The Make-On-Demand Tsunami

Nothing remains to be discovered, you say? Manufacturing has fled America, never to return? Wrong, and wrong again. The U.S. is in the midst of a seismic shift that portends dramatic changes in social organization, personal values, economic growth, and national security. Music-On-Demand, led by Napster, undermined decades of delivering sound on imprinted vinyl. Print-On-Demand then overthrew a century-old tradition of delivering words on scarce and expensive paper. But these developments were puny compared to the next wave, Make-On-Demand.

This tsunami will break over society like nothing before, rearranging the very nature of industrial economics. The modern factory system is based on the principle of “economy of scale”. This means that it is cheaper per unit if units are produced in quantity. The larger the quantity in a manufacturing run, the cheaper per unit produced. The social ramifications of this became apparent in the early19th century–vast sweatshops of dispossessed labor, who responded with violent strikes, demands for enfranchisement, and militant revolutionary ideologies. Two centuries of class warfare followed, which still lingers today.

Make-On-Demand, or MOD, unravels this entire paradigm by eliminating the economic advantage of centralized factory production. In short, 3D printers remove the advantages of economy of scale in the manufacturing process, enabling the individual to manufacture a large repertoire of products that previously could only be made in large remote factories, and simultaneously eliminating much transportation costs associated with delivery and pickup. For individuals this means more independence, less standardization and more personal customization in the products produced. For society this spells the end of unions in manufacturing, less need for standard products whether in things, or people! Look out, public school systems whose raison d’etre has always been to act as a triage for factories, the military, or prison.

And more: What will people do when they discover they can use 3D printers not only to print hundred-dollar bills from WikiHacked molecular files–a quantum leap over photocopying currency–but also “print” their own drugs? Who will bother visiting their doctor if they can make their own antibiotics? What will happen to the stock market when vast segments of the population begin making hacked versions of patented drugs like statins or blood pressure medications, without paying? Will there even be a stock market thirty or forty years from now?…  Glenn Roberts’ Blog 7/26/13

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