Makers: The New Industrial Revolution Hardcover – Oct 2 2012
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“Anderson’s enthusiasm for his subject matter really shines through. . . . This isn’t a journalist taking a casual interest in a passing fad. This is someone who has a pretty serious grip on what he’s talking about.”
“Optimism is Anderson’s métier, and in his previous books [he] displayed the same tendency to see only the bright side. In both cases, though, Anderson was on to something, and that’s true of Makers.”
“Anderson is a sort of capitalist revolutionary, and Makers is the industrial chapter in a larger manifesto for the democratizing force of the internet.”
About the Author
As editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, CHRIS ANDERSON has led the magazine to multiple National Magazine Award nominations, winning the prestigious top prize for General Excellence in 2005, 2007, and 2009. He was named Editor of the Year by Advertising Age magazine in 2005. In 2009 Wired was named Magazine of the Decade by the editors of AdWeek. Chris Anderson is one of the most knowledgeable, insightful and articulate voices at the center of the new economy. In a series of groundbreaking articles and books, he has identified important new trends in the economy and described new business models for seizing the business opportunities they represent.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
I have to admit - I'm now ready to buy a 3D printer!
Emile Amar, Real Estate Broker
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I think there are a few things worth adding. First while digital fabrication technology is amazing it is only as useful as the people using it. A cnc router won't make you a good cabinet maker any more that a word processor will make you a good writer or a digital synthesizer will make you a good musician. A synthesizer enables a good musician to become a whole orchestra almost instantly. But a bad musician still sounds like a bad musician and a bad writer is just as annoying as ever to read. What these technologies do is allow the talented craftsman, musician, writer to be more productive than ever, and also lower the barriers to entry for the people with talent who are not part of the established social hierarchy.
In my own shop I don't have my own cnc equipment. When I take on a project like a kitchen, I simply email lists of parts (doors, drawers, carvings) to fabricators not far from my shop and in some cases the parts come back to me the next morning. My suppliers don't stock inventory, they fabricate the parts digitally and so they can produce whatever I want in whatever sizes I want. This is the easy part of my job. The hard part getting the clients to decide on what they want, and figuring out how to fit everything they want into the space they have on their budget. To use a car analogy most clients want something like a "Hummer/Lamborghini/Porsche/Lexus/Rolls" for the price of a Focus. They often send me 3d cad drawings of their dream kitchen. It is nearly always like those famous drawings by Escher. At first glance they seem very geometrically precise, but they can't exist in 3 dimensional reality. Squaring this circle is always a challenge, and demands a combining the skills of an expert cabinet maker with those of a psychotherapist. The second hard part of my job is fitting cabinets which are always made to be regular shapes into old real houses which are never square or level. Accomplishing this task demands the skills of an expert finish carpenter, tricks that I learned from my grandfather.
In short to be a cabinet maker in the digital age you still need all the skills of a traditional cabinet maker. However what digital technology and advances in new technology in general mean is that small shops can now compete with large factories in a way they couldn't 30 years ago. I can now offer my clients anything that large factory kitchen manufacturers could in the past. For example, 30 years ago complex cabinet door styles could only be made custom at great expense using traditional cabinet shop tools or economically in large batches at big factories. Now I can order 1 door if I need it economically. And, I can beat mass production companies hands down in terms of service and speed.
In many cases I can also compete with mass producers on cost. This is because I have lower transaction costs. One of the things that frightens small scale producers is the fact that labour costs of small scale production can't compete with mass production particularly if the goods can be produced in places like China. People say "They make that thing in China for $5, how can I compete". However, if the small scale producer sells locally they don't have to compete with the $5 labour cost in China; they only have to compete with the $50 or $100 retail cost in their local market. The goods that are produced in China have a long list of transaction costs associated with them: transportation, wholesaling, retailing, packaging, inventory, obsolescence, corporate expenses and profit, mass market advertising and promotion. All these costs mean that the widget that is produced for $ 5 needs to sell for $ 50 or $ 100 to make a profit. This leaves lots of room for local artisans to make a living, as long as they keep their transaction costs down.
Anderson points out the digital crowd is rediscovering actual reality. I think he does not go far enough in this. People like actual reality. One of the things little noted in the frenzy of the digital revolution is the success of the Home Depot retail model. 30 years ago building materials was a virtual business. Materials were stored in warehouses to which customers both commercial and retail had no access. Most businesses would simply phone the supplier, say what they wanted and give an account number or use a visa and it would be delivered, much like ordering things online but over the phone. Even if you went to a lumber yard, you would usually go to a desk and order things and they would be brought out to you. Home Depot changed all this by putting everything on open shelves so people could go in a play with it. The builders supply became playground for handy people. At the height of the virtual revolution, Home Depot took over the market for home building supplies by `going actual'.
