Instant Manufacturing Manifesto
By Chris Daisy
I’ve been an industrial designer for about seven years now and I’ve been a musician for much longer. Lately, after doing some thinking about both industries; I’ve come to realize that there are many costs and environmental problems related to the manufacturing and distribution of everyday objects that can be solved using the mp3 (sort of). I know that sounds weird, so let me start with a little back story.
In the early 1990’s, I had a rock and roll band, just like thousands of other teenagers and twentysomethings across the world. In those days, computers did not have CD burners built into them and it would be years before this was common. If you wanted to make a CD for your band, you had to buy at least one thousand copies. It was quite expensive to do this, and it often ended with nine hundred and fifty copies collecting dust in your parent’s garage. Getting a recording contract was a nearly impossible task because it was a simple matter of money. A record company had to manufacture the product ahead of time and have it shipped across every corner of the country. Because they had something like a 95% failure rate among the artists they signed, there are millions of copies of broken dreams sitting in a landfill that have a half life of 100,000 years.
Now fast forward to 2010. The music industry is a shell of its former self. The brick and mortar mega music chains are history - all because of the mp3. I believe that the manufacturing and distribution of many products can follow a similar model, and it would change everything.
My new band is called Power of Time and we make dark sounding psychedelic rock music. If you are curious, here’s the link: Facebook - log in or sign up. These days I can use a service like Tunecore or Reverb Nation to sell my music on itunes and other online retailers. We keep all the royalties and make seventy cents on the dollar. If we get out there and hustle, and find 100,000 people who like the music we’re making and are willing to purchase one song, we make $70,000. Ca-ching!
You can bet your guitar strings I’ll be recording an album and posting it ASAP! The best part is, after the recording costs are done, which by the way are cheaper than ever with modern technology, the band doesn’t have to sink any more money into hard product. Instead, we need to expose the music to as many people as possible. We don’t need a record company, we need a marketing company!
To emulate this situation in the world of hard and soft goods, we need a new machine. Currently, there are rapid prototyping machines that read computer files, and literally grow a part using different methods depending on the material. Right now, it is too slow and expensive to make a full production run of parts using this method. But it isn’t the machine’s fault entirely. It’s the production run itself.
Imagine if we took a machine that does 3D printing. These already exist and are dropping in price every year. But let’s take it up a notch. Let’s make it a “color” printer so to speak. Imagine a multi nozzle version that in one swipe can lay down tiny amounts of materials with properties similar to plastic, metal and glass. These materials can be fused together at such a small level that they will effectively become bonded together while they are being made. No separate parts. No assembly lines because there is no assembly. A single tube can change from what looks and acts like metal, to glass, to plastic, to fabric if you wanted it to. What if the material changes in smooth gradients all the way down the length of the tube? You can’t make everything in the world using this type of machine, but think about what you could make. The design world would be turned on its ear with new possibilities.
Now imagine a large factory full of machines like this. Imagine a new manufacturing company builds a network of identical factories near every major city in the country-in several countries. A factory like this would have the capability to manufacture identical items across the network, on a made to order level.
Right now if you want to make widgets, you need to find a factory that can make them. You have to put up a large sum of money, and you have to order a large amount of them to offset the cost of making them. Then you have to ship them, store them, and ship them off again when you get an order. It reminds me of the music industry back in the 90’s. Soooo last century.
If a large corporation opened this network of factories, they could charge a small business or individual for manufacturing a copy of their product anywhere in the world. Now the business no longer has to stockpile items. They don’t have to buy cardboard boxes and filler material to ship items in. By keeping the item made to order, there is very little wasted material. Since the factory is close to the city the product was bought in, the item can be delivered to the store in an electric vehicle. Oil consumption will drop. The only thing that needs to be delivered in a more traditional sense is food.
There can still be competition in the market. Major manufacturing companies will constantly try to one up each other with their newest capabilities and networks. Anyone with a good idea and some technical know-how could create and sell a new product. Larger companies with multiple employees can still exist, as the collective brain power of a group can push the limits further.
If only three people buy your new pair of sunglasses, it’s no big deal. Only three pairs were ever made!
Some building materials would fall by the wayside, as they wouldn’t fit into the new methods of production, but will we really miss them? Do you still have your old cassette tapes, or have you switched to mp3s?
I highly doubt I’m the first person to think of this, (if I am, make the check payable to Chris Daisy) but I would like to get the discussion going. I hope that for all the holes in the plan people will bring to my attention, an equal or greater amount of solutions and new ideas can be generated.
Thanks for your time.