Monday, October 6, 2014

What Will the Maker Movement do to Supply Chains?

The maker movement has taken off in the last few years, and with it brings a whole host of questions about the future of technology, manufacturing, and supply chain management.  The maker movement focuses on homegrown innovation, hands-on creation, and collaborative design.  Some think that the surge in "hackerspaces," communal work spaces where techies can go to produce their designs, will begin to bring outsourced manufacturing, and thus innovation, back to the United States, revolutionizing manufacturing.  In addition to a focus on innovation and new-age manufacturing, there is an educational and community-focused bent to the movement as well.  The video below explains the influx of hackerspaces in the United States and what the movement is all about


The maker space is evolving quickly, and challenges what is thought of as a traditional supply chain. As one maker asks, "what happens when manufacturers become the supply chain?"[2]   For one thing, it makes for a a much less complex supply chain: the entire production, from design to product completion, and even potentially shipment to a buyer, can be completed in one place, such as a hackerspace.  Additionally, this centralized supply chain, and shared equipment (3D printers, etc.), make production relatively low-cost.   There are many startups entering the maker space, from websites on which makers can sell their goods (think Etsy) to spaces where makers can make (such as the TechShop, a branch of which is located in Bakery Square), each fueling the DIY revolution.  The image below illustrates where different players - makers, facilitators, etc. - fall within the maker space.  

This weeks readings discuss the potential for the maker movement to bring manufacturing back to the United States.  But what will this manufacturing look like?  While it will likely bring back much needed innovation and creativity, it is unlikely to bring back a resurgence of jobs that existed in the initial manufacturing era in the United States.  Much of the human labor of manufacturing is now replaced in this innovative culture with technology developments, from 3D printers to robotic assemblers.  Right now, although gaining momentum, the maker movement is still at a relatively small scale.  It will be very interesting to see what the scalability of movement is.  As the movement grows, what will the impact be on supply chains and the companies whose roles could become obsolete? What will the impact be on job creation?  Will the United States become a hub for manufacturing once again?  Brian Solis, maker and analyst, concludes: "We should all prepare for the future yesterday because tomorrow is already here." [2]





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