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I read with great interest the recent special report in The Economist, The future of manufacturing – A third industrial revolution. In particular, as an enterprise collaboration evangelist my interest was piqued by the mention of “social manufacturing”.

Several emerging technologies, including additive manufacturing (3D printing) and social business collaboration (SBC) are being combined with older technologies such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) to dramatically lower the barriers to entry and enable innovations in products, services and business models that will disrupt the broader manufacturing industry.

Hacking is no longer solely the domain of software enthusiasts. The open source movement has expanded from software to product design. As the price of 3D printers has declined the prospects for artisans producing low volume, highly customized solutions have increased. While 3D printing adds the WOW factor, it is SBC enabled collaboration that will really drive the revolution. And I think that we will see the balance of market power shift from larger to smaller players.

Imagine for a moment your local hardware store or plumber, equipped with 3D printers, printing a spare part on-demand, essentially never running out of stock. It is the access to open source designs through a networked community of interest that really makes this scenario work. Many of theses folks will be self-taught or on a second career. They will need the help of like minded enthusiasts to iron out the inevitable bugs and maintain a complex integrated tool set. I have every confidence that a growing number will be successful and that we will see evidence of the change sooner than we think.

It has been said that the grass roots organizing skills of social movements in the sixties, such as the civil rights and anti-war movements, were critical to the success of women’s, environmentalism and human rights movements that followed. More recently, social scientists are rethinking their theories of social movements to incorporate the impact of the Internet and to understand the forces that are enabling the emergence of thousands of transnational non-governmental organizations (NGO’s).

I believe that we are seeing a parallel to the evolution of social movements in the emergence of social manufacturing as a viable form of enterprise. The free  collaboration tools available to individuals outside of large enterprises, such as LinkedIn, Facebook or the range of tools from Google, are in many ways superior to the tools available to those inside large enterprises. The advantage that large enterprises have with respect to the access to critical resources are rapidly being overcome.

I hope to play an important role in the third industrial revolution. What are your plans?

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