What is the New Industrial Revolution?
Most people have at least heard of 3D printing where digital designs are printed physically by building up layers of molten plastic. The technology is not even new, industrial machines have been around for more than 20 years. The shift is that the quality and price of desktop 3D printers has reduced to a point where they cost little more than a good laptop. This means that dozens of designs can be printed, tested and iterated in days rather than months and for a fraction of the cost of traditional prototyping methods.
In some cases where niche products require a high degree of design flexibility companies are even using 3D printers to produce production parts without constraints like minimum order quantities and setup costs associated with traditional manufacturing.
Companies like Shapeways and iMaterialise are already claiming to be the factories of the future where designers can upload their creations to the site and customers can buy directly. Shapeways or iMaterialise will then print and despatch the product to the customer effectively acting as manufacturer and distribution partner.
The capability of these printers is increasing daily, printing in exotic materials like titanium and even directly integrating electronic circuits into parts. It is only a matter of time before multinational companies have farms of these printers running, making us rethink our notion of mass manufacture. This is huge and means that products can begin to be ‘mass customised’ to meet specific needs and wants, something that would have been unthinkably expensive just 20 years ago.
Bringing a product to market is incredibly tough for startups and can also be extremely risky for established companies. Traditionally a company would develop, manufacture and buy stock of a product prior to launch. Even with thorough market research and an expensive advertising campaign there are no guarantees that customers will put their hands in their pockets and purchase.
In the last few years Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGogo have been changing the landscape of how products can be brought to market. Simply put these websites allow companies and entrepreneurs to share a prototype of their product with millions of potential customers globally and ask for pre-orders to fund mass manufacture and delivery.
This means that you already have a loyal base of fans who have not only helped fund expensive setup costs to get your idea to market but are ready to tell the world about how they helped. Crowdfunding is a already a multi billion dollar industry and growing exponentially, many people have already launched sustainable companies after raising 100’s of thousands and even millions of dollars. Larger companies are now using these platforms or running similar campaigns on their own site to launch products. In addition to the obvious cost benefits it allows them to interact directly and understand the needs of their customers, something that is critical for success in business today. Customers also feel involved and valued promoting brand loyalty and a willingness to share.
Soon this idea of ‘Presuming’ where customers decide whether a product should be brought to market will be familiar to everyone not just techies and early adopters.
In the 20th century most innovation took place behind closed doors. Products were developed in secretive R&D labs and released to the public in their finished state with limited input from the consumer. Now some companies are embracing an open approach to innovation where customers are invited to play an active and visible role in product development.
Companies like Quirky, Open IDEO, Lego and Dell are pioneering using the combined wisdom of the ‘crowd’ to socially develop better products and even solve large scale problems in health and the environment. This does mean a rethink of conventional Intellectual Property Protection as you are effectively telling everyone about your idea and it is being constantly evolved through input from your customers. The patent system has changed little in the last hundred years and is on the verge of a major shakeup to be brought in line with modern demands. Patents are notoriously difficult to enforce unless you have very deep pockets. The pace of change is furious, speed to market and a great relationship with your customers are often the more important factors for success. That’s where Open Innovation can give you the advantage.
The Internet of Things is basically hooking up previously unconnected objects and systems to the web. That means everything from your toaster to medical devices and entire transportation networks. This is a big deal because it enables machines to interact with one another in new ways and for us to have more a intuitive and seamless experience with products. A heart sensor that can read a patient’s biometrics and transmit them directly to your doctor’s smartphone or smart street lights that download realtime weather information to deliver just the right level of light, saving cities 30% on street lighting costs, are all becoming possible because of the Internet of Things. Many more cases can be found on Postscapes and it is predicted that IoT will become a multi trillion dollar industry over the next 10 years.