The industrial revolution was a period of unprecedented expansion of technology that lead to a huge increase in economic opportunity. It was a period marked with great inventiveness that transformed the Europe and America. The power of that inventiveness echoes through today.
Similarly, in recent years, there have been a number of significant breakthroughs that offer great potential for the improvement of many current technologies. But more subtle transformations are taking place throughout the industrial landscape that offer new opportunities yet to be explored.
In many areas of part production, there are solutions that offer reduced cost per part. The emergence of new CNC’s that are available at the $10,000 level reduces the amortized cost for producing parts by as much as 500%. Simply put, it you have to produce 1000 parts on a machine tool, the final cost of the part is significantly impacted by the cost of the machine tool. A $50,000 machine tool will cost $50 per part across 1000 parts. A $10,000 machine tool will only cost $10 per part.
This economic shift may make it possible to enter a market with an improved price point for an existing product, or create an opportunity to do something new that wasn’t possible because of cost and volume constraints.
In similar fashion the metals industry has consistently worked to developed processes and technology that allow part cost reductions, and more recently, smaller batch sizes for certain applications. The smaller batch size has the same effect on cost, it lowers the investment cost for improving old designs or coming up with new ones.
The same trend is in place in the controls arena. Processor technology that used to cost $20. a few years ago is available now for $2-3 and network versions that permit Internet interface are available for around $5. This makes it practical to embed intelligence and communications in products even if the application is relatively simple. The low cost is a compelling value in many products. And in many arenas there are libraries of application code that already exists that may provide 60% or more of the development code for something you are working on.
Energy is still a bit of a limitation. We don’t have a “Mr. Fusion” nuclear reactor that runs of kitchen scraps. But things are looking up in this area with lithium based batteries making great strides in energy density. And there is substantial improvement on the way.
But the real point here is; Dust if off and Try it Again. Take those “back of the napkin” sketches you’ve been tinkering with or thinking about and look at them again from the perspective that there dozens of technology improvements out there that will reduce the cost of the product you were thinking about a couple of years ago. The change in the economics, as amortized cost, or the cost threshold to get your first batch of parts made, are factors that have a huge impact on the feasibility.
It just may be the time for a breakthrough. A second industrial revolution.