The Solution to Offshore Manufacturing is Technology, Not Politics
In The Biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, it talked about a meeting Steve Jobs had with President Obama. Jobs was quoted saying, ‘“You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.’
It was clear in tonight’s State of the Union address that this particular conversation weighed on President Obama’s mind, as he addressed it directly. In the Address, President Obama talked about solutions to fix our current American manufacturing processes. He mentioned possibilities such as reducing taxes for companies willing to manufacture in America, and making it more expensive for companies that chose to manufacture overseas. I argue that this is not enough though, perhaps not even necessary, as in an era of technology and brilliant minds technology itself will replace the need for offshore manufacturing.
Silicon Angle has a great post about “The Era of the Physible”, a take on a new category of the file sharing website, Pirate Bay, that shares 3D designs for printers that can print objects in 3D. In it they discuss the future of 3D printing, and how we are getting near the real possibility of Star Trek-like “replicators”, which can manufacture just about anything you can imagine.
I believe the future of manufacturing is in these devices. I think we are just years away from replacing entire factory lines with simple, polymer ink-based printers not much bigger than the printer that prints on paper in your own house. Here’s the best part: each of these “factory-in-a-box” devices will be in every home in America. (They’re already on their way in simple forms – see Cubify for example)
I predict, in the not too distant future, not only will you be able to shop, buy, and order phones, devices, and gadgets online (most likely through a mobile device if current trends have their way), but you’ll also be able to print those devices out, right in your home, just like you do a piece of paper right now. That’s right – the future of manufacturing exists in the homes of every single American, and every person in the world. We won’t need those offshore factories in the future! It’s an industry that, just like the automotive industry, just like just about any mechanical, human-powered industry, is quickly being replaced by computers!
Apple’s meticulous about its manufacturing processes. Steve Jobs instilled a culture where even the factories of Apple themselves were decorated in pristine white design, beautiful, well-functioning processes that got things out quick. With Apple’s focus on end-to-end solutions and control over the entire process, Apple could very well move in this direction.