The Future is Wonderful and Terrible
The first sign of a tsunami is the water receding. In the 2004 tsunami that curiosity puzzled people. Many followed the receding water to see where it went. If they had understood what it meant they would have sprinted for the hills. More people would have survived that catastropy.
The curiosity surrounding additive manufacturing is similar. We are curious, but not alarmed. Perhaps we should be. This may be a tsunami, wrecking everything we know about how organizations function. This tsunami is technical, driven by internet and the 3D writer, open platforms and Massive Open Online Courses. Many of the Fortune 500 corporations we all admire may disappear. General Electric may well endure, they certainly are at the forefront so far, producing the key component of their best selling engine (the leap engine) entirely by 3D printers.
3D printers makes it possible to produce an airplane engine nozzle that is 25% lighter and that lasts five times as long. That makes it difficult for GEs competitors in the industry not to copy their move to a factory consisting of 3D printers. But the aspect that really makes me tick is this: What happens when one of the engineers think of a possible improvement? It may be wrong to say the threshold for testing ideas out has been lowered, it has virtually been taken away. In a factory consisting of a hundred advanced industrial printers one can easily be put aside for testing the new idea out. No new tools are needed. No changing of settings in the machine.
Wham, Bam, Thankyou Mam!
Of course, when the nozzle for the Leap Engine is produced this way much fewer components are needed. That may be bad news for a number of the smaller companies producing parts for GEs engines.
It is also good. Digitalization, additive manufacturing, Massive online courses and social media all converge to create the basis for an empowerment revolution where pyramids are bound to tumble and fall. Corporate presidents earning 400 times the salary of the lowest paid employee is probably a historical paradox. We are leaving the productivity society for something we may call the creativity society. The successfully creative few will be the new winners. This is already happening. The new business champions seldom have thousands of employees. More likely, they consist of less than 20 smart and hard working guys and girls. These 20 kids may displace hundreds of thousands employees, like when Instragram rode the digital wave that killed Kodak.
The transportation industries shrink too, as they move from transporting gadgets back and forth to delivering the raw materials we need for our writers. Self driving trucks will displace thousands of truck drivers while fully automated, internet based transport centrals will displace the many people working in transport coordination today. This is all wonderful and terrible.
Talents will no longer be trapped on the wrong side of the walls we use today to keep them away from competing with us. Education will be available to many more by the internet. Free courses are here to stay because the cost of teaching 40 students is roughly equal to the cost of teaching 40 000 students from all around the world.
The last major wave of change happened over a hundred years away. We stopped farming to become factory workers, clerks, hairdressers and everything else the city needs. It was a slow evolution. This one will be much faster.
The question is not “is this going to happen?” It is already is. You just don’t see it yet. But it gives rise to a whole lot of important questions. What are all these people going to do? Does this mean cities continue to grow because that is where you get the innovative climate you need to develop great things, or can that trend be reversed? What is the role of corporations in this new landscape? Will the “organization” as we know it be replaced by the verb “organizing”?
We need to look at practical issues like “who is going to pay my pension?” and “how are my kids likely to feed their families?”
We cannot let engineers alone do this thinking. The European Institute of Behavioral Analysis intends to be part of this discussion.