From Production Line to Manufacturing Web to Fabrication Cloud

Over the course of the 20th century, the assembly line model evolved within a changing landscape of more flexible machinery and complex supply chains and distribution networks. What we have today looks more like an interconnected manufacturing web than isolated production-line factories.

Another way of thinking about these shifts is in terms of how they transform raw materials into finished products. The moving assembly line, first introduced at Ford’s Highland Park, Michigan, plant in 1913,  employed a wide variety of material and resource inputs and a vast number of manufacturing processes to steadily produce a strictly limited set of objects in massive numbers. Today’s manufacturing web, in contrast, is far more flexible, diversified, and agile. Plants and machines can quickly be retooled and revved up or down to “burst-produce” far smaller runs of a much larger set of products.

3D printing presents yet a third model, a fabrication cloud that takes a very limited number of input materials and processes but can flexibly manipulate them to cost-effectively produce an almost infinite array of products in batches as small as one.

The following chart summarizes the role of machines, labor, materials, and distribution networks in each era:

Production line Manufacturing web Fabrication cloud
Machinery Manually-operated machine tools Computerized numerical control machine tools (CNC) Rapid prototyping / additive manufacturing
Labor’s added value Skilled machine operators Programmers Designers
Materials Metal, wood, rubber Metal, wood, plastic, foam Plastic, low melting-point metals, powdered materials, cells, binders
Distribution Wholesalers Retailers, direct to consumers Fabricate-on-demand, fabricate-on-site
Recycling/reuse of products None Select components Entire objects

Next: Perils: A World of Crapjects

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    • Anonymous
    • April 21st, 2016


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