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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.

future of manufacturing is distributed

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.

So what do we do?

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 which 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 Mazak, Haas, DMG, 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 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.

 future of manufactuing distributed automotive

For entrepreneurs and makers it 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. What entrepreneurs making things need is a way to make a little, test a little, make a little more, 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 sitting on idle time. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter love empowering independent creators, and this new model will enable their production while empowering American machine shops. Its a perfect fit, they need manufacturers and manufacturers need them.

What does this mean for the future?

The future of manufacturing is in distributed manufacturing.  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 mill, lathe, laser, waterjet and swiss lathes. Then stepping into API connectivity to ERP systems, and ultimately moving straight to machine to machine communication.

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. Organizations like the MTConnect Institute are collaborating in an effort to produce an internet-based, open source technical standard and specification to foster greater interoperability between equipment, accessories, applications, and devices in the manufacturing industry. Stephan Biller’s idea of a “Brilliant Factory” no longer seems so far-fetched – a “digital thread,” he calls it, which runs through the manufacturing process from product design to the factory floor and back. Companies on the ground like ITAMCO are leading the way, showing that innovation and technology adoption are an integral part of business. Automated, interconnected machines able to communicate to one another and relay operational information and manufacturing status to a controller’s computer, iPad or iPhone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week will be the new normal.

What would you do if you were an entrepreneur or a maker with zero overhead? What would you do if you were a manufacturer with a fully automated, interoperable and interconnected production line running 24-7 with no idle machine time? You would change the world by focusing on what you need and can do versus what you think you should do.


MakeTime is an online marketplace that connects manufacturers with each other, as well as makers and designers in order to buy and sell machine capacity on demand. Machine time buyers can post projects for machine owners to bid on, and machine owners can also list their idle capacity for buyers to reserve in bulk. Please visit to learn more.