Friday, January 5, 2007


Many people are familiar with the idea of Print on Demand. You know the hype. You walk into your local bookstore, order a copy of any book ever written, and in a few minutes (or hours), pick up your new printed, bound copy. Or you get your morning newspaper(?), filled with just the news you care about, off your printer. This technology is here today, and is starting to gain a foothold.

But really, this is just a special case of Manufacturing on Demand. Printers, binders, etc. are just manufacturing machines. As other processes become increasingly automated, and as that automation technology drops in price, there's no reason why there can't be distributed manufacturing everywhere. Why not show up at a car dealer and have the exact car you want built for you that day? Or choose your own cell phone features and gizmos and walk away with that exact phone? When you go on vacation, instead of packing, just have your hotel room closet stocked with all the clothes you'll need, made to your exact specifications.

To some extent, this is available in certain fields today. You can configure and order a PC on-line and pick it up at a retail store that day. And of course, you can get your coffee or food made to order.

Shipping parts and materials around is typically a lot cheaper than shipping finished manufactured goods. Retailers don't have to worry about which items to keep in inventory if all are made from the same set of parts. You can even design your own cell phones, laptops, etc. and have them assembled for you.

This was even embodied in the software development movement towards object-oriented programming. Once robust object classes had been designed and developed, software for all sorts of applications could be assembled from these parts.

At least, that was the theory.

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