In my role as ERP Analyst at Software Advice, I spend a lot of time thinking about how developments in enterprise technologies such as job shop software impact manufacturing companies. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about how some of these technologies (e.g. CAD software, cloud computing, 3D printing) are becoming accessible to the individual.
The technologies that used to be affordable and accessible to only large manufacturing corporations are now within reach of the individual thanks to advances in Web 2.0, open source, cloud computing and other technologies. In my view, this has the potential to shake up the manufacturing industry and usher in an age of personalized manufacturing.
I think we’re living in an age where, thanks to technology, almost anyone with enough savvy and will power can become a manufacturer. While the idea may seem outlandish at first, I think taking a closer look at the technologies available demonstrates just how viable accomplishing this may be. Today, individuals have the following powerful technologies at their fingertips:
- Crowdsourcing - Technically speaking, crowdsourcing isn’t a technology but rather an approach to idea generation and product development. However, Web 2.0 technologies have made it easy to access engineers, enthusiasts, fabricators, and designers of all kinds to help with manufacturing product development.
- CAD Software - CAD has gradually floated downstream to become accessible to and usable by the layperson. While it takes a while to become an expert, it’s somewhat like Microsoft Excel in that the basics are immediately usable, while the advanced features take time to learn.
- 3D Printing - 3D printers have received significant fanfare in the news lately with op-eds that they will soon be a viable way to produce large batches of finished products. While that’s a ways off, the announcement of an open source 3D printer for $300 is exciting because it provides an easy way for individuals to produce prototypes.
- Manufacturing-as-a-Service - In our on-demand world, almost everything is being offered as a service these days. Manufacturing seems to be headed in that direction with Web 2.0 technologies such as Alibaba to build designs on a contract basis.
- Cloud Computing - The cloud is applicable to all businesses, but the way that it’s dramatically reduced the barriers to managing inventory, orders, and accounting deserves a mention as an enabling technology.
- E-commerce - Finally, it’s easier than ever to sell your manufactured products. While eBay and Amazon are logical storefronts for selling products, developments in SaaS e-commerce technologies such as BigCommerce are dramatically simplifying the process of setting up your own e-commerce platform.
Taken together, these technologies enable the individual to do more in manufacturing than has ever been possible. Personally, I think it’s exciting to see how development enterprise technologies are moving downstream to the individual manufacturer.
Action Item: Please let me know your thoughts on how you see technology impacting the manufacturing industry. Do you think individuals are truly able to make use of the technologies that I outlined above? Leave me a note to let me know what you think.