After pulling a little April Fool’s prank about “3D Printing your Pets” , The Economist returned to true form with a feature piece analyzing the future of manufacturing, discussing at length advances in capital and informational technologies. It’s a stellar read – if you have time, definitely read the entire piece. Here is the key takeaway.

New Era of Manufacturing

Money quote…

Digitisation in manufacturing will have a disruptive effect every bit as big as in other industries that have gone digital, such as office equipment, telecoms, photography, music, publishing and films. And the effects will not be confined to large manufacturers; indeed, they will need to watch out because much of what is coming will empower small and medium-sized firms and individual entrepreneurs. Launching novel products will become easier and cheaper. Communities offering 3D printing and other production services that are a bit like Facebook are already forming online – a new phenomenon which might be called social manufacturing.

Social Manufacturing. Already, we can see the socialization of manufacturing happening with sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GrabCAD, Shapeways, Ponoko and Thingiverse. The ease in which YOU the CAD Designer can make a design, find a FabLab or 3D printer, craft a prototype, run a crowd funding campaign and even crowd source your manufacturing was impossible 20 years ago. Take the Printrbot as an example – Brook Drumm ran with one prototype and raised $830,000 via Kickstarter. Makerbot couldn’t keep up with demand in their first years, so they began to pay their existing consumer base to produce parts. (Check out Solidsmack’s interview with Bre Pettis – its a laugh!)

The article raises a good point with that phrase “Social Manufacturing” – it doesn’t have to be one designer with a good idea. GrabCAD has 167,000+ engineers and designers interacting and producing unique work. When presented with a challenge or a work opportunity, they have been positively prolific, producing endless numbers of valuable ideas and displaying a willingness to share, comment and improve each others work. Such an ecosystem is the perfect partner for new “Mass Customization” techniques. As companies become more attuned to manufacturing items based on customers wishes, they may consult more and more with the design community like GrabCAD to produce useful CAD work. However, reducing the inevitable static from heavy communication will be the ultimate challenge.