I find this in my own business. While the web is a good way to get my name out, showing people real physical samples is the best way to close a sale. After a visit I always make sure I leave a potential customer with a few samples to play with. This way my brand sits on the kitchen table while they are trying to come to a decision.
All this points to the possibility of a business model that Anderson hints at, but does not really explore; the return of the traditional neighborhood artisan. A few hundred years ago if you wanted a pair of shoes, or a coat or a piece of furniture you went to a shoemaker, or a tailor or a cabinet maker and told them what you wanted and they made it for you. There was personal contact between the producer and the consumer, you could touch and feel the materials and say what you liked. People could take pride in their work and see the smiles on the faces of happy customers.
This was a world wiped out by mass production. Huge production runs meant the artisan could not compete with mass produced goods. But mass production brought its own costs. The producer and the consumer became separated by a huge faceless corporate distribution system, which pretended to care, but most suspected really didn't. This was partially documented by Marx as worker alienation. The flipside, consumer alienation, is perhaps best documented by Monty Python. Mass production also brings with it a whole host of transaction costs, noted above, which make it not as cheap as it might at first appear.
New production technology offers the possibility of changing all this. When I go to a shoe store it is always a frustrating experience. I always want some combination of style and size that they never seem to have in the back. Imagine however if a shoe store had say 50 or 100 basic shoes that you could try on for size and fit, as well as some other samples that you could use to pick the styles. With the help of an expert shoemaker you could try on the fitting samples until you found something comfortable. Then you could use the style samples to mix and match all the colour and style details that fit your taste. This shoe store would not have a big warehouse of boxes in the back but some rolls of material as well as some cnc cutting and printing machines and specialized assembly tools. Depending on the complexity of the order you could go and have a coffee and then come back and pick up your order, or maybe come back the next day. This shoe store would give you exactly what you want as well as have some real cost benefits. There would be no packaging cost, low inventory costs, and much lower transportation costs. (Compressed rolls of material are much cheaper to transport and store than packaged finished good). Many of these cost reductions would also be environmental benefits, such as less packaging and transport. And worker and consumer alienation would be a thing of the past.
This is how I run my cabinet shop and I think it has great potential. Sign shops already work on this model. Perhaps the mall of the future could look like the high street of old, with shoemakers, tailors and furniture makers crafting what you want when you want them. The digital world provides the infrastructure and the tools, but the purchasing process would be actual and face to face. The best of both worlds maybe?
(I also wrote a doctoral dissertation at Oxford which was in large part about the relationship of the world of things to the world of symbols, so I have also been interested in these problems from a philosophical perspective. My examiners, postmodernists who don't believe in outdated concepts like `reality', didn't take kindly to it.)
If you never heard about Makers, 3D-printing, digital fabrication, Arduino, Kickstarter, and the new DIY movement, then this book is a great start (also check out the article The third industrial revolution by The Economist).
As in his previous books (The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More and Free: How Today's Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing), Anderson does a great job in explaining a nascent trend in an easy language and with plenty of examples. Much of what he writes about is backed by his personal experience and through his access to key actors of the maker movement.
The book tells the story of the maker movement and compares it to the previous industrial revolutions, presenting the thesis that this shift in manufacturing could offer a way for the USA (and the Western world in general) to fend off the predominance of China in the production of physical objects. Anderson explains how manufacturing ("the world of things"), or more appropriately, digital manufacturing, is following the same steps as the Web, which has democratized publishing, broadcasting and communications, into the world of atoms, allowing almost anybody with a smart idea and a little expertise to make those ideas into physical objects.
*The Tools of the Maker Movement
Anderson describes the basic Maker tools -hardware and software- and their underlying technologies by dedicating a final chapter that describes such tools as:
-3D printers - additive processes like Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
-CNC (computer numerical control) machines - a substractive technology
-Laser Cutters (according to Anderson this is the "real workhorse of the Maker Movement [...] they're the digital tool everyone uses first, in part because they're so simple and foolproof.")
-G-Code (the machine language used by 3D printers, CNC machines and others)
-Software like AutoCAD, Adobe Illustrator, Solid Works, Sketchup, TinkerCAD and many others.
*Making & Marketing
As a marketer, I found interesting the author's reflections on community building and marketing:
"When you're creating a community from scratch, consider starting it as a social network rather than as a blog or a discussion group. [...] One of the key elements of a successful community is content with broad appeal [...] such rich, engaging content is marketing -- marketing of the community itself, but also of the products that the community has created. Whether they thing of it this way or not, the most successful Makers are also the best marketers. They're constantly blogging about their progress, and tweeting, too.
Of course, it's not just marketing: the reason that it's so effective is that it's also providing something of value that people appreciate and pay attention to. But at the end of the day, everything you do, from the naming of your product to whose coattail you decide to ride (like we chose Arduino), is at least partly a marketing decision."
