November 23, 2012

The New Industrial Revolution? When Did That Happen?

It's happening right now, according to Wired's chief editor, Chris Anderson. When was the last time you saw an army of drafters hunched over tables using T-squares and slide rules to convert ideas and concepts into meaningful images for machine operators to convert raw materials in parts for others to assemble into products?
Well T-squares and slide rules have given way to computer screens and keyboards.  What's more, computers can digitize images into codes and electronically send them to other machines for cutting, bending, welding, or shaping raw materials into parts.  

Okay, but hasn't this been going on for a while? "The biggest transformation is not in the way things are done but in who's doing it," according to Anderson.  In his new book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, he describes how individuals, working in basements and garages, are "using digital tools, designing onscreen, and increasingly outputting to desktop fabrication machines," and, because they're the Web generation, they "instinctively share their creations online."

That wasn't true in the old days. "Because of the expertise, equipment, and costs of producing things on a large scale, manufacturing has been mostly the provenance of big companies and trained professionals."

So, can anyone be a Henry Ford? According to Anderson, "The digital transformation of making stuff is doing more than simply making existing manufacturing more efficient. It's also extending manufacturing to a hugely expanded population of producers--the existing manufacturers plus a lot of regular folks who are becoming entrepreneurs."