The ‘Maker Movement’ is profoundly changing the nature of manufacturing. The forces behind this movement are creative, technologically-savvy types with an entrepreneurial bent, who are busy creating a wide range of devices and products using small-scale production. They are just part of a paradigm shift in product design and prototyping that is shaking up the manufacturing world.
Though they work singly or in small groups, the new ‘makers’ are not anti-big business and big retailers. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They use products available from stores like Amazon and Ikea and modify them.
Makers also use 3D printing technology to produce precise parts and reduce costs. Amazon has responded to this trend by getting into the field of 3D printing themselves. By modifying off-the-shelf products and using 3D devices, the inventors in the maker community are able to bypass machine shops and the use of expensive equipment when they make their prototypes.
Limor Fried is the founder of AdaFruit, a key source for the materials that makers need. His take is that “Instead of spending $30,000 on a prototype, I can spend 30 cents.”
The mythical inventor working in a garage creating the ‘Next Big Thing’ still exists in today’s business. But he is likely to be working and collaborating with other garage innovators via Skype, Hangouts and other virtual meetings rather than going it alone.
Using cloud technology and communication, collaborators often never meet in person. They are comfortable working intensely one-on-one for a project, then moving on to work with another inventor.
This virtual collaboration leverages each inventor’s computing power. By working together, they are creating a virtual super-computer to support each person’s needs. Collaboration also lets total strangers share their expertise on projects for each member of the team, giving members access to a wide range of education, skills, brainpower and points of view.
Cloud computing has also made it simple and affordable for individuals to access high-end programs that help them design their prototypes, test them and create them. Inventors don’t need to actually fully build prototypes in order to demonstrate key functionalities thanks to the use of computer-aided drawing and design tools.
Another product design factor that is the increasing affordability of physical prototype production. Through the offering of memberships in tech shops and micro-factories that give inventors access to CNC machines and 3D printers, the cost of developing prototypes has plummeted.
The current generation of consumers have a new attitude when it comes to the products they choose. They will willingly pay a premium for goods that are customized to their needs. An increased demand for personalization has ushered in a new era of craftsmanship.
Consumers expect greater choices and more options for a perfect fit. For example, a new company making custom-fitted, 3D-printed earphones can flourish despite much higher costs compared to off the shelf competitors. Consumers are also willing to pay more for goods that last longer and don’t hurt the environment.
Together, these converging trends are making significant changes in the way manufacturing is done. Many more individuals have the ability to make a prototype and bring it to market. Often these prototypes are made through collaboration, relying on a cloud-based world of communication and technology. Consumers are altering their expectations to suit the new possibilities.
Andrew Armstrong is a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and digital strategies consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His recently published works include contributions to Renewable Energy World, BPlans.com, HR.com, and Tech.co. A graduate of U.C. Berkeley in 2003 through the Interdisciplinary Studies Field program, Andrew writes and consults for numerous clients in the field of architecture, engineering, and construction. Follow him on Twitter @kickstartsearch.