Right now is a pretty interesting time to be alive. Some might even say it is one of the most exciting times ever, with former World Economic Forum president Klaus Schwab calling it ‘the fourth industrial revolution’. Characterized by multiple technology breakthroughs in fields including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, The Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing and autonomous vehicles, there’s a lot of change going on.
There’s also a lot of disruption, as established businesses are upended by new entrants applying those technology developments to their advantage. You’ve no doubt seen the clichéd LinkedIn and other posts extolling the achievements of companies like Uber, Airbnb, Facebook and Alibaba respectively owning no cars, real estate, content creation or stock. But what you may not have done is look at how this is going to (potentially) affect your business.
Now, I do say ‘potentially’, because all the above-mentioned organisations are effectively brokers, using technology to connect willing buyers and sellers. It is a little different for those who make things (including windows and doors).
For the manufacturers, an approach which I believe is essential to take note of is the so-called ‘maker revolution’. There’s a heap of philosophical underpinnings to maker culture which you can read at your leisure, the essence of it goes back to the spark which got your business going in the first place: a ‘can do’ attitude and an approach of making things to solve problems yourself.
My colleague Stewart McMillan recently blogged about 3D printers which can produce complete, ready-for-use frames and brackets (and there is a company in Sweden doing it already). This is a great example of one of the tools of the maker revolution; there are others, but the truly important part isn’t the tools, but the mindset and culture embodied by makers.
These are the tinkerers, the experimenters, the curious and those for whom there are always exciting new horizons. These are the folks who have the clever ideas which could put your company at the forefront of the world of tomorrow.
There are probably a lot of makers in your company already. If I look around Soft Tech, we’ve got our fair share. 15 percent of our staff are messing around with 3D printers, CNC machines, home robotics projects, any one of a multitude of computing devices, and who knows what else.
(Yes, I’m among them… recently, I built a racing simulator in my garage. Coupling a wheel with an industrial CNC servo drive outputting 20nm of torque, directly to a PC “game”. Powered by the same physics engine that’s used in professional motorsport simulators, it accurately models feedback and forces to an unbelievable, if not tiring effect.)
The staggering thing about the ‘makers’ today is the array of tools and technologies which are within easy reach. As Stewart noted in his blog, you can have a 3D printer for around $200. A Raspberry Pi for around $50. Multiple software components or even complete packages for free, courtesy of open source software.
In short, the hobbyist today has more tools and technology at his or her disposal than NASA did when they put Neil Armstrong on the moon. Hobbyists can do things that Formula One teams couldn’t just 20 years ago.
But, you may say, what do ‘makers’ pottering around in their sheds at home have to do with you?
Well, a lot. Your company’s a maker too, and those extracurricular activities of staff members should be harnessed at work. Getting teams of people together sharing their insights and initiatives is where creativity happens.
When it comes to product design, makers can build stuff in a matter of hours or days which once may have taken months or even years. The level of knowledge has surged dramatically, the level of capabilities and tools is out of this world. I’d strongly encourage you to encourage your staff and provide them with these tools and technologies, and a sandbox at work. It’s exciting. And you’ll be amazed at the awesome things the makers come up with.