Jean Lievin: Micro-Manufacturing and Open Source Everything — Re-Empowering Labor over Capital

#OSE Open Source Everything, Design, Governance, Hardware, Manufacturing, Materials
Jean Lievens
Jean Lievens

Micro Manufacturing, Third Wave Style…Perfect for Worker Coops?

In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits

By Chris Anderson

The door of a dry-cleaner-size storefront in an industrial park in Wareham, Massachusetts, an hour south of Boston, might not look like a portal to the future of American manufacturing, but it is. This is the headquarters of Local Motors, the first open source car company to reach production. Step inside and the office reveals itself as a mind-blowing example of the power of micro-factories.

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Click on Image
Click on Image

In June, Local Motors will officially release the Rally Fighter, a $50,000 off-road (but street-legal) racer. The design was crowdsourced, as was the selection of mostly off-the-shelf components, and the final assembly will be done by the customers themselves in local assembly centers as part of a “build experience.” Several more designs are in the pipeline, and the company says it can take a new vehicle from sketch to market in 18 months, about the time it takes Detroit to change the specs on some door trim. Each design is released under a share-friendly Creative Commons license, and customers are encouraged to enhance the designs and produce their own components that they can sell to their peers.

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Here’s the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.

This story is about the next 10 years.

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Today, micro-factories make everything from cars to bike components to bespoke furniture in any design you can imagine. The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into production, no financing or tooling required. “Three guys with laptops” used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.

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Two trends are driving this. First, there’s the maturation and increasing Web-centrism of business practices in China. Now that the Web generation is entering management, Chinese factories increasingly take orders online, communicate with customers by email, and accept payment by credit card or PayPal, a consumer-friendly alternative to traditional bank transfers, letters of credit, and purchase orders. Plus, the current economic crisis has driven companies to seek higher-margin custom orders to mitigate the deflationary spiral of commodity goods.

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This trend is playing out in many countries, but it’s happening fastest in China. One reason is the same cultural dynamism that led to the rise of shanzhai industries. The term shanzhai, which derives from the Chinese word for bandit, usually refers to the thriving business of making knockoffs of electronic products, or as Shanzai.com more generously puts it, “a vendor, who operates a business without observing the traditional rules or practices often resulting in innovative and unusual products or business models.” But those same vendors are increasingly driving the manufacturing side of the maker revolution by being fast and flexible enough to work with micro-entrepreneurs. The rise of shanzhai business practices “suggests a new approach to economic recovery as well, one based on small companies well networked with each other,” observes Tom Igoe, a core developer of the open source Arduino computing platform. “What happens when that approach hits the manufacturing world? We’re about to find out.”

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Joy’s law turned Coase’s law upside down. Now, working within a company often imposes higher transaction costs than running a project online. Why turn to the person who happens to be in the next cubicle when it’s just as easy to turn to an online community member from a global marketplace of talent? Companies are full of bureaucracy, procedures, and approval processes, a structure designed to defend the integrity of the organization. Communities form around shared interests and needs and have no more process than they require. The community exists for the project, not to support the company in which the project resides.

Thus the new industrial organizational model. It’s built around small pieces, loosely joined. Companies are small, virtual, and informal. Most participants are not employees. They form and re-form on the fly, driven by ability and need rather than affiliation and obligation. It doesn’t matter who the best people work for; if the project is interesting enough, the best people will find it.

Read full article — very long, illustrated, many links, a mind-blowing earth-changing article of SUBSTANCE.