Micro-Manufacturing: A Revolution Begins

Mill

Social manufacturing is upon us, and it has transformed manufacturing from macro-factories to micro-factories.  The new Google DRIVE  will be a part of it, since only robust and readily accessible Cloud Storage makes it possible.  Manufacturing no longer requires great smoking urban factories filled with laborers in coveralls.  In the new era of micro-manufacturing and crowdsourcing everyone has become a piece worker, since each of us, alone with computer access, could make the individual modular bits that robots will then assemble into the great things, enormous material things, of titanium, steel, glass and polycarbonates.  Because robots need no schools or homes or spouses or food stores, the assembly plants will not spawn dense cities but will likely be built where land and energy are cheap. Good bye forever enormous smokey industrial cities of the past. Small and rural is the new big in manufacturing.

The coalescence of a variety of technologies and economic instruments has made it possible for the emergence of a new variety of super etsy cubed:  The home office factory worker.

Build an ocean liner from home or in a library cubicle if you live on the street.  Just code the part you want to sell and send it to a 3-D printer in the ocean liner robotic assembly plant.  Each piece can be made individually with unique specs, if needed, by millions of individual people: a million pieces, a million workers, for a custom ship assembled by robot servos and hydraulics rather than human muscle and sweat.  It hasn’t yet been fully realized but it is only months away.

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The Economist has been covering this ongoing revolution in manufacturing since at least February 2011 with their cover article, “Print me a Stradivarius” and then again they took a broader view and described the micro-manufacturing revolution in a Special Report, The third industrial revolution.   Then came an issue on Robot Ethics detailing the problems and benefits of the interactions between humans and machines.  This video describing robotic engines of war and roads is particularly trenchant:

Morals and the Machine

The era of micro-manufacturing is being built on a platform of cloud storage and mobile computing.  Add billions of people in a struggling world economy, and a unified mobile workforce of geographically separate individuals emerges. This international throng of workers gives new meaning to “e pluribus unum.”   The tools of the revolution are Additive Manufacturing, Computer Assisted Design (CAD), Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), Robot assembly lines, Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding.  If you can dream it, you can fund it–and hire out the workforce to build it in some robotic factory where you may never even touch it.   The line between dreams and reality is no more.  I had a dream I built a rocket…oh wait, I did build a rocket!

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The personal web site will be as necessary for a micro-worker to make a livelihood in the next decade as autos and public transportation are today.  Our web addresses will be where we advertise our abilities and where we design and manufacture the material object that will be “printed” anywhere across the world.  We are entering an era where the web designer will be king and factory labor will be done from home using Computer Aided Manufacturing, with or without periodic streaming video feeds of clean factory floors.  But for most of the time the robots will work with the lights out, perpetually in darkness nearly every moment of every day.  The mill hunky and the “days since last accident” charts are gone, thank God.  The new laborers will be certified  in CAM and CAD.  Of course there will still be a few necessary jobs for the hands-on factory laborer.   Who else will replace a burned out electric switch or patch that rare leak in a hydraulic line somewhere?  But all the heavy lifting and skilled labor will be done by robots, micro-managed by human laborers miles away, maybe even lounging on the beach from a new Google Tablet.

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This is the first in a periodic series of blogs dedicated to describing the micro-manufacturing revolution and its impact on web designers and web hosting as it unfolds.  It is the story of the marriage of social media and robots building things.  It is about the dawning of the age of Etsy.


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