I think most everyone agrees that manufacturing is lost to this country. The last decade was painful to watch as multi-nationals off-shored large scale manufacturing capabilities. Who can compete with East Asian labor and plentiful (subsidized) plants and machinery? Is the answer for America to build large scale manufacturing bigger and better? Doubtful. An alternative is possible in the modernization of the “job shop” mentality. What was once a result of small quantity demand and extensive customization, the job shop can make a return as a highly adaptable, reactive and personalized delivery mechanism. The back side curve of large scale uniformity has to be increasing customization; and we certainly have gone through history’s most massive manufacturing uniformity. 3D printing, biotechnology product development, MEMS, nanoscale development, quantum manipulation will bring the small, highly adaptable product creation process into the forefront of manufacturing success. Or alternatively, the process of adaptation and customization after the purchase of a massively uniform product will be a growth opportunity for all those “take it or leave it” product markets. After-market kits for making a Toyota or Ford an electric hybrid is an example (and a perfect example of just how restrictive our car choices are in feature variety, even-though the car companies will try to convince you to the contrary; baloney!)
Readers of this blog know my belief that domestic business success will come from a return to manufacturing. Bring me a laser cutter, next generation CAD, and malleable compound material and a new business is born. Why should companies designing a new product create the first prototype in steel? Why can’t the laser cutter yield moving parts from a single block of material? Why can’t the product built in this way also allow chemical or energy conversion back to raw material after use? Material science is going to yield some phenomenal materials in the near future. Our understanding of energy conversion and mass is bound to bring innovation. Why do I need to own a heater in the summer? Why can’t I build a heater, use it in the winter and trade in the material in the summer for recycling to a BBQ?