Now that I’ve got your attention I’m going to take you through why this is a true statement and such an enormous real opportunity for startups. And it’s down to what the new technology and the people who get it are enabling.
What Goes Around.....
The history of design tells us that it works cyclically. Old designs come back into fashion, reinterpreted and using the latest materials. Business is a bit like that. Old ideas come back into fashion in the same way. Marks & Spencer, a better retail experience. Etailing, a better retail experience. Corner shop, personal service. Online chat, personal service. Pre-industrial small business in the same building as home. Internet enabled working from home.
But can this principle be applied to manufacturing, to bring it back into fashion in mature western economies? It certainly can. And in common with my argument that it’s never been cheaper to get a startup going, the same is now applying to manufacturing startups.
The March of the Makers
Makers are the movement of a new generation of people who want to make physical things again, and not just do the latest flimsy .com idea. It’s also a movement that is good for smaller businesses. You don’t have to make it big to make a good living. So what it is it?
New technology driven tools such as the first of the low cost 3-D printers, numerical manufacturing machines cheap enough for the home and Arduino electronic controllers, enable small organisations and individuals to manufacture components, complete assemblies and machines that were previously the province of large organisations with big machinery. Collaborating with other Makers, designers and business services amplifies the skills, capability and capacity.
Networked small business is a most powerful force.
So Where’s the Market?
In two places:
1) Where made to order locally is more efficient than shipping in bulk from the other side of the world
2) Mass customisation and other small run products
If, for example, you need spare parts for a car, does it make sense to tie up cash and warehousing holding stock? The new machines can manufacture to order locally at a competitive price, and the low cost of the machines means that an engineer can run their own small business supplying this market. You just need to hold a relatively small amount of easily available raw material in order to make a wide range of products to order. Low cost of financing, fast delivery, great service.
The ability to produce small to medium runs of products cost effectively opens up the enormous opportunity of more individual products, giving free reign to design ambition and consumer choice.
Global product uniformity could be on the way out to be replaced by a far more interesting world.
If you’re not familiar with this space and don’t believe it’s happening take a look at this Wired article from last August The Year the Maker Movement Broke. And for the leading edge of the technology look at this BBC article Transplant jaw made by 3D printer claimed as first from 6 February this year.
Reducing Cost of Entry - Growing Pace of Opportunity
The cost of the Maker machines is dropping and will continue to do so. The presents an enormous opportunity for countries not to give up on manufacturing, but to embrace the next industrial revolution.
Here’s to the designers, inventors and makers who will start these new businesses and change the world again.