A tectonic shift is underway, nationally and here in T-Town. But we need to speed it up locally and own it in every way.
Ever watch Star Trek: The Next Generation's Captain Picard or one of his peers zap up a fresh meal or magically craft a new part for The Enterprise -- items produced by a device that the crew call a "replicator?"
The cluster of notions, technologies and new economics that are central to this emerging world is called, by some, fabber tech. Others call the larger transformation of physical production the "maker movement." Like the PC revolution, the striking emergence of the Internet, and the revolution now afoot spawned by mobile computing, the new changes could completely upend the way Americans design, make and secure physical goods.
The changes could also alter employment patterns -- think "new, new labor" -- how we think about our personal capacity to make stuff and how we interact, through manufacturing, with the rest of the world.
Here's what Neil Gershenfeld, an MIT physicist/engineering maven and a leading exponent of the fabber movement says in his book Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop:
"... What if you could someday put the manufacturing power of an automotive plant on your desktop? It may sound far-fetched -- but then 30 years ago the notion of personal computers in every home sounded like science fiction -- but the next big thing is personal fabrication -- the ability to design and produce your own products, in your own home with a machine that combines consumer electronics and industrial robots. Personal fabricators are about to revolutionize the world just as PC did a generation ago..."
Back to Made in the U.S.A.?
Another part of big, upcoming change is good news for Tulsa's manufacturing companies, folks in aerospace, the HVAC industry and parts of the oil field tools and production cadre -- it's what the Boston Consulting Group calls an industrial renaissance.
From economist Paul Krugman's New York Times column from last week:
"So while we still have a deeply troubled economy, one piece of good news is that Americans are, once again, starting to actually make things. And we're doing that thanks in large part to the fact that the Fed and the Obama administration ignored very bad advise from right-wingers -- ideologues who still, in the face of all the evidence, claim to know something about creating prosperity... The Boston consulting Group, which is now predicting a US manufacturing renaissance points, to major firms like Caterpillar that have shifted production abroad but are now moving it back... Companies from other countries, especially European firms are (now also) moving production to America. ... And then there's the matter of the auto motive industry, which probably would have imploded if Pres. Obama haven't stepped into rescue General Motors and Chrysler. For these companies would almost surely gone into liquidation, closing all their factories."
The Kitchen Table Industrialist
Here's what writer Anand Giridharadas says about what he calls the Kitchen Table Industrialists, in a recent issue of the New York Times Sunday magazine.
"The new personal factories may seem like crude toys... But in technology circles they are talked about as a looming revolution they can change the way people work and create new opportunities for millions. Personal factories can perhaps be compared to the earliest personal computer -- variations of their giant counterparts that are drastically cheaper but also slower and more clumsy.
"This futuristic vision is the one that the White House endorsed in a recent report on personal manufacturing ... Within a generation you will have a hard time explaining to your grandchildren how you were able to live without your own fabber," it said, using a popular word for the new manufacturing tool ... personal fabrication technologies present an opportunity for our nation to continue to leave the world in manufacturing but in a new way."
Here in Tulsa
Excitingly, a center called the Tulsa Fab Lab is set to open here this summer. The progressive project will be a micro-factory that employs concepts and technologies at the heart of this revolution. Ann Pollard -- a hardworking Tulsa FabLab board member for more than two years said the project -- a collaboration with MIT's center for Bits and Atoms and the National Science Foundation, with major funding from visionary folks at the Hardesty Family Foundation -- could produce a seismic difference in how Tulsans see the production of things -- large and small. The Tulsa Fab Lab has already slated a summer project with a Kendall-Whittier -area private school. The project is designed to expose some lucky Tulsa kids to the hardware, technologies and systems at the core of the maker movement. While the details of this arrangement have not yet been made public, basically the project is designed to expose a bunch of modest income kids and their families to the fabber mentality and a world in which they can make real, functional objects.
There appears to be a high level of local interest in Tulsa's new Fab Lab project. Dr. Bruce Niemi, a Tulsa-based professional educator and a development/industrial training planner, sees Tulsa's Fab Lab as a portal/incubator for a more agile, reanimated manufacturing economy for the area. If he and others are correct, and if Tulsa's business community, and our university and public sector development folks jump on board, fab technologies and some related leapfrog assets (notably at places like the OSU-Tulsa Helmerich Advanced Technology and Research Center) can help Tulsa stand and deliver.
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