The notion of a digital industrial revolution has left the pages of enthusiast magazines and is now being identified as a significant trend to watch in 2014.
The Industrial Revolution in Europe forever changed the world of business and underpinned a new era of economics. The most significant shift in manufacturing and production since that era is now underway and analysts are suggesting that the trend will accelerate significantly in 2014. Author, entrepreneur and former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine Chris Anderson has been beating this drum for years. He left Wired in 2012 to run his drone manufacturing company, which is based on the new fundamentals of the digital industrial revolution.
In a recent book entitled Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Anderson continued his previous assertion that “Atoms are the new bits”. He argues that modern communication and the rise of things like 3D printing and crowd-funding have created a global environment where anyone can become a manufacturer.
You can design a product on your personal computer, create prototypes more cheaply than ever, raise funds via services like Kickstarter and communicate directly with Chinese manufacturers for limited initial runs of a product. The rise of 3D printing is also challenging conventional intellectual property concerns.
“The past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world,” said Anderson in his original Wired article on the topic.
“Transformative change happens when industries democratise, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratised publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital − the long tail of bits … Now the same is happening to manufacturing − the long tail of things,” said Anderson.
Research firm Gartner recently presented a report that made solid predictions on where things are headed. “IT is no longer just about the IT function. Instead, IT has become the catalyst for the next phase of innovation in personal and competitive business ecosystems. One place where this is evident is in the beginnings of a Digital Industrial Revolution that threatens to reshape how physical goods are created using 3D printing,” Gartner said.
“By 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100bn per year in intellectual property globally... At least one major western manufacturer will claim to have had intellectual property (IP) stolen for a mainstream product by thieves using 3D printers who will likely reside in those same western markets rather than in Asia by 2015,” continued the report. “The plummeting costs of 3D printers, scanners and 3Dmodelling technology, combined with improving capabilities, makes the technology for IP theft more accessible to would-be criminals. Importantly, 3D printers do not have to produce a finished good in order to enable IP theft. The ability to make a wax mould from a scanned object, for instance, can enable the thief to produce large quantities of items that exactly replicate the original.”
Yeah, okay. There’ll be thieves. But there’ll also be a legion of young entrepreneurs who embrace these technologies to create the next generation of manufacturing businesses. It may be a vexing time for big corporates but, as with other digital trends, the opportunities are massive for the small and nimble.