Zebracorn’s Key Stakeholders Presentation, 3/7/2018.

A shout-out to Team #900, the Zebracorns, one of our local FIRST Robotics teams here in Durham, NC. Sophisticated, inspired, robots, pushing the limits of the game/design challenges. The team recently did a progress review for their key supporters: an evening of robotics-in-action covering planning and work so far this year getting ready for competition. Cool robots for sure.

Take a look into one of these robots … there’s a lot of great technology. But what impresses me is the broad use of digital fabrication in their making. The robots are a produced object —the team typically making several copies…

Affordable, large-format CNC makes new wood production possible. From Ruben1331

Over the last several months, I have spoken to several groups about robotics in small manufacturing. Everyone gets that robots, and specifically the digital-fabricating robots that are particularly interesting to me, are machines that offer useful automation — automation in the sense of helping a producer make a lot of something. But an emphasis on automation can make it easy to miss the more powerful advantages that robotic assistance offers small manufacturing. These are the advantages that will be key to re-establishing the competitiveness of local, low- and medium-volume production.

Today is the start of National Robotics Week.

Instruments of Power by Thomas Hart Benton (1931); {detail} Metropolitan Museum of Art

I’ve argued for revitalizing manufacturing in our communities by encouraging and supporting new, local entrepreneurs whose small manufacturing operations will be made competitive by digital fabrication technologies and digital infrastructures. But how do we accomplish that encouragement?

The answer is simple: grow local support. Grow facilities, incubators, and infrastructures appropriate for local manufacturing; and, make local manufacturing development an attractive and realistic path for those who have the energy and enthusiasm for it. That’s all that it takes to facilitate manufacturing and product development that favors local production. Reservoirs of entrepreneurial enthusiasm for small manufacturing are waiting to be tapped.

At Handibot, we’re betting on digital fab!

Having proclaimed the virtues of digital fabrication as a way to make local, small-manufacturing competitive again, I need to explain that for me this is not just an abstract concept. At ShopBot/Handibot, we’re betting on it. So, the easiest way for me to clarify and illustrate the type of manufacturing that I have been describing is to just lay out what we are doing; what it is that we are betting can realistically work — shameless promotion be damned (and, FYI here’s the explanation of dogfooding).

Will warehouse robotic production be our way forward?

Bringing manufacturing back to our communities will not happen automatically. Yes, we can be hopeful about re-invigorating local manufacturing in a new-industrial-revolution world based on digital fabrication technologies. Digital fabrication leapfrogs the labor-demanding and capital-intense mass production methods that defined the last industrial revolution. As reviewed in earlier postings, for many areas of manufacturing, digital fabrication represents a paradigm shift in how we produce our stuff — one that for some products has the potential to make local manufacturing and small micro-manufacturing realistically competitive.

We might also find it encouraging, as demonstrated by the surging “maker movement”, that hands-on-work along…

Digitally Fabricated Zomes, The Zomadic Architecture of Rob Bell; photo by Tristan Savatier, used with permission.

The “new industrial revolution” promises a paradigm-shift that can favor the entrepreneurial small manufacturer. This opportunity for the little guy creates an opening for re-establishing manufacturing in our communities. The enabling technology that underlies the opportunity is called digital fabrication. Digital fabrication, for many types of products, leapfrogs the current stalwart of centralized mass-production and replaces it with new methods that can make the small producer competitive again. Here’s why …

You probably already know about digital fabrication because of 3D printing. It’s the super-star exemplar of digital fab. It would be hard to have missed the hype-cycle that surrounded…

When the eager hero of the “Start-Up” podcast (Season 1) pitches his pod-casting business plan to a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, the VC lets him know that his dream is no more than that of a small-minded, “life-style” entrepreneur. The budding business-builder is deflated. The plan he’s carefully honed for growth and profit is not the high-growth business opportunity that the VC investor seeks. …

Ted Hall

A manufacturing future based on new fabrication technologies. Founder http://www.ShopBotTools.com, http://www.Handibot.com & http://www.100kGarages.com

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