In a few years, everyone will be a ‛factory’

In the old days you needed money for entrepreneurship. A lot of money. You had a idea, wrote a voluminous business plan and then persuaded a bunch of serious men and women in suits to give you money. And perhaps, later on, some more. And even then you were hard up.

By contrast, nowadays, literally everything is within easy reach provided you have a luminous idea: storage space in the cloud, eminently affordable freelancers via platforms like, the possibility to quickly establish an online network via a platform or you could even use open source machine learning systems to start an AI business of your own. If then you also have the good fortune that your mother owns a garage where you and your business buddies can set up shop, then the future suddenly looks very rosy.

I can hear many of you thinking: “Yes, that’s all very well, but it only applies to service industries and pricey goods that are under threat via the sharing economy. Other sectors are still very robust and safe.” Take, for example, manufacturing. Anyone who wants to make something fast and efficiently will need a logistics giant for that: a megaplant with assembly lines and hordes of robots and human personnel. That’s not something that a twenty-year-old with a garage can hope to compete against now, is it?

Perhaps not today yet… but once 3D printers have become quick and affordable, everyone will be able to ‘manufacture’ the fruits of their own ideas. The trend is already apparent: everywhere you see open source hardware ‘libraries’ springing up. The machines there allow you, yourself, to make pretty much anything out of plastic and/or wood. The worldwide ‛Fab Labs’ are a fantastic example of that. But students too already have access to machines that allow them to destabilize billion-dollar industries: like the student organization ‛Enable UC’ that’s now able to print hand prosthetics in its campus lab for less than 20 euros a piece.

A 3D printer in every house

“A computer on every desk and in every home”: that’s what Bill Gates wrote back in 1980. The revolution that that unleashed sinks without trace compared to that of a ‛3D printer in every house’. We will be able to order most things – even food – online and print it out immediately. Put simply: within a few years from now, everyone will be his own ‛factory’. Just think what that will mean for the manufacturing industry. But also for the ships that transport containers full of products, and for courier services like UPS, and yes even for couriers that bring food to our homes, like Deliveroo.

And imagine what will happen if we can print things that are not simply ‘dead’, but which can ‛think for themselves’. During our nexxworks ‛Innovation Tours’, we often visit the visionary design thinker Mickey McManus at the ‘Pier 9’ research lab that he heads up for Autodesk. He’s always telling us that we’re evolving towards a very complex but very exciting and ‘productive’ world as three different trends will intersect and stimulate one another: the latest forms of digital manufacturing such as 3D printing, AI and the Internet of things (IoT). Besides printing objects, we will be able to render them intelligent and connect them to other objects. So little companies seem to be aware of the immensity of change that this will trigger. Even though it’s just around the corner, if we see what Mickey McManus’ ‘Pier 9’ research lab is currently engaged in. I believe that the manufacturing industry has a lot of soul-searching to do in the years to come.