Reliving the blacksmiths nightmare

The following  think piece came from some work I recently did in with a group exploring the future of manufacturing in Victoria Australia. The model I suggest is equally appropriate in other developed countries.

A little over 100 years ago the blacksmiths, stable owners and telegraph officers saw with some bemusement the first cars go by. What those vehicles heralded was a revolution driven by oil, electricity and the first telephones. It changed economies, societies and required knowledge. Confronted by the prospects of little or no economic growth, significant environmental constraints, disruptive technologies, expensive energy and the dynamics of social networking redefining communication, we like them, stand on the edge of our own revolution. Indeed its effects are already being felt in Victoria’s (Australia) manufacturing sector as high labour low value work migrates, at bewildering speed, to societies which such industry is viable.

For those that prefer to act rather than return to the anvil, there are pointers to success in this new future. More than a few of them (including live examples) were on display at the recent Business Enterprise Networking (BEN) event in Hume City.

Five in particular are worth mentioning:

  1. Start seeing nature as a teacher not a servant. Its taken us a long time to realise that our ‘machine’ dominated thinking and design is not nearly as smart as what nature does. Learning from nature ( biomimicry) is a smart place to start.

Who’s doing it? – InterfaceFlor create carpets in the same way that nature builds a floor and the

Chinese designed their Expo Pavilion using a termites nest for inspiration.

  1. Know that collaboration, not competition, is the new basis for advantage. The World Economic Forum has for some time suggested that closed loop thinking is the future of smart manufacturing. This requires us to pay attention and value waste streams, create beneficial (symbiotic) relationships where the transaction costs of doing business with each other is close to zero and find ways to colocate near those that can help us.

Who’s doing it? – Visy’s co-gen plant at Tumut, Shaper Group’s Regional Symbiosis projects

across Australasia and Close the Loop’s Ink Cartridge Recycling are all great examples.

  1. Expect disruptive technologies to change the rules. 3D printing, floating biological rafts made of recycled material and open source knowledge exchange are but a few of the technologies that can deliver significantly more value using far fewer resources. In this world the base line is factor 4 by 2020 (half the resources/double the value) and factor 10 by 2030.

Who’s doing it? – The CSIRO and Monash backed East Melbourne Titanium Project is

using malleable material to create world leading almost zero waste product.

  1. Business models) are changing. Every day smarter ways are being developed to deliver what people want and need. This means that all of us need to look carefully at how we go about things and be aware that where inflated margins exist that deliver little value they will vanish.

Who’s doing it?-  Look no further than Apple Itunes or catchoftheday.

  1. Explore different organisation forms. The old idea of size matters largely disappears in this new networking world. Smaller scale entities collaborating with each other will become the new norm for success.

Who’s doing it? – Riversimple’s proposition to lease its open source cars for $350/month approx.

including fuel, is severely disruptive to our idea of how cars are made and sold.

If some of this sounds strange – well it did to the blacksmiths of old too! But Victoria is well placed to lead in the development of future manufacturing if it choses to. Of course in the meantime we need to keep on doing many of the things that we do now But he revolution is now. What each of us needs to do is take small steps every week to rethink and redesign our future. If we don’t others will design it for us and their interests may not align with ours.

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