Be afraid. Be very afraid. Or salivate at the opportunity.
A revolution is coming. A manufacturing revolution like nothing seen in history. Far more of an impact than Ford’s creation of flow production and the effects of Toyota’s lean manufacturing genius. The first few years of the internet era have created incredible change… but this revolution has only just begun. During the next decade or two the manufacturing world, and business in general, will witness a cataclysmic change.
Thomas Friedman’s new book, The World Is Flat, describes how digital technologies have broken down trade, economic, geographical, and political barriers… in effect flattening the world. When you combine a new leveled playing field with new business practices for an interconnected world, and the masses of people who have never been allowed or capable to compete or collaborate before, you have the recipe for a revolution.
That’s the people side… millions of people, hungry to compete and innovate, being unleashed onto the business world. But there are technological factors as well… and not just the potential of the internet.
A couple weeks ago we told you about Fab, by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. The book describes the "personal fabrication revolution" driven by the unique manufacturing cells created by Gershenfeld’s group. Combining rapid prototyping, stereolithography, machining center, and even PC-board manufacturing into a single integrated and portable cell, these mini-manufacturing operations let relatively untrained people create almost anything, anywhere. This is not a future concept… it already exists. These cells have already been sent to remote areas of the world where, for example, shepherds are manufacturing radio tracking devices for their goats.
As Gershenfeld put it, you can "build almost anything, anywhere." Mass customization… potentially right next door to your customer. And what’s next? A production cell that can make almost anything anywhere… that can replicate itself. Think about that.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies has taken a look into the future and identified what it calls the "Seven Revolutions" which will impact our world by 2025. These revolutions are:
- Population growth is slowing quickly, but disproportionately. Russia, for example, is losing over 2,000 people a day, while the population of Indonesia could surpass that of the United States.
- Food, water, and energy resource consumption will double.
- Computational power will continue to grow, and there will be radical innovations in genomics and nanotechnology. CSIS specifically mentions nanotechnology has having the potential to revolutionize the manufacturing process.
- The maturing of the information economy and knowledge diffusion.
- Economic integration across geopolitical boundaries.
- Armed conflict will become more assymetric and information-based.
- Corporations will become more powerful than many countries and global organizations. Already 42 of the 100 largest economic entities are corporations.
So there you have it. Millions of people suddenly allowed to compete and collaborate across virtually non-existent boundaries. Production cells that can allow virtually anyone to make almost anything, anywhere. New technologies, such as nanotechnology, that will create new products and change how we make them.
How will we compete in this brave new world? What will competition be if global entities are powerful… but product delivery decentralized to even the most remote corners of the world? Or will we simply evolve to capitalize on completely new opportunities?
The 2006 annual conference of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence will focus on the upcoming revolution. The CSIS study has even become part of their planning activities. This could really be an eye-opening event. Right now they are running a special where if you register for the 2005 Conference, you can register for the 2006 Conference for half price.
Be afraid? But think of the opportunity…