FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

DIY Manufacturing

Technology is making it easier not only to create and distribute information, but to manufacture physical products. Just as blogs have created a culture of "citizen journalists," do-it-yourself manufacturing is giving rise to "citizen engineers." An overview of this phenomenon in Fortune notes:

Much as eBay transformed distribution, [DIY manufacturers are] redefining design and manufacture. The infrastructure is there: Yahoo Groups make it easier for people to trade ideas and learn quickly; free or cheap computer-aided-design (CAD) programs allow users to cobble together blueprints; and inexpensive manufacturing in China allows the idea to go from file to factory. There are even websites like Alibaba.com that will help these small-timers find Chinese factories eager for their work, meaning that the amateur nation has its own Match.com.

The article profiles a former IT executive who is designing and manufacturing a combination digital camera/MP3 player... without a manufacturing infrastructure.

The DIY trend is not lost on established players; instead of being threatened by it, some plan to capitalize on it. Microsoft is working to develop "phidgets" -- small electronic components that can be programmed via Microsoft's Visual Studio Express. Using phidgets, individuals could develop their own RFID tagging or other electronic system.