Thursday, July 9, 2009

Praxis: "The Switch to Local Manufacturing"

Also from John Robb's newsletter. Three Percenters need to be thinking about this stuff NOW and get in on the ground floor of a trend that will critical for their own survival. Comments?


JOURNAL: The Switch to Local Manufacturing

Posted: 08 Jul 2009 06:44 AM PDT

Here's a think piece that you may find of value:

It is likely that by 2025, the majority of the "consumer" goods you purchase/acquire, will be manufactured locally. However, this doesn't likely mean what you think it means. The process will look like this:

You will purchase/trade for/build a design for the product you desire through online trading/sharing systems. That design will be in a standard file format and the volume of available designs for sale, trade, or shared openly will be counted in the billions.

You or someone you trust/hire will modify the design of the product to ensure it meets your specific needs (or customize it so it is uniquely yours). Many products will be smart (in that they include hardware/software that makes them responsive), and programmed to your profile.

The refined product design will be downloaded to a small local manufacturing company, co-operative, or equipped home for production. Basic feedstock materials will be used in its construction (from metal to plastic powders derived from generic sources, recycling, etc.). Delivery is local and nearly costless.

The switch to local manufacturing is being abetted by the following factors:
Ever more expensive energy and raw materials as far as the eye can see, although every time the economy slows, those costs will drop sharply. This means that the costs of global transport and mass production (overproduction, failed products, etc.) will become too costly to maintain for all but the most valuable and difficult to manufacture products.

The collapse of generic demand. The debt-deflation fueled process of economic collapse has just begun in the developed world. It will continue for decades as incomes globally normalize (become equivalent in all "connected countries"). This means that the critical mass in demand necessary to support a global production supply chain won't exist in most localities. Centrally shipped e-commerce will fill some of the gap, but it will be expensive. As a result, the diversity of consumer products we currently enjoy will fall initially, but will soon be completely eclipsed by a torrential supply of virtual designs for every product conceivable.

Local fabrication will get cheap and easy. The cost of machines that can print, lathe, etch, cut materials to produce three dimensional products will drop to affordable levels (including consumer level versions). This sector is about to pass out of its "home brew computer club phase" and rocket to global acceptance.


Loren said...

Micro-manufacturing is becoming easier and easier. We even have machines smaller than a room that can manufacture silicon chips. Sophistication increases the capital investment needed, but such things can be sold for enough to produce a return--provided you have a device to use the chips in.

Look at the comment about the Arduino. The alternative is to stock large numbers of such chips, and just build the devices. The Atmel microcontroller the Arduino uses can probably be used to run an engine, or perhaps even an MP3 player, provided you can interface the storage. Everything from guns to cars, microchips to guided missiles, can be made locally.

Even the feedstock can be done locally, though that takes even more machines. As things break down, someone will invent more machines, to help fill the gap in the supply lines. If we get it done now, we'll be even more independent of the federal government, and it will be that much harder for htem to control us, and that much easier to tell them to go shove it.

Anonymous said...

“Today, the term [‘cottage industry‘] is still applied to any industry where at least one part of the larger manufacturing or developmental process is completed in private homes. Modern technology in America, and around the world, often involves many work-at-home programmers, writers, reporters, designers, manufacturers who are very much a part of cottage industry production and/or services.”

Rob Allen’s idea is hardly novel. It seems to be modeled after the New England shoe manufacturing cottage industry of the 19th century.

The unspoken assumption of Allen’s article seems to be that present-day large-scale industrial production is facing severe contraction or perhaps even an outright collapse, and will be replaced by e-commerce of an indeterminate (seemingly smaller) size.

In reality, production is neither “large-scale” nor “small-scale” but every business enterprise tends towards that magnitude where unit costs of production are lowest.

As such, businesses, big, small and of medium size will be with us into the foreseeable future. As a practical matter, can you imagine sophisticated military armaments such as nuclear submarines and intercontinental missiles being built in in basements and garages? Wasn’t this how Mao tried to fuel his Great Leap Forward?

Backyard gardens will continue to coexist with agribusiness, just as the Amish still use horse-drawn plows profitably while their neighbors operate combines. Neither enjoys an absolute advantage over the other.

It is certain that the coming increases in inflation, regulation and taxation will severely hamper American competitiveness abroad, so having a home-based business simply makes good sense if you want to supplement the diminishing income from your day job.

As Adam Smith observed, there is a lot of ruin in a country. Entrepreneurs may still gain the upper hand over socialist-inspired attempts to impoverish them.


drjim said...

Yes, I read that and thought it was rather interesting.
What he fails to realize (or at least mention) is that making manufactured parts or assemblies for almost anything requires some amount of skill. Some things can be made easily (if you can cast bullets, you can probably cast a piston for a small engine), and some things can't. Ever try to make a microprocessor? Or a transistor? Or fix your own laptop? Didn't think so.
The problem with taking his thoughts to the extreme, like would happen in a total collapse, is that the infrastructure might not be there to support his ideas. The problem is that while there will always be sharp people around to fix older stuff, or build new stuff, where are you going to get the parts? A homemade cast piston might get your generator or motorcycle running again, but if your Intel Core2 Duo blows, and you can't get a replacement, you're hosed.

