How many times have you taken your car to the garage for a simple repair only to have to wait days or weeks for a spare part to arrive? We have all experienced the frustration, but now the answer is easy: We can simply make the part when we need it. Well, it isn't quite that easy, as there are legislation and intellectual property hurdles to get over, but today we are basically able to manufacture a product where and when we want it. This has been a blessing for owners and enthusiasts of older and vintage cars as spare parts for these cars would have stopped being manufactured some time ago. Today, they can design and manufacture parts themselves with the use of open source design software and manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing.
The whole open source design and manufacturing phenomenon has led to the growth of the makerspace movement. We currently have millions of literal 'makers' in the world. The makerspace movement started with hobbyists and entrepreneurs who had an idea and wanted to make it real. With access to the makerspace they can turn their dreams into reality. Previously, if somebody had a good idea, they would have to design the product and then look for somebody to manufacture it, which meant high tooling and set-up costs, high marketing costs and having to find funding to set up a company as a vehicle to take the idea to the market. In other words, ‘making something’ has so far been a cumbersome and costly process. But now, by using a makerspace with access to design software, 3D printers and other manufacturing equipment, and crowdfunding as a finance solution, taking an idea from dream to reality is relatively easy and inexpensive.
Makerspaces are springing up all over the place and becoming mainstream. They started out as small workshops with design capabilities, 3D printers, automated machines and laser cutters where communities would share ideas that then took shape. The idea of a makerspace is now entering the corporate world. We are seeing it being used in mass collaboration, which makes so much sense. Think of a large corporation – having to spend large sums of money on research and development, hiring and training engineers and designers to continue to develop new products and continue to adapt to the new manufacturing techniques that dispense with the design constraints of traditional manufacturing. Today, they can use mass collaboration through a makerspace and throw open their design to a whole new generation of designers. The corporations set the parameters of what needs to be designed and let the makerspace movement do the rest. Automotive, electronics and industrial companies are already using makerspaces, and rallying behind them.
Procter & Gamble recently stated in Connect & Develop:
“The invent-it-ourselves model is a sure path to diminishing returns.”
Or, as GE said in its Open Innovation Manifesto:
“It’s impossible for any organization to have all the best ideas, and we strive to collaborate with experts and entrepreneurs everywhere who share our passion to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.”
And so the rapid acceptance of technological advances is increasing. We are not talking about the speed of technological advances anymore; we are talking about the 'acceleration of technological adoption': The rate of rate of change is increasing, which is the second order derivative for all you mathematicians! Almost on a daily basis, we are seeing new advances in 3D printing materials and machines and the products that can be produced with them. Distributed manufacturing also means that production is moving closer to the point of consumption and with the emphasis on the circular economy, products as a service (PaaS), and now the makerspace movement as a source of creativity beyond traditional R&D, we will see supply chains of the future diversify much more – and ever faster. Buckle up for the ride!