Stop reading, make something
The natural step after reading Makers would be to, well, actually make something. I've been playing with Arduinos and have had access to laser cutters and 3D printers in the past, but never really engaged in a project. Now I've just joined the Fablab in Torino, Italy, for a practical introductory course to 3D printing and am working on a 2D design to run through a laser cutter, probably at the FabCafe (which as its name implies, is a coffee place with laser cutting machine and soon other maker tools) in Tokyo during my next visit (will report on that when it's done).
*Who is this book for?
If you're a maker already, this book will add little or nothing to your knowledge but it could be a great gift to offer to those that think you're kinda crazy and that you waste too much time tinkering at your workbench.
Proposing that a technology like 3D printing -- which is becoming increasingly cheaper, better, faster and omnipresent -- can change the world, and actually calling it a new industrial revolution might raise lot's of neck hair stand on end.
But the author's experience as an editor and writer (I also recommend his two other books: the Long Tail about the rise of niche products and services in a mass market global economy, and Free, a book about how pricing schemes of $0 and giving thing away can still be a profitable business model) plays to his favour, crafting a coherent and enthusiastic discourse with enough back up stories to make it sound not only believable, but desirable as well.
In his vision of the near future, or even more, our current present, home-brew manufacturing stands to revolutionise the American economy. Is he right about this?
In 1776 the (first) Industrial Revolution replaced human power with machine power, thus amplifying human potential. Machines could take a simple gesture, or small physical effort from a person first, a water, steam, diesel or electrical machine later, and obtain faster results with less effort. "Things" could be built, but more to that, industries were born, both in the sense of a place with building facilities, and also in the economical terms of marketplace and trade.
He proposes there's a second Industrial Revolution, the digital revolution of the late seventies and early eighties, with Personal Computers. Interestingly enough, he sets the date to 1985, when Apple released the LaserWriter printer as a Desktop Publishing platform, and not the release of the Personal Computers a few years before that.
In that way, using the word Desktop (desktop computer, desktop publishing, desktop manufacturing) empowers industrial changes just presented democratising the tools of creation. Publishing quickly became the common thing on the web -- and the web became the common thing before that, so we "posted, uploaded, and shared" our way into this decade. Desktop technologies gave people tools of digital creation. Once attached to the network, the tools of distribution were democratised. Now we can do the same that big corporations could previously do, at least still in the digital trade.
But does the same paradigm apply to 3D prints? And how?
From that on -- he argues - it's not hard to see that the past ten years have been about finding new social and innovation models on the web, and the following ten are about getting things on the real world; "Atoms are the new bits" he said at a recent conference.
Today, it may seem as a simplified version of reality to just say that with access to digital fabrication tools, wether our own or in a Maker Space or FabLab "everyone with an idea, will have the tools to realise it", but it's a provocative thought, in the same line as in one of it chapter's title "we are all designers now, me might as well get good at it".
What does it take to get all those ideas into the "real" world is what makes the difference, and "maker tools" make that process easy, however there is still a big leap to be made, and that is the gene of need finding and creation.
Tools are just tools. It's how we use them that makes the difference.
Despite these complaints, Makers is a quality book for contemplating the future of desktop manufacturing. Anderson's enthusiasm keeps you entertained, while you pick through his book for the quality bits and pieces that might entice you. Anderson certainly name drops the devices and software needed to get started as a hobbyist, and does show some examples of people who were able to turn those hobbies into full-fledged businesses. Anderson's book isn't going to become the Bible of 3D printing by any means, but it's more than enough to get you creatively thinking about desktop manufacturing, and certainly shows you ways to enter into the Maker Movement.
Anderson's examples are all toys, more or less: radio-controlled model airplanes, World War Two weapons for Lego sets, a fish tank for jellyfish, a "Baja racer" (dune buggy?) kit car. His organizational model of enthusiastic customers creating new designs and voluntarily fixing code only works with hobbyists. I work in medical technology; the "maker" ideology doesn't apply. Licensed medical professionals are adamantly opposed to innovations that threaten their income and/or prestige (read: guarded knowledge). I've been trying to get people with speech disorders to volunteer to code speech samples for researchers, using Amazon's Mechanical Turk. This would cut the time and expense of research in half or less, as well as enable people with speech disorders to feel they are "doing something" to advance research in the field. The charitable organizations, professional organizations, and government grant providers oppose this. I could go on with many other examples. Anderson has a chapter about D-I-Y DNA labs, but he says that all they've done is check if sushi bars are passing off cheaper fish for expensive species.
A couple minor complaints: "cool" and "ultimate" are used way too often. Anderson needs a word processor that beeps annoyingly when he types those words. He also uses the phrase "a dog's breakfast" when the correct phrase is "a dog's dinner," meaning an unpleasant-looking mixture of different items. (My dog just finished his dinner of rice, olive oil, doggie nutritional powder, grated cheese, a pork chop, and pizza for dessert. The phrase doesn't apply to all dogs!)