Will 3D printing and crowdsourcing bring the industrial revolution home?November 9th, 2012 by Ville Miettinen
In Europe and the US right now, almost no issue commands more air time than persistently high unemployment rates (other than what Kate Middleton is wearing, of course). But beyond the depressing jobless figures, new trends may be changing labor markets, and the economy as a whole.
Crowdsourcing was one of 2011’s buzzwords, but its potential is still largely unrealized. 3D printing looks set to digitize manufacturing. Old people – many of whom can now turn on computers – may not be able to retire as soon as we thought. These converging trends may change the way we work for the better – if managed properly.
The factory moves out, and then comes home again
Since the industrial revolution, the concept of a job hasn’t changed too much. Most people spend weeks searching job ads for a new boss, then the next forty years trying to avoid him (usually he’s still a him). The assembly line was born and then left home to see the world, taking manufacturing jobs with it. Technology has made workplaces more efficient (and made slacking off on company time more fun), but robots haven’t really taken over workplaces like we thought they would. Indeed, most of our colleagues are still frustratingly human.
But the concept of a job is changing rapidly. Crowdsourcing platforms like Freelancer mean millions of people don’t have to deal with a boss or colleagues anymore. Retirees and stay-at-home moms can rejoin the workforce, from the comfort of their homes.
3D printing will soon allow us to produce much of what we need locally. Rather than sending away to China for a spare part, companies like Ponoko will allow us to download its design and print it at home. Overseas factories will still exist where they are more efficient, but as Ponoko’s founder, Dave ten Have said
The power of the people
Currently, many of these solutions are more gimmicky than great. If any of you clicked on the ringtone crowdsourced above (and didn’t smash your computer trying to make it shut up) you’ll know what I mean. But the industry is still in its infancy. As it matures, and its strengths are understood and applied more effectively, we can expect the co-operation and efficiency it facilitates to deliver increasingly powerful results.
For those of us in the crowdsourcing industry, the simultaneous rise of 3D printing is particularly exciting because it gives more power to the individuals in our crowds. This opens the door for new forms of crowdsourcing, especially in manufacturing, which is predicted to be a major area of growth. Add crowdfunding to the mix and suddenly any product that appeals to a niche is possible.
As with any major disruptive shifts, these changes will create winners and losers. Like any industry, 3D printing and crowdsourcing will need careful regulation. We want people printing money from home, not guns. But those governments who also encourage innovation and growth in these industries will be most likely to benefit from them. Their depressing conversations about local unemployment rates may soon become uplifting success stories.