disruption, I think this is a problem and will lead to strong inequalities etc, unless opposed/regulated by some counter-force.
    3) From a moral-ecological view, a too strong “market society” also concerns me. I.E. I align markets with continual aggressive competition, accumulation of goods & status. I’d admit that these are all fundamental parts of human nature and can’t be wished away, but my point is that unlike Adam Smith, I disagree that if a market society constantly encourages these traits, then it’ll always redound to the public good. In fact, as per Polanyi, I think we still need a strong counter-movement to the Market Culture, and in at least the medium term see a more democratised state, with some level of Commons-provision via taxation, as a necessary part of this.
    4) A particular version of the above issue is a deep concern with markets’ abilities to deal with pressing global environmental issues. Both because of their failure to “price” abstract yet crucial issues of water use from aquifers, atmosphere pollution etc – and because it seems any market-based business has an interest in fostering a culture of continuous consumption and status-competition not well suited to a need for greater modesty, constraint, and care for common goods and resources. How are these issues going to be dealt with without some kind of instrument of collective concern which actually has real power, I.E. some form of State?

    Still, its always good to learn a new perspective and engage in respectful debates, and providing a venue for such is the great thing about this site. E.g., perhaps I’m missing that if the nature of Corporations was fundamentally transformed (as discussed by Tellus Institute), a market-libertarian P2P society would start to look something a lot more like I’d be happy with?

    And I’d like to engage more with Elinor Ostrom’s later work arguing we need more multi-level commons regulation, and can’t rely on global government agreements.

    On the other hand, perhaps Michel’s idea of a ‘Partner State’, once more decentralised, democratised and oriented more towards supporting space for P2P self-provisioning :- starts to look quite a bit like the kind of local town-hall participatory democracy of which a Kropotkin, Murray Bookchin or Kevin Carson would approve, or at least tolerate ;) ?

    I see Gar Alperovitz’s new book has just come out – whatthenmustwedo.org/ – and seems to explore this kind of ground quite a bit. Maybe a good one to feature an excerpt from or interview with on the blog soon?

  2. Michel Bauwens Says:

    great response, I will republish it as an independent piece on the 25th as well!

    I mostly agree, since I also do not believe in market absolutism,

    Michel

  3. Brian Hanley Says:

    I worked on automation of factories, on automation of distribution centers. The central thesis of this article is false. It is predicated on acceptance of the blue-sky idea that what made large factories exist in one location was that simplistic analysis of physical connection of machinery to power source.

    Consider a city. You can use exactly the same logic against cities. And yet, cities continue to exist and grow – most people would immediately see the problem with this idea applied to cities. Everything we consume, from food and clothing to materials for building homes to locations we junk our cars – all follows laws of distribution efficiency.

    A modern automobile is made of upwards of 25,000 parts. Those parts have to come together with precise coordination, to the right spot at just the right time in order manufacture a car. You simply cannot do it any other way. Subassemblies bought from suppliers, from tires to raw steel for the stamping dies has to get there.

    Maunfacturing is a combination of things: Expertise in operating the manufacturing facility – because everything that can go wrong will; Transportation – materials have to come in, and product and waste has to go out; Machinery; Logistics planning; Engineering – of the product itself – on a typical day in an automobile plant over 100 engineering changes to the vehicles being built are made; Labor. Labor is the hardest thing to get a handle on in the system, because it is so many things.

    Read a couple of books that are the best I know of to understand manufacturing today.

    Those books are: KANBAN: Just In Time at Toyota. www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9780915299485
    Zero Quality Control: Source Inspection and the Poka-Yoke System www.amazon.com/Zero-Quality-Control-Inspection-Poka-Yoke/dp/0915299070

    Most people who discuss manufacturing have no clue what they are talking about. These two books will educate you better than anything else available.

  4. Brian Hanley Says:

    You can hear echoes of the kind of pie-in-the-sky ideas about electricity in today’s world. Tune in on conversations about 3-D printers, for instance. You will hear predictions of the death of modern manufacturing, etc. It’s the same sort of logic, and equally incorrect.

    Yes, for very narrow sectors, you might see a little manufacturing. The success of home printers is legendary. But think about the evolution of that and the extreme simplicity of printing. What did it take to successfully create machines that would print words on paper for the home?

    But in general? Those who make such predictions are universally people that have never had to operate or participate in operating a manufacturing facility.

    You see, it is not just a matter of making it work. People (particularly economists) think of manufacturing as static, like a flour mill or a sawmill. But in the real world, manufacturing is extremely dynamic. It has to shift, retool, modify constantly. This fact has been the bane of so many CIM (computer integrated manufacturing) efforts.

    Apple, 15 years ago, had showpiece automated factories building its computers. They were state of the art. And what did Steve Jobs do when he took over Apple? He killed them. He killed them because he knew that the name of the game is dynamism, flexibility.

    This curious reality is why human labor remains absolutely critical to manufacturing. Nothing is as flexible, as able to reconfigure, as capable of coming together quickly to perform a new set of tasks as human beings are. In the books above, you will read about things like ‘change of die’ time and how that revolutionized manufacturing at Toyota. These simple things, but a myriad of them, constantly being refined, improved, streamlined, is the beating heart of manufacturing.

    So there is a crucial human component to it also. People come together and create a cultural phenomenon that either works well, or the system breaks down and the facility dies. This too, is an aspect of why large manufacturing facilities, like large cities, are not going away.