Jerome Carter said...

A few years ago, I came up with an idea to insulate society against global trends, such as the one we face now. I called it "cell economic insulation" whereby each small "village" undertook to attract one or two families capable of performing key trades: law, medicine, machining, architecture, construction, fabrication, agriculture, wood working, a tailor, a baker, etc.

My reasons for this were seemingly evident given the current conditions but the overall thrust was to shake off the governments intervention. The system would need a founding doctrine laying out the basic, but specific, guidelines in order to create a reproducible and successful pattern.

I'm not the first though - others have coined the term "micro-economic zone" in the past. Essentially that's what this is. The benefit is insulation from strains. But, feed stock is the major concern and the over emphasis on self reliance can lead to network scale apathy... why would a self sustaining community in Ohio care about what happens in Texas anymore except that we all rely on common means - eg the afore mentioned feed stock.

Overall, I agree with the author - we'll find ourselves more or less left with this as our only option as technology improves and resources become more contested and strained. But, resting here leaves us somewhat status-quoe as a species. What I would rather see is that all this strain folks claim we put on the planet be turned instead into justification for pushing out into space. I'm probably in a minority with Buzz but it seems more logical to keep pushing at the seams than to curtail ourselves into extinction.

Happy D said...

As a Industrial Designer I can promise this is a very real probability.
But just imagine the ATFU's future problems when you down load A.P. ammo and Uzi S.M.G.
The cat of industrial production got out of the bag in the 1700s ,some say the late roman empire. And is now to big for the bag!
If someone can come up with a way for the creator to get paid fairly for their design work without it being ripped off this will really take off.

ScottJ said...

I need to know more.

I dream all the time about getting out of the cube farm and the politics of working for a big multinational.

I love the writing code part of my job but hate all the associated paperwork (most of that govenment imposed, imagine that).

But freelancing is damn hard. I tried to do some work on the side for awhile and burned out quickly because it's like having two full-time jobs.

Anonymous said...

As much as I am a cheerleader for garage manufacturing, rapid prototyping, $3,500 hobby CNC routers, etc., I don't think the efficiencies of conventional mass production assembly lines will go away. Some of the workers will be replaced by robot arms, but automobiles will still be cheaper to make in a big dedicated Henry Ford plant full of special-purpose tools and fixtures, than to fabricate in your garage.

Energy gets cheap and harder to centrally control when solar cells get cheap. Nanosolar has cheap solar cells shipping today. Soon others will copy this technology, despite the whining about government-granted monopolies ("patents"). In response, the greens will invent some new lie about why you aren't allowed to produce or consume energy.

Liberty doesn't arise from communist central planners forcibly imposing their five-year plan for liberty production ("the constitution") on hapless peasants. Instead, liberty arises from a highly distributed, hard to centrally control, free economy of well-informed craftspersons doing whatever they want. Concentrate on making a wide enough variety of things in your garage, and soon you'll look around and notice that you have liberty.

Among other reasons, the Confederacy failed because they didn't have a competitive manufacturing industrial base, and they had monoculture exports. Don't repeat that mistake. If you want functional independence from "X", then you must have the self-sufficiency to tell "X" to go take a hike. This argument is true no matter who or what size "X" is.

Anonymous said...

Check out what can be done with simply a low end mill, MIG welder, bandsaw, and lathe ( Total machine and tooling cost probably less than $2k. Brainpower and motivation required? Priceless.

Prescient post Mike V.
Technology is a defining force on today's battlefield. The Welsh Long Bow took the tax collecting knight off his horse from a hidden position in the bushes, becoming a force for ending serfdom.

Combine electronic counter measures aimed at breaking communication links of our opposition, plus some clever mechanical contraptions that act as force multipliers, and our band of brigands can become a feared advisary in the halls of Anti-2A forces. These technologies require basic home workshops: scopes, laser experiments, chemical labs, basic machining ability.
Check out Grizzly for workable and inexpensive home machining equipment. Get a basic electronic lab set-up at less than $300.

Then when the house to house searches and confiscation comes to your hood, you will at least have some technology gifts for them.

Anonymous said...

The world seems to be headed in the direction of "The Weapons Shops of Isher," in the sense that anyone sufficiently motivated can manufacture deadly weapons. This is not a sad state of affairs for those of us that love liberty.

Anonymous said...

I was at a meeting where this was discussed. (Local Linux Users Group]
The speaker had one main point "making stuff is hard" IOW, we're not quite there yet.
I want book publishing to come first, books on demand, have been waiting for that since before Mosaic and Netscape.
Keep us posted on Absolved
P.S. some ppl would buy a "how to"
manual on CD.