Posts Tagged ‘production’


February 11, 2013

Last week I raised the question of what the world will be with the new economic order, and how technology will impact this change, not all in a good way. This week I was reminded how easy it is to forget just how big a force technology is, and how unexpected that change may be.

People, like myself, that grew up in the pre-computer era know first-hand how liberating it can be to research minutia in the flash of an electron instead of trudging to a library, sifting through dusty shelves and card files in an endless, and sometime fruitless, search for that elusive bit of knowledge. Then we would hack away on mechanical and then electric typewriters, fixing errors first with erasers, then “White-Out,” then (convenience of convenience!) “Correcto-tape.” For copies we used carbon paper, mimeograph and then Xerox machines. Before my day, people spent endless hours washing clothes they hand-stitched with washboards and hanging them on lines to dry, before technology handed us machines to sew, wash and dry, things we take for granted even more than our beloved computers and smart phones. The poorest of us in this country, if you think about it, live better in many way than the kings of yore (how many of them got to enjoy the luxury of an ice cream cone?).

Now we may be on the brink of the next major paradigm shift in global world production. Like a little tremor presaging an earthquake, the ink jet printer appeared on the scene a few decades back. As the price plummeted, it joined the ranks of prosaic technology cluttering the background of our homes and offices. Then someone said, “If we can print in 2 dimensions, why not 3?” And so the one-color, one substance, prohibitively expensive new desk toy was born. We should have realized it wouldn’t stop there. The technology is growing to encompass many different substrates, including biological ones, and machines from just over $1,000 to $1 million have quietly been making their debuts. Manufacturing will never be the same. And neither will the job market.

The stage is set for laborers of a new ilk: the new manufacturer; i.e., the programmer. Instead of rivets and robots, 1’s and 0’s. First in commercial settings, then someday in the home, we will purchase the program for our next thing-a-ma-jig and whatchamacallit and it will be printed for us. This is not a distant future Star Trek replicator, but something quietly marching over the horizon. Complex parts are already being manufactured in this way, and seeing how technology advances geometrically, we can expect items of increasing sophistication to begin rolling out of the maws of the new-age printers in the next decade.

Big change is coming. The only question is which of the colliding forces, major technologic advance or dramatic economic implosion, will trump the other. I hope I’m around long enough to find out.

Beam me up, Scotty.