There’s a new vanguard creating the future of the U.S. manufacturing economy. Companies like MakerBot, TechShop and Kickstarter are playing a large part in fixing the breakdown between historical industrialized employment and manufacturing models, which people still depend on for work, and the more flat and networked world in which we now live. Part of this interrogation into the industrial manufacturers of tomorrow needs to involve looking at assumptions about financing and the actual mechanics of manufacturing. Fundamental assumptions need to be reformatted in a new way to win.
At my company, Local Motors, we have a saying: If you want to make local big, you have to make big local. If we bring manufacturing of big hardware (home appliances, vehicles) within 100 miles of the most densely populated areas in the world, we can not only rapidly meet those communities’ needs, but we can increase the pace of product innovation, both while creating meaningful local jobs.
I spent three years in China where companies like Foxconn built huge cities that can make any small hardware device – anything that fits in a shoebox. It’s easy to produce, easy to warehouse and inexpensive to ship. But if you want to produce large consumer goods, you’ve got few places to go and even fewer places to go for capital. The tools and parts don’t ship well, they are expensive, and the cost of mistakes can be very high.
The good news is, we’re developing an ecosystem around entrepreneurial endeavors that is leading us into the third Industrial Revolution.
A Quick History Lesson
The steam-powered Spinning Jenny, followed by the petroleum-powered version, led the first Industrial Revolution. If James Hargreaves hadn’t invented the Spinning Jenny, we wouldn’t be wearing the clothes we have today. Henry Ford led the second Industrial Revolution in the 20th Century with large assembly-line factories being built on a mass economy of scale. This second industrial revolution was refined by Toyota’s Kaizen process of continuous improvement and, later, lean manufacturing and Six Sigmaprocess control.
The third Industrial Revolution is what I call a product of the very recent Internet-applied-to-things (not the overused phrase Internet of Things). More specifically, it is applied to three things: access to information at unprecedented speeds, reductions in the cost of professional tools and meaningful legal protections.