Are You Listening
America? - No,
Didn’t Think So
In its lead cover story The Economist talks about what they call the third industrial revolution. What they identify is really the fourth industrial revolution. The first was conversion of the textile and clothing industry to factory sourcing, the second was the development of large capital goods industries like steel and rail and oil, and the third was the change in manufacturing from capital goods to consumer durable goods like auto’s, home appliances and homes themselves.
The fourth stage (or third, whatever) is the emergence of digital manufacturing processes. The heart of the digital manufacturing revolution is 3-D printing. It can be described this way.
The old way of making things involved taking lots of parts and screwing or welding them together. Now a product can be designed on a computer and “printed” on a 3D printer, which creates a solid object by building up successive layers of material. The digital design can be tweaked with a few mouseclicks. The 3D printer can run unattended, and can make many things which are too complex for a traditional factory to handle. In time, these amazing machines may be able to make almost anything, anywhere—from your garage to an African village.
What this means is that mass production of standardized items is giving way to production of very small quantities of customized items. Want a refrigerator that is builtg to your specifications, just get the specs to the manufacturer, and the digital manufacturer will make a one of a kind refrigerator for you at the same or lower cost than a mass produced model.
An engineer working in the middle of a desert who finds he lacks a certain tool no longer has to have it delivered from the nearest city. He can simply download the design and print it. The days when projects ground to a halt for want of a piece of kit, or when customers complained that they could no longer find spare parts for things they had bought, will one day seem quaint.
The key to utilizing this technology will be highly trained technically skilled labor.
Most jobs will not be on the factory floor but in the offices nearby, which will be full of designers, engineers, IT specialists, logistics experts, marketing staff and other professionals. The manufacturing jobs of the future will require more skills. Many dull, repetitive tasks will become obsolete: you no longer need riveters when a product has no rivets.
and there’s the problem. In the
this training and education can only come from government support of public
education. The idea that private, and in
some cases for-profit schools, or church sponsored schools whose mission is religious indoctrination
rather than science and engineering can meet the challenges of providing a
population with the needed skills and training is pure fantasy. But the United States, under the spell of greed
for lower taxes and under the influence of ignorance that places religious myths
over scientific facts will not have the education system to produce a world
class work force for the future.
In 2050 if the current political mood becomes dominant in government, the
S. will look back with a “what might have
been” outlook, and wonder why the people who severely weakened the strongest economy
the world has ever seen were ever elected.