Mass manufacturing still rules the economy. The reason products are cheap and that we have a high standard of living compared to the past is because somebody figured out that if you make something en masse, you can drive down the price of each unit to ridiculously cheap levels. What’s more, the process isn’t over yet, with electronics, clothing, and cosmetics all coming down in price year after year.
But there’s been something of a rebellion of late. People are getting a bit fed up with mass production, not because it’s inefficient, but because it lacks differentiation. Consumers would rather have something unique instead of cheap but the same as everybody else.
The result of this pressure has been the growth of the maker movement, a loose term to describe the myriad businesses trying to create bespoke products for a demanding customer base. Perhaps the most famous example so far is the craft beer movement, an industry which doubles in size every couple of years or so. But there are many other “makers” too, investing in Doosan lathes and workshop equipment to make their products come to life.
Who Is In The Maker Movement?
Millennials, unsurprisingly, dominate the maker movement. This is because they have an understanding of a big chunk of the production process already, thanks to their innate computer skills. A lot of the maker movement is based around new technologies, like CAD design and 3D printing, and demands a degree of programming knowledge too. If the name of the game is to customize products, then makers have to be able to use technologies that allow them to do so in whatever way their customers demand.
What’s more, the ability of those in the movement to learn has grown exponentially. Makers don’t have to rely solely on their experience; they can also learn about their trade on the internet. Dozens of website tutorials and videos exist with the sole purpose of helping new makers deliver great products. A lot of work is open-source too, including product designs, meaning that those new to the work can experiment using the designs of others to hone their skills before taking the plunge and investing in capital.
Big Companies Want A Slice Of The Action
The maker movement isn’t just a grassroots movement. In fact, some of the biggest industrial firms in the world, including GE, are looking for ways to get in on the action. GE wants to provide makers with “garages” or spaces they can use to develop new products.
Is there money to be made? Possibly. What we see right now is the effect of powerful computing technologies on the ability of people to create their own products. Whether startups will be able to take advantage of intellectual property laws to protect their inventions remains to be seen, but there’s a good chance that if they do, they’ll be snapped up by a larger firm. Don’t forget, Makerbot was bought out for an incredible $600 million, so there is potential to make a lot of money in the industry.