Eric Hunting writes:
The intermediate level of industrial demassification that is underway today and not necessarily dependent upon open source technology or peer-to-peer activity, creates a fertile ground for the immediate future and drives the complementary trend in the miniaturization of machine tools
One of the key underlying trends that we see as supporting the emergence of peer production in the physical world, is the ‘distribution’ of production capacity, i.e. lower capital requirements and modularisation making possible more decentralized and localized production, which may eventually be realized through the free self-aggregation of producers.
In this context, Nathan Cravens has launched a collective document, which proposes to create a roadmap to achieve what he calls Mutually Assured Production. The working draft is located here and Nathan reports, I’m happy to hear that, that our appeal has generated 17 co-authors.
The appeal is already generating a little buzz at our Ning community space and Eric Hunting has just published an informed reaction which I think bears refracting in our blog as well.
He explains how distributed manufacturing is already in many ways a reality, in particular through the practice of contract manufacturing.
“Industrial ecologies are precipitated by situations where traditional industrial age product development models fail in the face of very high technology development overheads or very high demassification in design driven by desire for personalization/customization producing Long Tail market phenomenon. A solution to these dilemmas is modularization around common architectural platforms in order to compartmentalize and distribute development cost risks, the result being ‘ecologies’ of many small companies independently and competitively developing intercompatible parts for common product platforms -such as the IBM PC.
Increasingly, we see today the design of many kinds of durable goods shifting away from monolithic architectures and their manufacturers shifting away from sole-ownership of production capacity. Sometimes this is intentional, sometimes it occurs when products become platforms by default through the emergence of after-market competition driven by the desire for customization and service. (as was nearly the case with the Volkswagen Beetle but suppressed by VW for lack of comprehension of the nature of the market phenomenon their product had produced) Production is increasingly contract-based and a growing number of ‘manufacturers’ don’t actually manufacture anything. They just contract. This has produced a dual global trend in demassification and generalization (still across certain product sectors) of manufacturing capacity that has now produced a situation where the volume of consumer goods now produced by contract manufacture exceeds that produced by traditional factories.
The more vertical the market profile for a product the more this trend penetrates toward production on an individual level due high product sophistication coupled to smaller volumes. In the 90s the aerospace, defense, telecom, and IT industries experienced a phenomenon of engineering entrepreneurial flight, sometimes known as the midnight engineer phenomenon, where lack of job security coupled to cuts in benefits compelled many engineers to abandon corporate employment in favor of entrepreneurship with many becoming contract competitors to their former employers. Competitive contracting regulations in the defense industry (when they’re actually respected…) tend to, ironically, turn many kinds of military hardware into open platforms by default, offering small businesses a potential to compete with larger companies where production volumes aren’t all that large to begin with. Consequently, today we have a situation where key components of some military vehicles and aircraft are produced on a garage-shop production level by companies with fewer than a dozen employees.
All this represents an intermediate level of industrial demassification that is underway today and not necessarily dependent upon open source technology or peer-to-peer activity but which creates a fertile ground for that in the immediate future and drives the complementary trend in the miniaturization of machine tools.”