The Future of Manufacturing is Distributed - Among Other Things.

Drura Parrish / April 14, 2015


Smarter, more opinionated, and involved 21st century manufacturing is distributed manufacturing.

Smarter, more opinionated, and involved consumers are driving the American economy. Time is precious to them and experience is everything, which is causing brands to shuffle in response to their needs. Rapid advances in the manufacturing sector are making it possible to build out an on-demand distributed manufacturing platform that will allow for a more effective and iterative product development life cycle.  Paul Milgrom and John Roberts forecast that increased technology adoption will lead to cheaper, faster, and more accessible manufacturing, in turn, driving the potential for increased product line diversity and turnaround. This is best seen in the proliferation of car models over the years.

Toyota Car Models

Number of Toyota Car Models Produced Over Time

OEM’s have increased the diversification of their product lines to respond to ever-changing consumer demands.  Concurrently, we have seen the rise of entrepreneurs and prosumers delivering products that fill unmet needs. All the while, domestically, we have seen manufacturing jobs moving to countries that respond to change quicker and move at a global pace. To accommodate this shift, manufacturers and machine shops must adapt.


The critical step is to strip the heartbeat of manufacturing to its core and build it back up. CNC machining begins with a file that is produced. This then generates a toolpath that in turn is posted to a machine to cut or add material.  Yes, there are required tolerances and set up involved, but for the most part the machines do all the work –  even assembly – and in many cases the machines can speak to each other. Yet, the majority of the manufacturing world still believes in paper-based invoicing, driven by the need for minimum orders to produce too many things that will not be purchased and end up sitting on shelves. At the center of all of this is time. You need time on machines to make the things that consumers want.

Buying and selling machine time by the hour will open new horizons in manufacturing. First, it will reduce overhead for successful manufacturers and machine shops.  No need to buy a new machine when you can rent the time (including an operator) on an as-needed basis. Sorry MazakHaasDMG, etc.  We’re not trying to compete with your sales people: Quite the opposite. We want to fill the machines you’re leasing and selling so your customers can buy more. Second, monetize idle machine time in shops where there is a lack of work. Wouldn’t that be great – to fill machines across the country? Third is risk mitigation and new development in large OEMs through time-based machine extensions to their own capabilities – think, on-demand, aggregated contract manufacturing. Be proactive in risk, don’t react and fly parts when you have verified people next door to you. Time and potential are everything. It doesn’t matter to Toyota that they can get a $.20 part produced for $.15 as much as knowing they can receive the part on time and in the quantities needed. No part, no delivery. That is a huge problem.

Car Parts

For entrepreneurs and makers distributed manufacturing opens new possibilities. There is no need for minimum order quantities. If you are starting a new business, it is very dangerous to invest in a large order. Entrepreneurs who are making things need a way to make a little, test a little, make a little more, and hone a little more.  Iteration is key. Imagine a successful Kickstarter project or a new life-saving medical device being manufactured and shipped in days instead of months using machines in a shop currently sitting on idle time.


The future of manufacturing is in distributed manufacturing.  American manufacturers spend over $118 Billion a year on new equipment.  However, we have not learned to effectively manage our own capacity. More and more processes will be automated with further digitalization of the supply chain. We believe in a step through process to accommodate this change, beginning with our online marketplace where you can buy or sell time on machines like a CNC milllathelaserwaterjet, and swiss lathes. Then stepping into API connectivity to ERP systems, and ultimately moving straight to machine to machine (M2M) communication. I love the vision of a distributed manufacturing/making base where the gross overcontrolled mass-produced and marketed past slowly drips away as a more dynamic, independent, and innovative amorphic future rises up. To think this will not occur is akin to believing that desktop computing is a fad, or that mobile will “never” be able to replace the desktop, and so forth.

Working in hourly units allows scalability and new pathways to distribute information. Companies like Fanuc are consistently pursuing increased automation of factories with their highly intelligent, ultra-precise, reliable and interconnected robots. The definition of 21st century manufacturing is distributed manufacturing.

Find out more about how partnering with MakeTime for distributed manufacturing can speed your path to from prototype to production.