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.

Finweek English Edition - - TECHNOLOGY - Simon Din­gle

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.

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