  5. Bob Haugen Says:

    I worked in manufacturing for many years as well, in a variety of roles from machine operator to software developer.

    I agree with everything Brian Hanley wrote, but wanted to add a couple of flips:

    The Toyota Production System in a lot of ways was a P2P system, which delegated control of the production streams to the people running the nodes. It proved to be more efficient than the US MRPII and ERP systems, which were “push” or command-and-control systems. Later, Toyota adopted more planning and US auto companies, especially parts manufacturers, adopted variations on pull systems.

    I also agree about the human component and flexibility. I worked in one plant with workstations on wheels, where production lines could be reconfigured in a minute or two. The planned the work by writing the jobs on cards and dealing them out on a table with the line leads, who took the cards they wanted until they were all gone.

  6. Patrick S Says:

    @Brian, I think you make some really good points here, good for a manufacturing expert to weigh in on this debate. I’m coming at this mostly from an urban planning angle, but perhaps my points about the need for “agglomeration” economies is similar to yours about the complexity of manufacturing?

    Having said that – aren’t you selling the 3D printing / micromanufacturing movement a bit short – just the same as you claim others have done for traditional manufacturing?

    I.E. it’s not like 3D printing enthusiasts with any degree of nuance are claiming we’re going to get to a Star-Trek like replicator situation any time soon. Rather, what we’re seeing is “Maker Labs” – where often highly trained, enthusiastic people, get together to share ideas, skills, and work on small-scale production- and where presumably, re-configuring the machines on-the-fly is a big part of the process. (And this is I think one of Kevin C’s original points – the “Open Source” nature of the technology is one of its strengths, that should be protected from the urge to proprietary-isation by big players).

    So the new technology still happens in cities using a mix of capital, human labour, raw parts, human skill, networks, information :- but in theory at least, with less of the first 3 and using more of the latter two.

    So I think we have to ask whether this is (a) feasible, and (b) a “good thing”, esp if you’re from a left/progressive persuasion and actually try to give a crap about the fate of factory workers who would be displaced.

    Either way its an important debate :- e.g. here in Melbourne, Australia, I’m interested in a couple of trends:
    a) a further steady de-industrialisation and loss of our complex manufacturing industries like automobile production;
    b) increasing import of consumer technologies and concern about logistics / transport having -ve social and environmental effects on our urban areas

    and I’m wondering if encouraging Maker labs and micro-manufacturing could play some beneficial role in addressing both of these. Or is this just “pie in the sky” as you suggest?

    I’m thinking of getting a speaker from one of the local Maker Labs to speak at a TED Cities event in late September – will post the link here if this happens (www.thecity2.org/).

    It looks like there are already a range of interesting perspectives posted on the P2P Foundation Wiki:
    p2pfoundation.net/?search=3d+printing&title=Special%3ASearch

  7. Brian Says:

    @Patrick S. Well, I think the 3D printing/micromanufacturing movement has some fundamental problems that I discussed. Few items can be completely manufactured with 3D printing. So those manufacturers will run up against exactly the same problems that any other manufacturing does. For some things, like small custom metal work, we have long supported a micromanufacturing infrastructure. But we don’t typically call that micro-manufacturing. We call them craftsmen.

    Even for them, we have the same issue. For instance, if I want to have a custom part made at a machine shop, there are a couple of places I can go. I can go to OMW in San Rafael, or to a shop in Sacramento. The OMW facility has lots of machines. They can do almost anything in metal or plastic. They are hi-tech, flexible. They can do just about anything. In Sacramento, the shop has a bunch of machinists who operate independently. They share some equipment, and they can do a lot of stuff. Show them a part, they can duplicate it. Bring them a broken assembly, they can take it apart, make replacements and fix it.

    The Sacramento shop is fairly large. That brings them lots of work, and they are located in an industrial area where there is a lot happening. OMW has grown, and their capabilities are very good. A shop like OMW would be a good bet for 3-D printing. For them, it would be just another machine in their arsenal to get the job done.

    But neither manufactures a product on a regular basis.

    When you talk about 3-D printing, you have to get into the nitty-gritty details.
    1. What items, exactly are you going to produce?
    2. What are the complete parts lists for each item? What is the reorder point? What is the lead time? From that you calculate the inventory on hand you need.
    3. What is the source for each part? How will it be shipped?
    4. How will you receive your parts? Where exactly?
    5. What is the precise assembly plan for the item? This is no small thing. You have to map it out completely.
    5.a. Map out precise movement of parts to their point of installation in your item.
    5.b. Exactly where and how will each part be handled to optimize its availability to the assembler?
    6. How will you monitor and test?
    7. Where will you hold your inventory prior to shipment?
    8. Will you package it as part of manufacturing? Or later?
    9. How will you move it out of your facility? How will it be shipped to customer?

    There is more. But you should start to get the picture. There is a lot more to making something than printing a part.

    Here is another way of putting it.

    Would you think that micromanufacturing was going to take off because of metal stamping machines?
    How about CNC machines? Both of those have been available for decades. Both of those take roughly the same skill level to operate (if you want good parts coming out) as a 3-D printer does.

    You can buy an inexpensive CNC machine these days for a few thousand dollars. Have been able to 10 years. And yet micromanufacturing using CNC machines hasn’t happened. Why?

    Answer that and you understand why micromanufacturing using 3-D printers is just another tool.

    PS – I had to change my info because the system wouldn’t let me post. It said I was posting too fast. I presume because of my typing speed. Or something.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>