Manufacturing is  not just an amalgam of industries, far more importantly, it is a capability, a way to capture imagination in a physical form.

In discussions about manufacturing, its slow demise in Australia, the level and type of support it should receive, its importance to long term prosperity, and the links between manufacturing and innovation, we leave one really important factor aside, one I suspect it is just not generally recognised. We define “industry” with the assumptions and words that came with the explosion of manufacturing in the last 100 years, the “food” industry, the “Auto” industry, the “Airline” industry, and so on. We do not seem to recognise that the capabilities are “cross industry” that the definitions we use no longer hold, if they ever did , beyond adding a bit of convenience to the language.

The lines are blurring further, rapidly and irrevocably.

Is Apple an electronics designer and  manufacturer (Mac computers), a service provider (itunes) , or a product marketer (ipad)?   My answer: They are all, and none of the above. Rather, Apple is a marketer that delivers its value proposition via a range of operational and sales channels that have nothing to do with the generally accepted definitions of industries. Certainly Apple has been able to leverage their collective imagination better than any other enterprise I can think of.

The next step is a truly scary one for many, the advent of 3-D printing.

Within a very short time, 3-D printers will be as available and cheap as desktop computers, all you need is a digital design file and a printer.  We will be able to produce everything from simple  household items to highly specified parts for our cars, produced in our kitchen.

The marvelous wind powered devices of designer Theo Jansen have been printed in miniature,  and work just like the full sized ones, and dramatically make the point. If you can imagine it, you can now print it!

Manufacturing is about to go through a change as profound as that brought on by the steam engine.

20th century notions and boundaries to “manufacturing” are as outdated as  a bow and arrow in a gunfight, so we must change the language and intellectual boundaries of the conversation if we are ever to make any sense of the dynamics at play.