Recently I wrote a blog on how personalization is improving the enterprise software user experience. Personalization is affecting all industries right now as people demand unique experiences in virtually every possible medium, from consumer devices to enterprise applications to the products they use. Manufacturing has embraced personalization too, but now it’s a populist movement, rather than one driven by traditional manufacturing companies.
Consumers, no longer content to use products as their creators intended, are taking matters into their own hands, modifying commercial products to suit their individual needs. Manufacturing is seeing a wave of democratization, decentralization and hyper-personalization that I believe will continue to pick up momentum for the foreseeable future.
This phenomenon began with the Maker Movement. People come together to digitally design and produce their own products using equipment such as high-end sewing machines and CNCs (computer numeric controllers) that were previously available only to an industrial audience. Completely new technology types, such as 3D printers – priced within reach of ordinary consumers —are helping to drive the movement. Often, the designs that result from these projects are freely given by their creators to the community and the world. Do-it-yourself manufacturing is a reality today.
Take Wired editor Chris Anderson, for example. In his 2014 book, “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Anderson talked about the unlikely foray into the world of DIY drones that resulted from trying to impress his kids. He chronicles many examples about how 3D printing has transformed traditional manufacturing and spawned entirely new industries.
Manufacturing has always relied automation and mechanization. That will continue, especially for industries that deliver large, complex products (think airplanes) or millions of units (iPhones, mass-market toys). New opportunities arise for products with smaller scale or scope, especially when manufacturing and services converge to create personalized solutions.
People will now be able to complete the “last mile” of manufacturing. Components will be produced globally and assembled locally. One thing manufacturers are exceptionally good at: squeezing every last penny of waste and inefficiency out of every process. The new production models will do just that.
On the home front, people will begin to buy equipment like CNC machines, 3D printers, and laser cutters, keeping them in the garage for when the urge to fabricate hits. Pick up some plywood at Home Depot, access an open-source home construction kit online and within a few days, a couple of people can put together a house. Or go to your local maker space to access their 3D printer.
Soon, companies like Amazon will no longer even bother to ship you a product. Instead, they will ship the bits, and you will make it yourself at home. This is the StarTrek teleportation machine of the future, except it’s not the future anymore. People are already buying and using these machines. Need a new chair or table? You can find a fabricator and ask them to print it on a 3D printer. There is no command and control anymore. All of this is being done by communities. I have even 3D printed replacement parts for broken toys.
Companies like Shapeways are putting the power of creation directly into people’s hands. Three years after inception they are printing 70,000 unique items made from 30 different types of materials — including gold and silver for jewelry — per month. Many designs are free online. Now, we are all inventors, with not only the power of imagination but the ability to produce it at our fingertips. The implications are mind-boggling. The future of manufacturing is just in time, just in place, just for me.