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Manufacturing’s Future: The Role of Craftsmanship

Posted By Paul Tate, December 31, 2013 at 8:20 AM, in Category: The Innovative Enterprise

In today’s increasingly digi-centric, disposable world, there’s a danger we’re forgetting something important about both the heritage, and the future, of the global manufacturing industry – the value of craftsmanship.

Digitization is certainly making modern manufacturing faster, leaner, more adaptable and more economic. But where will this leave the traditional role of the craftsman in the industry’s future? 

Over the summer this year I helped to oversee a series of archaeological test pits in a small English village. The cumulated results of artefacts and finds – spanning thousands of years from prehistoric flint flakes, to elegantly-decorated medieval pottery, to fistfuls of distinctive Victorian clay pipes - was a dusty reminder of the remarkable history of mankind’s pursuit to craft things of usefulness, value and often beauty.

If you’ve got an early Apple - hang onto it. If you’ve got an early Rembrant, Bugatti, Ming vase, or 1950’s juke box … you’ve already got the point. 

Interestingly, while advanced technologies may have automated much of the human factor out of the mass production process over the last decade, some observers see specific new manufacturing technologies as providing the catalyst for a resurgence in craftsmanship – especially technologies such as 3D printing.

As Abe Reichental, President and CEO at 3D printing company 3D Systems puts it: “Together we are democratizing craftsmanship, imparting a new kind of design-to-manufacturing literacy and catalyzing localized distributed manufacturing.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Local Motors’ CEO John Rogers, whose company combines an online, collaborative design and ideation community with local micro-factories where individuals can pursue their engineering dreams and physically craft their ideas into potential products. 

Throughout history, craftsmen have used the very latest tools to create better, higher quality products. Perhaps we are now entering a new era where transformative technologies don’t simply distract us from the importance of human craftsmanship in the manufacturing process, but actively enable the art of the craftsman to reassert its value as an essential part of the future of the industry.

What role do you see for craftsmanship in manufacturing’s increasingly digitized future? 

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive


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