Guest Commentary: Factories Need to Collaborate for Future Success

Nathan Oostendorp believes manufacturers have to collaborate and learn from each other to stay competitive.

Nathan Oostendorp is a successful open-source entrepreneur living in Ann Arbor, Mich. He is the founder of Ingenuitas, a company that uses Open Source software to improve quality control in manufacturing.

He shares his thoughts on why he thinks the future of manufacturing depends on factories working together to improve their industry.

As we soul-search for what manufacturing needs to reinvent itself, there is a light in the darkness. We can look to a sector that has drastically impacted the way we live and communicate.

Mobile devices, online social networks, and the Internet have changed the way we interact — but they also show us a new, more open, way to innovate in manufacturing.


Companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook created immense value for their shareholders and users. But one thing they have in common, is they have all used open innovation, often in the form of Open Source software, to bring products to market quickly and cheaply.

Open Source is software and code that’s freely distributed over the Internet.  This lets people use it in their own way.

There would be a lot fewer web companies if it still cost $10,000 for a server and the software to run it, like it did in the early 90’s. Today it costs a few bucks, if you pay anything at all.

Walk in a factory today, there’s a lot of computers being used on the floor.  But they’re usually expensive and you can’t upgrade them yourself. With an Open Source system, anyone could make improvements as they adapt them to their needs for safety, quality control and data management. The result would be something that’s low-cost and creates a lot of value.

If you want to see at what the future of manufacturing with open source could look like, go no further than the Maker Faire Detroit at the Henry Ford Museum.

The exhibitors, or “Makers”, figure out ways to manufacture their own designs, in a way that is very similar to Open Source: They publish designs for their prototypes. They use Open Source software and off-the-shelf hardware. They blog, and tweet every dead end and every small victory.

Sure, at the Maker Faire there’s dragon trucks, life-size games of mousetrap, and souped-up micro race cars – but they’ve also produced some pretty impressive machines – Open Source Computer Controlled Routers, Laser Cutters, and 3D Printers were all on display. All things used in manufacturing today.

Some are sold by as kits by profitable businesses, some are works in progress and many are merely extensively documented weekend projects. But these developers of “Open Hardware” and doing just what the Open Source Software hackers did, only with electronics and machines.

It may seem like a big leap from a few Open Source machines to a massive change in how things are made, but if you look automation’s history, big things can happen when entire industries decide to collaborate.

For 30 years Henry Ford’s automobile manufacturers association required automakers to share their patented innovations with each other, and the result was the golden age of Detroit.

Today, with our means of communication and the pace of global innovation, Open Source collaboration on automation technology represents a way for an entire sector to create much more value to their customers.

In the US, the era of manufacturing turning massive amounts of unskilled labor into a production system is over. Technology can move manufacturing towards an industry where the best innovators, not the cheapest workers, will reap the rewards.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network.



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