The Democratization of Manufacturing and Innovation

The Democratization of Manufacturing and Innovation

We are in a new age of design, innovation and ingenuity with respect to the manufacturing sector.

The old ways of acquiring people, plants, materials and capital are giving way to newer methodologies that have revitalized manufacturing. These ways include crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, cloud-based computing and 3D printing. Smaller, leaner operations are leveraging these new methods to level the playing field with more entrenched manufacturers.

As Diego Tamburini writes about manufacturing innovation on Autodesk’s Line//Shape//Space publication, “The pace of technological change and demand shift have accelerated, to a point where being big is becoming a liability, and controlling costs and productivity is no longer a sufficient strategy to stay afloat.”

This new focus on “Made in America” has spurred a renewed interest in domestic-based manufacturing.

According to government figures, in the past five years, the U.S. manufacturing industry has added an average of 15,000 jobs monthly, a sign that small and lean innovators can bring their ideas to the marketplace and compete in the same sphere as larger, more established concerns.

Here are some of the ways the manufacturing has become “democratized.”

1. Financing Manufacturing through Crowdfunding Platforms

The advent of crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Quirky (a platform designed specifically for inventors) means the availability of capital that may have been difficult to secure in the past.

Crowdfunding includes all of the elements that have led to the democratization of manufacturing and innovation in the country.

These elements include selling investment interests in an idea, targeting funding from a specific geographic region or location, mobile-based funding and approaches to funding based on the interests of a group most inclined to support an idea.

2. The Inventor and 3D Printing

The wide availability of 3D printers was unheard of a couple decades ago when first introduced by American engineer Charles Hull in the 1980s.

The earlier machines were cost prohibitive and only available to a select group of businesses, research institutions or individuals.

A survey of costs today show that these machines are fairly accessible to a greater percentage of the population than ever before and as prices continue to come down, will become even more ubiquitous.

The 3D printer transforms an idea from a vision to a reality. A small manufacturing start-up has the ability to conceive a product, make a prototype and share their vision with others to make modifications or design suggestions.

Such an approach helps bring products to the market quicker but reducing development time. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study on industrial manufacturing, two out of three U.S. manufacturers have employed 3D printing in their processes.

3. Crowdsourcing and the Manufacturing Process

Crowdsourcing allows start-up manufacturers and inventors to develop their projects and solicit valuable feedback before final production.

One example, as reported in The Economist, was the development of Pivot Power, an adjustable electrical outlet extender. An individual who submitted their idea to a team of product developers conceived the product.

The developers developed a prototype with the use of a 3D printer and solicited feedback from an online community. Through feedback, modifications were made, contributing toward the final design.

Related: How to Create an Innovative Environment

A crowdsource community of over 700 also provided suggestions on packaging, marketing and pricing, which led to the successful launch of the product.

Crowdfunding provides new manufacturing businesses with the start-up capital needed to fund an idea. The availability of 3D printers help inventors and designers give form and shape to their vision.

The crowdsource community taps into the collective and aids in the final design and ways to bring the idea to market through valuable feedback. All of these elements mean that manufacturing can happen at a lower cost to business with a greater potential for successful outcomes.

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