As a recent Economist article notes, there is a quiet but potentially revolutionary transformation taking place in how things are manufactured. The “maker” movement, with meetups and online SIGs of one sort or another, combines crowdsourcing, open-source or otherwise open hardware platforms, 3d printing, and a “Mechanical Turk”-style world organization of small handicrafters and manufacturers to create a new manufacturing system (dare we call it a paradigm) which will turn the idea of “economies of scale” on its head.
I have friends who prototype small systems — mainly, today, small systems for manufacturing other small systems, such as precision X-Y milling platforms, or Arduino-based controllers — at home, using a growing infrastructure of free or cheap prototyping platforms. When they are ready, they farm these systems out to small manufacturing boutiques (in Eastern Europe for the most part, although I have no idea if this is an authentic regional specialization or an accident of my friends’ Rolodices. If any of these systems took off, my friends could scale up to Tier 2 contract manufacturers. This kind of easily-scalable manufacturing allows all kinds of long-tail ideas to be tried; only those that catch hold get big production runs.
I’m looking for profitable ways to invest in the Maker Movement. I think the U.S. innovation policy community should figure out ways to have us capture an unfair share of Maker Movement business. In any case, it’s something to bet on.