Friday, August 20, 2010

DIY Industrial Revolution

Kevin Carson has a nice intro to minifacturing over at C4SS.

Amplify’d from

The main material reason for the factory system and the predominance of wage labor was the technological shift a couple hundred years ago from relatively inexpensive, general-purpose artisan tools to expensive machinery.  Only the very rich could afford the machinery required for production, and they then hired wage laborers to work it.

The computer revolution, and the revolution in cheap garage-scale machine tools, have reversed this shift.  The computer is a cheap, general-purpose artisan tool that has destroyed the quality gap between what a person can produce at work and what they can produce at home, in a whole range of industries:  software, recording, and desktop publishing, among them.

And now cheap digital machine tools mean the same thing for manufacturing.  Open-source hardware hackers have come up with homebrew versions of CNC routers, cutting tables, milling machines, lathes, 3-D printers, etc., that cost one or two thousand dollars (or less) to build — compared to tens of thousands for commercial, proprietary digital tools, and millions for a factory equipped with old-style mass production machinery.

So a garage “factory” with $10k worth of homebrew machinery can do most of what used to require a million-dollar factory.  And with a network of open-source hardware designers, it can design its own products, and produce “lean” style:  producing in small batches and switching back and forth between lots of different products as the orders come in, and gearing production to a local/neighborhood market.  That means low overhead, no inventory, drastically reduced shipping costs, and no mass-marketing costs.