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An example of the current Third Industrial Revolution in manufacturing

Posted by Bert Maes on February 12, 2010

The future of American manufacturing lies in the power of the internet and the power of micro-factories, according to Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired in his article “In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits”.

Chris Anderson describes a couple of practical examples of Jeremy Rifkin’s concept of the Third Industrial Revolution.

  • The coming together of coal, steam power technology and the print press technology gave birth to the First Industrial Revolution.
  • The Second Industrial Revolution combined oil, combustion engines, with the rapid developments in electronics such as the telegraph/telex, telephone, radio, television, electric typewriters, calculators, computers and the electrification of machinery.
  • Now, Rifkin states, we are in the Third Industrial Revolution. Only now we are able to use the full force of the internet, mobile computing, wireless communication technologies from the 1990’s, in our manufacturing industry.

An example from Wired: the design of the Rally Fighter, a $50,000 off- racer is crowdsourced: an online community of 5,000 members crafted the exterior and selected the off-the-shelf components. The customers themselves assemble the cars at their homes or in local assembly centers as part of a “build experience”. Their fantasy car comes to life.

That is the power of internet, that is the power of common platforms, easy-to-use tools, web-based collaboration, peer production, open source, user-generated content and Internet distribution.

Crowdsourcing is powerful model, says, “it’s effectively free outsourcing that creates products the market wants, and fosters an intimate relationship between consumers and brands“.

Only now we are seeing the full reach of the online web. The manufacturing industry will be completely reinvented. The Third Industrial Revolution hits the real world. One-person enterprises can get things made in a factory the way only big companies could before. Small manufacturers are the key

Smart, creative people with an idea and a little expertise can set flexible and custom-made assembly lines in China into motion with nothing more than some keystrokes on their laptop. Ideas go straight into production, no tooling required.

A few days later, a prototype will be at their door, and once it all checks out, they can push a few more buttons and be in full production, making hundreds, thousands, or more.

They can become a virtual micro-factory, able to design and sell goods without leasing a huge warehouse and having to outfit it with assembly lines, forklift loaders, and other heavy equipment.

It’s all about IDEAS. “The production,” the director of the Belgian Roularta Media Group Alfons Calders said, “can move to China, they have the engineers to put our ideas in practice. Self-confidence, instead of panic, will be the challenge of future innovative thinking.

Blogger Jason Kottke calls it the “small batch movement”, that refers to businesses focused more on the quality of their products than the size of the market. They’d rather do something they were passionate about than go mass. Thomas L. Friedman uses the words “Cloud Manufacturing“.

These companies are small, virtual, informal, global and high tech. They form and re-form on the fly, search for the best abilities and the best people. The long-term result is that manufacturing production will increasingly shift toward smaller businesses and entrepreneurs.

Together they will take on the big manufacturing companies. Analysts expect almost all new manufacturing jobs in the US will come from those very small micro-companies.

This fits right with the vision of Michael Klonsinski (Board Chair of the ASMC (American Small Manufacturers Coalition):

  • “Closing the gap between where manufacturers are today and where they need to be to succeed in the years to come is a challenge — but it’s not too late. American manufacturers still have an advantage in leadership, innovation and support infrastructure, among others.”
  • The solution is not to shift away from manufacturing, but to transform our manufacturing base into a faster, more flexible industry capable of capturing global market share“.
  • Peter Adriaens, a University of Michigan entrepreneurship professor says “There is virtually nothing we can do to keep large-scale production here.” The jobs of the future will be done in small batches and highly customized. (
  • According to Harry Moser, chairman emeritus at Agie Charmilles, “reshoring is more attractive for the production of new high-mix/low-volume parts and components, that require frequent engineering changes.” (

The company Local Motors manufacturing the Rally Fighter says it can take a new vehicle from sketch to market in 18 months, about the time it takes Detroit to change the specs on some door trim.

Welcome to the Third Industrial Revolution…

Source: Wired February 2010


A European Manufacturing report from 2003 already said that global competition will put pressure on European industry to provide new products and services individually customer-tailored and based on cutting edge technology with higher quality, distinctive features, better prices and feed back loops between customer and design processes.

The 2003 European report adds that the manufacturing sector will seek staff who are able to capture feedback from users, suppliers and external knowledge sources, who can work in flexible environments and collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams.

As such there will be a pressing NEED FOR NEW COURSES AT SCHOOL FOR NEW TECHNOLOGICAL AND BUSINESS COMPETENCES and for a new focus on training and interdisciplinary and knowledge management for manufacturing companies to remain competitive.


The above internet and manufacturing revolution will soon be linked with Green Technology as well. See this chart on “the waves of innovations” since 1785.


16 Responses to “An example of the current Third Industrial Revolution in manufacturing”

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  3. […] supply chains back closer to their markets, closer to their customers – which are asking for custom-made solutions and just in time […]

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