The Digital Industrial Revolution and how it will change creativity

by John LobellMakerBot-Replicator-2

It’s ultimately about who we are as human beings!

Affordable ($500) 3D printers are everywhere, in schools, in homes, and certainly in the news, but they are only a small part of something bigger.

A new way of making things is emerging, variously described as digital fabrication, desktop manufacturing, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, the Third Industrial Revolution, the New Industrial Revolution, the Maker Movement, etc. Here I am using the term, “the Digital Industrial Revolution.” One way of understanding the Digital Industrial Revolution is to look at the revolution in graphic (2D) design and production, which is now totally digital. With the Digital Industrial Revolution, digital processes can be now applied to material objects (3D) for fabrication and even mass production in a manner that parallels what happened in graphic design.

The revolution in graphic design changed the graphic design industry, graphic design education, the lives of graphic designers, and much of society. The Digital Industrial Revolution will change manufacturing and eventually all of society.

The adoption of the Bauhaus approach and that of other modern movements in art, design, and education was not just a preference for clean lines, but a totally new understanding of who were are as human beings, no longer rooted in the past, as we had been with the Beaux Arts, but on a contemporary scientific materialism.

But the Bauhaus was a hundred years ago. We are in a totally new world, one defined by globalism, resource challenges, rapid communication, digital design, digital fabrication, and the rise of the creative class. In other words, by the Digital Industrial Revolution.

The Digital Industrial Revolution

The digital revolution has changed how we present, store, and transmit information. This includes that it has made doing so economical to the point where we are leaving a scarcity information economy and entering an abundance information economy. One effect of all of this is that the digital revolution has changed the way information companies are created and launched. We are seeing:

  • Rapid development from concept to operation
  • Low capital requirements, due in part to outsourcing capital intense technologies
  • New companies and even new industries developed by small teams of highly creative individuals rather than by large established, capital intense industries
  • Companies reaching multi-billion dollar scale in years rather than decades

Some examples of this include Google which was launched not by an existing resource-rich company already in the field like Microsoft, but by graduate students in a Stanford computer lab; Facebook which was launched not by an existing company already in the field like AOL Time Warner, but by undergraduate students in a Harvard dorm; and many others including Twitter, Tumblr, Skype, etc.

What has made this revolution possible?

  • Affordable equipment (laptop computers)
  • Wide spread computer programming skills
  • Modularized open source software platforms such a Linux and Apache
  • Open source communications networks—the global high speed Internet
  • The ability to outsource costly and equipment-intense activities to server farms, chip fabs, etc.

All of this is Now Applying to Physical Design and Production

Think of graphic design offices. Thirty years ago a member of a design firm might have brought an idea to a meeting sketched with magic markers. Today such firms have cheap 2D printers that can produce material of the same quality as that of an “industrially” produced page of Vogue magazine.

Now think of architectural offices and industrial design offices. Today their shops include not only traditional machines, but also milling machines, 3D printers, laser cutters, robots, and other machines that can produce objects of similar quality to those produced by industrial processes.

Now these modeling technologies (such as 3D printing) are moving toward full mass production capabilities, and traditional industrial mass production will eventually be replaced in the emerging Digital Industrial Revolution.

But there is more. Not only are we experiencing new production techniques such as 3D printing, but the full implications of the “Internet of Things.” One of the things the Internet brought us was “open source.” Software such as Linux is available free on the Internet with licenses that permit anyone to use it and to add to it, as long as they freely release their add-ons to all others. The result is the rapid development of powerful software free to all.

Now we are seeing the same thing in the material world. The software for generating material things (such as, but not limited to, designs for things to be 3D printed) can be developed, improved, and shared free online, leading to similar rapid development.

We are seeing this new kind of production at every scale, from much of the jewelry sold on Etsy to Tesla. General Motors and Tesla both make electric cars and use some of the same equipment in the manufacturing process. Beyond that the similarity ends. General Motors is still for the most part a traditional industrial company. It puts computers in its cars. Tesla is an “Internet of Things” company. It makes computers and puts wheels on them. Or to state it more extremely, it makes software for computers on wheels.

It’s a new world.

For more on this and related matters, see my book, Visionary Creativity. You can buy the book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


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