Results tagged “manufacturing”

Pushing Daisies

By Bryan Larrick on April 12, 2012 4:19 PM

A new report is out on the top ten dying industries in the United States. There's little that's a surprise, but it is dismaying to see the list anyways. These are good industries that provided (and still do, in a couple cases) valuable services to the American people.

Among the lowlights on the list are #4, DVD, game, and video rental; and #6, recordable media manufacturing. This is one of those industries that has little real value left to it. Because information is now mostly weightless, there just is no space for an industry that relies on physical media as the lynchpin of their success. When these industries disappear, it won't be necessary to shed a tear for them because the real product they dealt in, information, will still exist. The delivery method will have changed, that is all.

A couple of the industries that made the list do so purely from the effects of outsourcing. Shoe manufacturing, apparel manufacturing, hardware, all of these industries are hurting in the United States not because we can't do them or because there is no longer a buck to be made. Rather, American businesses are taking advantage of the fact that the developing world has yet to have its workers' rights movement, so wages are low. That's it. No unions plus lax labor laws means that foreign workers are ripe for low pay and, in many cases, outright exploitation. There's not much that can be done here in the states to reduce the outflow of manual labor to countries where it is cheaper. The burden, unfortunately, is mostly on the workers of those countries to fight for the rights that American workers did over a century ago.

It's #2 on the list, newspaper publishing, that is a real downer. As I've written on this site before, newspapers are more important than their profitability. They don't just move information from point A to point B. Newspapers are content generators, that put a lot of time and resources into getting the stories they publish right. Without newspapers, the idea of accountable government or business would be laughable. At their best, newspapers shine a light into the darkness. But with the coming of the internet, their profit model has been severely damaged, reducing the amount of resources they can commit to reporting. Former venerable institutions like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Los Angeles Times are being eclipsed by pseudo-journalistic sites like HuffingtonPost.com, which does little original reporting. The downfall of newspaper publishing is not something to shrug one's shoulders at, like with Blockbuster falling apart. It is a genuine tragedy.

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

By Bryan Larrick on November 15, 2011 1:50 PM

A couple days ago, the New York Times published a post on its Bits blog by Nick Bilton about the disruptive effects 3-D printers are set to have on product design. From the post:

It won't be long before people have a 3-D printer sitting at home alongside its old inkjet counterpart. These 3-D printers, some already costing less than a computer did in 1999, can print objects by spraying layers of plastic, metal or ceramics into shapes. People can download plans for an object, hit print, and a few minutes later have it in their hands.

The thought of being able to torrent household objects is a game changer not only in design, but also in retail, ownership and copyright, Bilton feels. Is this the death of manufacturing? The death of stores? Will refills for a 3-D printer's jets be the only physical thing we will need to buy in the near future? In many ways it's a chilling prospect.

We're already seeing the deleterious effects on creativity that digital conversion of music, books, movies, etc., has wrought. It's harder to make a living these days being creative. If it can be disseminated, it will. Money that would normally go to a creator instead never enters into the transaction. This is less of a problem for big time projects like blockbuster movies, but pirating has cut off much of the funds that smaller projects need to keep their creators out of an office.

But all that is kid stuff compared to what Bilton hinted at. The death of retail and the death of ownership, while not inherently bad things on their own, represent a fundamental shift in how we've ordered capitalism and western society. This shift will alter the interrelations we have that keep us fed, sheltered, and prosperous. We are a people that trade. First goods and services, then metal and paper money, then zeros and ones. That could all go away.

Once upon a time, it was pure science fiction to think that we could get whatever we wanted out of a box on a shelf. It seemed like a little bit of paradise. In the future, there would be no war, no prejudice, no injustice, and no want of either material necessities or food. It's a compelling pastiche. Will our reality be so enlightened? I hate to be a pessimist, but war, prejudice, and injustice look like they are here to stay. And want? 3-D printers, on their face, look like a sure fire way to tackle the problems of deprivation. But before we get too far ahead, remember that these printers do not spin objects out of whole cloth. Even the most advanced 3-D printers that are realistically possible require raw materials to function.

So we're on the cusp of a new way of life. Will 3-D printers mean the end of want? Will they mean the major economies of the world will move completely into the digital realm? Will they mean control of raw materials will pass to a small power elite? Will they result in a lack of motivation among the populace to produce anything at all for themselves? We will not know the answers for decades, but home manufacturing will change how we live more than anything that has come out of the information revolution before it.

How It's Made

By Michael Mulvey on August 4, 2011 8:23 AM

MacNN: PC makers gripe: Intel ultrabooks can't undercut MacBook Air

Intel's ultrabook spec is triggering frustration among Taiwan-area PC builders used to having cheaper machines than Apple, local contacts claimed Wednesday. Chassis guidelines requiring metal shells, solid-state drives, and very efficient lithium-polymer batteries to replicate the MacBook Air prevent the companies from undercutting Apple on price. Unless Intel cuts its own prices, there's no real way to beat the Air, Digitimes was told.

The Intel hardware in a $1,000 system would make up a third of the price by itself.

Some are also supposedly complaining about having to change their notebook manufacturing processes. Not being used to the unified, soldered on designs Apple has been making since 2008, they would have to retool to get away from the traditional, bulkier, piece-by-piece manufacturing they're used to. Intel has been holding workshops with companies to improve methods and the parts themselves.

Steve Jobs said Design is "not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." (fourth paragraph, last two lines)

It's not much of a stretch to say Design is also about how it's made.

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