In Makers, Chris Anderson suggests that manufacturing will increasingly become decentralized, as tools like: 3D printing, 3D scanning, and CNC routing, become cheaper. He argues these transformative technologies enable ordinary people to also become producers rather than simply consumers. Anderson envisions a future where most people will be able to upload and download “things”, and subsequently print them out with their desktop 3D printers. Assuming there are no theoretical limits to the complexity of materials used in making these “things”, the mass distribution of these technologies has interesting implications for manufacturers.
What if the class of piracy, which continues to haunt the entertainment industry, grows to threaten the manufacturing of real goods? Are today’s manufacturers ready to deal with these threats? If Anderson’s vision is one day realized, social media will likely be used to drive many manufacturing firms out of business, as people share real “things” like they share music and movies today.
From MITSloan management review’s Research Report, we’re told only 9% of managers from manufacturing firms recognize the importance of social software. This reflects the current state of manufacturing today; customers are not an integral part of the manufacturing process.
To stay competitive in the future, companies will need to decentralize production and include skilled customers in product development. The most profitable company in the world, Apple cannot hire all of the good engineers, and will therefore, always face competition from outside the company. In this sense, Apple is not as efficient as it can be if it were based on open innovation. Anderson calls this limitation to companies “Joy’s Law” and I agree that a companies’ ability to innovate is limited by the quality of employees it can attract.
I don’t see Apple’s business model holding up in Anderson’s vision for the future, where people can pirate products, unless it leverages its consumer base to solve design challenges. Imagine if all of Apple’s able bodied customers were included in its product design, software development, product management, and marketing initiatives, so that there were no inefficiencies in the production of its products.
You wouldn’t get a one size fits all solution, but instead a customizable solution with software and hardware updates available almost daily. In this world Apple wouldn’t make money from patent infringement lawsuits because there wouldn’t be any infringement cases. Apple would, become a platform for collaborative action –to produce products that are in line with its mission statement.
And if Apple did not do this, it would soon be eclipsed by another company that did. In the future there will not be manufacturing companies in the traditional sense. The only companies that survive will be those that recognize the potential of community driven innovation and transform themselves into collaborative innovation powerhouses.
The potential for social media to facilitate this excites me. I can’t wait until creative obsolescence is no longer a viable business model, and innovation is not stifled by patent wizards. There are many companies like Makerbot, Raspberry Pi, 3D Robotics Inc, and Ubuntu, which are already cashing in on the brains of their customer base for both profit and social change. Finally, Social media will be more and more relevant to manufacturers as more companies use it to leverage the skills of their customers and increase their efficiency.