The Industrial Revolution began in the middle of the 18th century, and has provided an increasingly stable economy ever since. Innovations in mining, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and technology provided jobs and contributed toward a better quality of life around the world. Almost 300 years later, many are questioning whether or not that economic engine has finally quit, but Chris Anderson—author of The Long Tail and Free—sees another revolution occurring.
The manufacturing borne of the Industrial Revolution involves many expensive parts and processes to turn an idea into a product. Once the processes are in place, to make any kind of changes involves time and, most likely, a great deal of capital. In Anderson’s newest book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, he describes a movement where process has a greatly reduced time and cost of production. In this movement, if a product needs to be changed or improved, it’s simply redesigned on a desktop computer, and manufactured with a 3D printer. The cost of these machines continues to decline, the use of the design software is increasingly simple, and the online support and discussion communities are growing, making this movement revolutionary, indeed.
It’s possible that some of you won’t completely understand what I’m talking about. Did you know that there are machines that can “print” edible burritos, “print” wearable swimsuits, “print” useable products in almost every category? If not, you’re not alone, but in Anderson’s opinion, that will change. Similar to innovations in desktop publishing, the Makers movement will soon see consumers thinking up, designing, and manufacturing their own products in every category. Within the next 10 to 15 years, Anderson estimates that these machines will be so affordable that most people will have them in their homes. In Anderson’s words:
Today we are seeing a return to a new sort of cottage industry. Once again, new technology is giving individuals the power over the means of production, allowing for bottom-up entrepreneurship and distributed innovation. Just as the Web’s democratization of the means of production in everything from software to music made it possible to create an empire in a dorm room or a hit album in a bedroom, so the new democratized tools of digital manufacturing will be tomorrow’s spinning jennies. And the guilds they may break may be the very factory model that grew up in Manchester and dominated the past three centuries.
If Anderson is right, it will be an interesting time for entrepreneurs, large manufacturers, and consumers alike. If nothing else, Makers is a fascinating read that takes business theory into the age of The Jetsons, where everything we need is at our fingertips. And if not, we can simply print it.