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Crowdsourcing and Manufacturing

October 20, 2011
at 12:53 pm PST

The challenges facing the US manufacturing industry are varied and well-known: foreign competition, regulatory and environmental concerns, and a decline in STEM education, to name a few.

Most of what we hear in the news is a continual stream of reminders of these challenges from politicians, pundits, etc. Everyone seems to acknowledge this is a problem, but what are we going to do about it?

Mark Halpern of Gartner recently spoke about what he believes are the 5 Technologies To Fix Manufacturing.

However, do note that he did not write that these technologies are the ones to fix US manufacturing in particular. If US manufacturing intends to remain competitive, then it may be wise to embrace these technologies, as its competition most likely already has or intends to:

Software: The use of software in manufactured products is changing what consumers expect. Cars have 10 million lines of code, physical devices are becoming human-machine interfaces and virtual products abound. Software changes manufacturing tactics and enables physical goods to become services. Think e-readers and e-book sales.

Crowdsourcing and co-creation: These two social media developments help engage customers and can offer design breakthroughs. Usage of these social tools is nascent.

Analytics: Product lifecycle management can be greatly improved through the use of analytics. By monitoring products, quality and profit margin, manufacturers will know what processes and technologies can be captured and reused.

Design communities: Halpern noted the example of Local Motors, which focuses on automotive product development in communities. Design communities create products for rewards and Local Motors bets on microfactories to create limited quantities of prototypes.

Manufacturing 2.0: This term encompasses multiple technologies—service oriented architecture, supply network collaboration, interfaces to recruit talent, social tools and sensors throughout the manufacturing process. Collectively, these technologies allow a manufacturer to get to market faster with better results.

The “crowdsourcing and co-creation” addition is what interested me the most. Crowdsourcing is to use a large, undefined group — often public —  to come up with a solution to a problem or task. It is an advanced form of social networking and collaboration (think Wikipedia). The manufacturing industry has been slow to adopt mainstream social media in general, even when compared to other B2B industries. So is it ready for this?

I really like the idea – but I am a bit curious about the expected timeline. While he acknowledges that crowdsourcing and co-creation are “nacent,” compared to the other technologies he describes it seems very far down the road. Therefore, when I think of what technologies can be used to help fix US manufacturing, I wonder if this will truly be one of them. In either case, kudos to Mr. Halpern for his forward-thinking.

Do you think he is correct? What would you add or subtract from his list?

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4 Comments.


  1. This is a tricky subject, because what seems to be resistance from manufacturers in embracing ‘social’ are actually organic obstacles to adoption – like regulatory compliance, security compliance, proprietary controls & industry standards. But while most manufacturers & engineers aren’t really ‘social’ by nature, they are very collaborative. Through the design, R&D, development, production & supply chains, there are sprouts of adoption. But to these critters, that adoption must conform to and enhance myriad other processes & procedures.

    Simply put, they don’t have the luxuries to throw these things against the wall to see what sticks. It’s not in their DNA, and there’s often much more at stake in complex manufacturing clusters.

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  2. Andrew Lach

    Hi AJ,

    Great points. What you’ve written is actually at the heart of most of our internal debates regarding social media here at Cisco. It will be very interesting to see over the next few years whether this adoption gap between manufacturing and other B2Bs will grow, shrink or remain consistent — and if direct competition will be the main driver of that change.

    Thanks for commenting!

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  3. Hi Andrew – I was reading Halpern’s original article yesterday and figured I should comment here as well! I think that it will be important to adopt and develop new technologies in order for the manufacturing industry to prosper. I also think that a very important part of “fixing” manufacturing is to re-position it’s place in the collective cultural psyche. Currently, the image of manufacturing lacks a certain sophistication that young graduates today are attracted to. I think it will be key to rebuild the image of what manufacturing in the US is.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing! – Aly

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  4. Andrew Lach

    Hi Aly,

    Thanks for the great feedback! Your comment about re-positioning manufacturing’s place in our collective cultural psyche is dead on. A very telling sign is from a recent survey which reported “only 30% of Americans said they have or would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.”

    We discussed this issue in one of our recent blogs:

    http://blogs.cisco.com/manufacturing/stem-and-the-u-s-manufacturing-conundrum/

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