I blogged about the Maker Movement — that movement aiming to disrupt the physical world in ways reminiscent of what is going on in the digital world. New technologies that let artisans and entrepreneurs create physical products, personalized to express their creativity, at much cheaper cost also mean that customers will be able to imagine and expect more variety and personalized manufactured products. The synthesis of customer expectations that do not need to be compromised along with the artisan instinct to not have to compromise could spark a creative and entrepreneurial blossoming such as we have not seen.
Peter Marsh in the FT has an interesting essay from which I excerpt below:
Manufacturers have always faced one problem, however: how to make complicated and novel items accurately in small quantities. The struggle has been to accommodate the opposing aims of speed and efficiency on one hand, and flexibility and variety on the other.
The emergence of “personalised manufacturing” promises to resolve the contradiction. Using computerised designs, techniques such as three-dimensional printing will enable businesses based in Birmingham or Belize to make complicated parts for products from forklift trucks to space rockets that could be assembled virtually anywhere. Customer choice over how the artefacts look will increase, with only minimal compromise concerning quality or cost.
This development places the world on the brink of the fifth era for manufacturing: “mass personalisation”. In 3D printing – also called “additive manufacturing” – machines based on advances in electronics, laser technology and chemistry build up complex shapes from granules of plastics or metal.
“It adds up to a new industry which reduces immensely the gap between design and production,” says Ian Harris, from the Additive Manufacturing Consortium, a US-based industry think-tank. “Manufacturers will be able to say to their customers, ‘Tell us what you want’ and then they will be able to make [specific products] for them.”
Mass personalisation opens the door to a period of much deeper creativity. Big and small companies will find the inherent restrictions of the interchangeable parts system that began in Venice start to melt away.