- Crowdfunding. Money isn’t always available from traditional sources. Why borrow from one or two friends when you can borrow from a thousand new friends? Globally the crowdfunding industry is estimated to have raised a hefty $5 billion last year. The largest engine is Kickstarter, but smaller ones include Indiegogo and Appba-cr. Writing on Autodesk’s website, west coast blogger Rich Thomas advises using one’s home page to introduce your product and never underestimate the quality of a well-chosen video and coherent message. However, he warns “a Kickstarter page is not a business plan. The road to a successful crowdfunding campaign is littered with stalled or broken-down initiatives that began with a great idea, but fizzled due to a lack of long-term planning.”
- New Shoring. Many companies are bringing their manufacturing closer to the consumer or end user. Increased costs overseas, decreasing wage disparities, increasing shipping and transportation costs as well as related environmental factors have contributed to more local manufacturing. Being near also helps being timely with end users. Digital technology and close communications allows suppliers to work closer together to ensure manufacturers have the right parts at the right time. Helps with creating more jobs at home, too.
- Additive manufacturing. If cutting and drilling is considered subtractive manufacturing, then 3-D printing that adds layers to a three dimensional object is additive. 3-D printing is steadily becoming cheaper. Soon everyone who wants one can have a consumer version. It’ll be like having a VCR in the 1980s. Everyone from opticians to aerospace engineers is using these devices for parts and prototypes. (Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software is an example of the collaborative design software leading the way.)
- Open-Source Hardware. The use of open-source hardware isn’t meant to replace domain knowledge, says Rich Thomas. But it can help improve one’s ability to function. Thomas points to Adafruit Industries, founded by MIT engineer Limor Fried as an open-source epicenter for small business, selling hundreds of electronic kits designed to serve the community of DIY makers flooding the Internet with their unique products.
- Advanced automation. Sensors and vision system are becoming ubiquitous. Coupled with artificial intelligence software this confluence transforms basic automation into advanced automation. And the best part is that the costs are dropping. Robots and similar devices are longer the province of big companies. Smartphones with built-in features like GPS, compass and accelerometers can even be an input device for advanced automation systems.
As usage increases and costs decline, what’s considered “advanced” technology soon becomes basic for everyone including small to mid-size companies. With so much tech available at a reasonable cost, it’s no surprise that small and mid-size manufacturing is experiencing a rebirth.