Book of the Day: Makers, The New Industrial Revolution

Book: Chris Anderson. Makers, The New Industrial Revolution. 2012

Wired magazine editor and bestselling author Chris Anderson takes you to the front lines of a new industrial revolution as today’s entrepreneurs, using open source design and 3-D printing, bring manufacturing to the desktop. In an age of custom-fabricated, do-it-yourself product design and creation, the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts is about to be unleashed, driving a resurgence of American manufacturing. A generation of “Makers” using the Web’s innovation model will help drive the next big wave in the global economy, as the new technologies of digital design and rapid prototyping gives everyone the power to invent — creating “the long tail of things”.

“explains how today’s hobbyists and tinkerers are turning into entrepreneurs through a series of newly accessible micro-manufacturing techniques like 3-D printers and powerful prototyping tools”. [1]

What happens when DIY meets Web 2.0? In Makers, New York Times bestselling author Chris Anderson reveals how entrepreneurs use web principles to create and produce companies with the potential to be global in scope as well as how they use significantly less in the way of financial resources, tooling, and infrastructure required by traditional manufacturing. Anderson’s unique perspective is that small manufacturing will be a significant source of future growth; that the days of giant companies like General Motors are in their twilight; that in an age of open source, custom-fabricated, and do-it-yourself product design, the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers will be unleashed on global markets.[2]

Interview

Interview conducted by Business without Borders[3]:

Q: What is the new age of American manufacturing?

Anderson: Well, there are really two things going on. The first is a new generation of manufacturing tools, by and large digital fabrications, that are within reach of regular people. They’re desktop manufacturing tools like a personal computer or desktop publishing a decade ago. It’s a suite of tools and technologies that were only available to big manufacturers and factories in the past, but are now available to everybody, relatively inexpensively.

The second thing is simply that the web has created new innovation models. We get to do things together in online collaborations, give away our ideas and form ad hoc communities. We can take everything we’ve learned online over the past 20 years and apply it to the world of manufacturing and physical stuff. It will accelerate innovation much faster than 20 years ago.

Q: When you’re talking about the Maker Movement, are you talking about very small-scale manufacturing?

Anderson: It starts small scale, but it’s a progression from hobbyists and DIY to entrepreneurship, which can scale some very large companies. The first personal computers were for hobbyists, but over time we got them into everyone’s hands, created the web and ended up with the Facebooks and Twitters. It has never been easier to get big, because supply chains are now open to all. You can outsource so much of the production anywhere, so you’re able to move into mass production without going through the process of building your own factory, which is an enabler of growth that wouldn’t have been possible a generation ago.

Q: In the short term are we still dependent on outsourcing production?

Anderson: Yes and no. The desktop manufacturing tools will allow you to prototype and make things on a small scale. Then, when you get into the hundreds and thousands, you might outsource production. But when you get into the tens of thousands, you might bring it back again. It gives you flexibility and control for each market. Because these tools are digital, they lend themselves to automated production. We’ve brought electronics factories and robotics production back from China. Because the process has become so digitized it has resolved the usual disadvantage of doing business here, which is expensive labor.

Q: Can you give me some examples of ventures that typify this new movement?

Anderson: One of the best examples is MakerBots, the 3-D printer company that’s building a facility in Brooklyn, of all places. You would expect the leaders in this area to be leaders in machinery or even industrial printers, like HP or Brother. But MakerBots started as a hobby and last year they raised $10 million dollars to move this to larger-scale production. They find advantages to being in Brooklyn, which includes access to designers and engineers and software developers and marketing. The benefits of that proximity help offset the additional costs of working out of Brooklyn, and contribute to the new American manufacturing model.

Q: Do you have any forecasts for which industries will become the most competitive?

Anderson: I think you have to ask where these new digital tools are having the biggest impact. Electronics are a perfect example, and the automation has gotten so big that you can make these things competitively almost anywhere. Other industries that are coming back are specialty bicycles and automotives. This evening I’m driving down to see the new Tesla plant [in Silicon Valley]. The Tesla [an electric car] is being made in an old GM/Toyota plant that shut down because it wasn’t competitive. When you look at this you have to ask: What changed? The answer is twofold: the manufacturing technology itself changed to be more automated, more flexible and more digital; and the products changed to lend themselves better to that kind of manufacturing. A Tesla is more like a laptop on wheels, and it’s now less about aluminum and more about software. As cars become more like iPods, Americans will become more competitive at making them.

Q: Do you think we’re as attached to physical products as we once were? After all, it was the Internet that revolutionized publishing and not the home printer.

Anderson: Desktop publishing offered the opportunity to be a publisher, but we didn’t do anything very interesting with it – it was mostly church newsletters and missing cat posters. However, it did get people thinking about fonts and page design and layout and the composition of communication. When we did get the capability to touch a button and reach a million people, we used those skills that we learned on a small scale. It was also a bit of a mental leap; something that was previously closed to professionals was now open to anyone. First you have to liberate the technology, then you can make it efficient and worth doing.”