Friday, May 18, 2012

OpEd: The Third Industrial Revolution

The Third Industrial Revolution:
3D printing, and other rapid prototyping technologies combined with intelligent software are described by Paul Markillie of the Economist as drivers of a third industrial revolution. Jeremy Rifkin also uses the term and both writers point to the new rise of decentralized, global and individualized manufacturing and economic systems now coming on stream. Rifkin’s The Third Industrial Revolution explores how Internet technology and renewable energy are merging factors in the future too.

Everything in the factories of the future will be run by intelligent software systems. Digitisation in manufacturing will have a disruptive effect every bit as big as in other industries that have gone digital, such as office equipment, telecommunications, photography, music, publishing and films.

The effects will not be confined to large manufacturers; they will need to watch out because much of what is coming will empower small and medium-sized firms and individual entrepreneurs. Launching novel products will become easier and cheaper. Communities offering 3D printing and other production services that are a bit like Facebook are already forming online—a new phenomenon which Markillie calls social manufacturing.

As manufacturing goes digital, a third great change is now gathering pace. It will allow things to be made economically in much smaller numbers, more flexibly and with a much lower input of labour, thanks to new materials, completely new processes such as 3D printing, easy-to-use robots and new collaborative manufacturing services available online. The wheel is almost coming full circle, turning away from mass manufacturing and towards much more individualised production. And that in turn could bring some of the jobs back to rich countries that long ago lost them to the developing nations.
Source: 33rd Square

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