Usually, manufacturing or construction is all about cost-efficiency. Then comes along a mad scientist who will prove to the world that they’ve got it all wrong! A crazy idea is born and demonstrated – which of course upsets a lot of people. Soon, the villagers come knocking with their torches and pitchforks to deal with this new threat to their old ways of thinking and doing things!
It has been a few years now since we’ve seen news bulletins about Mercedes Benz’s car that will be grown from seeds, or how fridge-sized 3D printers will be in every home – you could print your own stuff like toys or gadgets instead of buying them from shops. A world where machines of speed are grown like plants and possibly house-hold appliances are manufactured within hours inside the house with the push of a button – that sounds like science fiction. But the existing (yet infant) technology has been consistently growing closer to that reality over the past few years.
Yeah right, it’s still fiction
If that was true, then U.S. authorities wouldn’t have banned the online distributed 3D-printing plans for manufacturing home-made guns. These not only work perfectly well, but a guy with no 3D Printer experience (or knowledge), bought such a printer and made a working gun within only 1 year. This was with a non-industrial grade printer that was made for home use.
Industrial 3D printers can use multiple materials, including metals. If home-grade plastic 3D printers can make usable guns that can fire hundreds of rounds (and then you just print a replacement barrel for another few hundred rounds), imagine what industrial-grade 3d printers can do!
If it is too much of a shock to hear about such madness, perhaps some more realistic construction or manufacturing methods will interest you?
Some smoke it, others build with it
Hempcrete. Yes, its hybrid building materials, using mixtures of concrete and hemp. You get hempwood too. A whole house could practically be built with a variety of such renewable and durable building materials, with the easy-to-grow hemp ready to harvest in just 3 months. Economic trials are being run in South Africa – it has already progressed far past proof of concept phase.
The future of manufacturing isn’t just in terms of methods, but also in terms of materials. Hemp sounds intriguing, but the idea of using organics to create habitable structures has been around a while. Genetic Engineering got its infamous reputation when we heard about cloned sheep, GMO foods, and possible miracle cures for scary human diseases. A lot of mixed feelings there. But with all that research came spin-offs – like programmable nanotechnology and the like. With toys like these, scientists and entrepreneurs alike are working towards the idea of GROWING your house instead of building it. Just like the Biome car concept from Mercedes Benz being grown from seeds.
When will new manufacturing methods prosper?
Speed, Quality, Complexity, and maintenance costs of the machinery used – these all make new manufacturing methods attractive. Currently, methods like 3D printing and genetically engineered construction are either slow, don’t have the same quality as other methods, or are too complex to do on a mass scale.
Economic viability is just one side of it. The other is how people deal with change. If something is too different, people won’t use it or adopt it. They might even oppose it. Remember what happened to the guy a few hundred years ago that said the world isn’t flat, but round? Yeah, he was given a death penalty. It’s a bad idea to be too much ahead of the times. But then as a wise man once said;
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man demands that the world adapt to himself. Therefore all progress relies on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw
It is only a matter of time until the young technologies grow up and replace the old ones. Right now, robotics are still the primary method of manufacturing complex devices and machines, like cars and microchips. They are fast, reliable, cost-effective, and customizable. But robotics have limitations. The kind of limitations that can only be overcome with a different kind of technology. Take nanotechnology as an example. To construct things on a molecular level is just something that robotics will never be able to do. Usefulness of such techniques are more obvious in the medical field, but not so obvious in the mass production field where things like cars and microchips are made.
What will happen to existing manufacturing technologies?
They will always be around, because there’s some things that will always be done better by a human hand, a typical robotic assembly, or the good old big fat construction vehicle. As explained, it’s all about efficiency and quality – use the right tool for the right job. Look at art. Ever heard of original and desirable oil paintings done by machines? What about music? Humans will always be making those. But other things might be manufactured differently in the future. Computers might work completely differently, using optic fibres to process information exponentially faster than current metallic conductor based microchips. Perhaps those will be grown in nanotech labs instead of built by robotic arms.
But one thing’s for sure – with new manufacturing technology comes new toys for scientists, businessmen, and consumers.