In The Biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, it talked about a meeting Steve Jobs had with President Obama. Jobs was quoted saying, ‘“You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.’ 

It was clear in tonight’s State of the Union address that this particular conversation weighed on President Obama’s mind, as he addressed it directly. In the Address, President Obama talked about solutions to fix our current American manufacturing processes. He mentioned possibilities such as reducing taxes for companies willing to manufacture in America, and making it more expensive for companies that chose to manufacture overseas. I argue that this is not enough though, perhaps not even necessary, as in an era of technology and brilliant minds technology itself will replace the need for offshore manufacturing.

Silicon Angle has a great post about “The Era of the Physible”, a take on a new category of the file sharing website, Pirate Bay, that shares 3D designs for printers that can print objects in 3D. In it they discuss the future of 3D printing, and how we are getting near the real possibility of Star Trek-like “replicators”, which can manufacture just about anything you can imagine.

I believe the future of manufacturing is in these devices. I think we are just years away from replacing entire factory lines with simple, polymer ink-based printers not much bigger than the printer that prints on paper in your own house. Here’s the best part: each of these “factory-in-a-box” devices will be in every home in America. (They’re already on their way in simple forms – see Cubify for example)

I predict, in the not too distant future, not only will you be able to shop, buy, and order phones, devices, and gadgets online (most likely through a mobile device if current trends have their way), but you’ll also be able to print those devices out, right in your home, just like you do a piece of paper right now. That’s right – the future of manufacturing exists in the homes of every single American, and every person in the world. We won’t need those offshore factories in the future! It’s an industry that, just like the automotive industry, just like just about any mechanical, human-powered industry, is quickly being replaced by computers!

Apple’s meticulous about its manufacturing processes. Steve Jobs instilled a culture where even the factories of Apple themselves were decorated in pristine white design, beautiful, well-functioning processes that got things out quick. With Apple’s focus on end-to-end solutions and control over the entire process, Apple could very well move in this direction.

Imagine a world where Apple, like their current factories, made beautiful 3D printers that created their devices in the homes of every customer, instead of building expensive factories in China. Imagine if Apple could reduce that cost, and give complete, full control to the manufacturing process of their phones in the homes of their customers. What if they put one of these in each Apple Store for customers that couldn’t buy their own 3D printers?  And guess what? Government doesn’t have to do anything to make this happen (other than making it cheaper and easier for businesses to do this). Because it’s a cheaper, more efficient process, businesses will do this for Government.
I truly believe this is the future of manufacturing, not factories and jobs of blue-collar workers. We need to be preparing for this, rather than worrying where our manufacturing is taking place. The next President’s 4 year term will start to see this major shift in manufacturing, and if they’re not prepared it’s going to hurt the American economy.
I’m concerned that we’re focusing too much on where our factories are located, and finding ways to hire more blue collar workers, when we should instead be finding more ways to get those blue collar workers interested in more white collar jobs, giving them the education they need to do them. In the future, we won’t have a need for blue collar factory jobs, period – the trends are showing that. We’ll have a need for white collar engineers, software developers, and those that can design the devices, yes, devices, that will manufacture every product created by corporate America.
In an era of the computer, internet, and mobile device, my kids aren’t even getting simple computer classes in their schools. Many children aren’t even learning how to type. I learned how to program when I was 10, in elementary school (part of this was due to lack of laws such as COPA) – I fear we’re losing this focus in America, and that’s why we’re seeing a severe shortage in high knowledge engineering talent. Kids simply aren’t seeing the importance or value of this stuff, so they don’t want to learn it.
My hope is the next President of the United States can keep this in mind as they plan their job creation strategy. Instill a love of computers and engineering in our kids. Get rid of laws like COPA that prevent kids from looking things up on their own and take the power away from parents. Bring computer and engineering education back into our school system, from elementary school age! This is a huge wick that has been lit and is heading towards a big stick of dynamite waiting to blow up. Once it does, this whole offshore factory problem won’t be an issue any more. I’m afraid none of the current USA Presidential candidates realize this.
See the above video for an example of Cubify at CES this year