I'm at the airport, waiting to fly down to Washington D.C. for a Maker to Manufacturer summit at the White House, about what startups, entrepreneurs, and makers need from U.S. manufacturing to support low-volume prodcution,on the way to finding product/market fit.
Other topics include: What hardware/sofware will increase the variety and value of what can be designed/prototyped/manufactured? How can the U.S. strengthen the manufacturing know how of it's workers, given that it's often not taught in formal university programs? What public and private actions can maximize the economic impact of the democtratization of manufacturing?
Here are some of my thoughts and ideas about specific technologies and practices that would make an impact:
1. A significant portion of product development and manufacturing is project management. While technology has enabled a lone maker to create prototypes that would once be prohibitively expensive, it does not prepare them for the discipline of manufacturing at any sort of scale (even as low as 100's of units.) An industry working group to arrive at a standardized Bill of Materials would help first time makers self train and organize and would facilitate the quote process with manufacturers.
2. From my personal experience in the New England area, the manufacturing workforce is aging, and it's IT savy has not caught up to the speed of modern e-commerce. Even basics such as a website with information about the types of jobs a company can run (i.e. processes and volumes, value added services, typical lead times) make it difficult to connect makers with manufacturers. There is no "yelp for manufacturers" yet, although some companies are starting to tackle the issue.
3. Modern "content marketing" suggests giving away content for free and establishing expertise leads to inbounds sales leads. Manufacturers, take note! Makers want design guides and know how! What's too big? Too small? Too detailed? Too hard to reach? And most importantly, WHAT DOES IT COST, or at least, how can I ball park it for design and planning purposes? Protomold.com is a shining example of this in practice.
4. While the "3-d printing revolution" has been overhyped, I believe that's it's true strength will lie in reducing tooling costs. A piece of injection molded plastic may cost 25 cents, but even from the cheapest sources, the mold to make it costs $3000. Reducing the cost and lead time of tooling and setup would be transformative.