Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Commoditizing the standardized, commoditizing the individually customized 11: exotic materials and combining manufacturing processes 2

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 2, 2013

This is my eleventh installment in a series on the changing nature of production and commoditization (see Business Strategy and Operations – 2, postings 363 and loosely following for Parts 1-10.)

Up to here in this series I have been discussing standardized and more individually customized production methodologies and approaches, and the materials that would go into facilitating those methodologies and that would go into the products so produced. My goal for this installment is to discuss what at least as of this writing, is a still unresolved bottleneck engineering challenge for manufacturing, for one of our more promising emerging approaches to personalized, individualized small batch production: 3-D printing.

• I initially raised the prospect of adding integrated circuits and related electronic elements into items manufactured by 3-D printers in Part 6 of this series.
• And during the course of its discussion, I noted the value of being able to functionally connect 3-D printer manufactured, custom-produced products into local networks and even into the overall internet of things (also see my series: Some Thought Concerning a Rapidly Emerging Internet of Things at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 211 and loosely following, with Parts 1-7 completed as of this writing.)
• The overall goal in this is to be able to make the customized and custom-produced products of 3-D printing both smart and connected.
• I raised as a matter of design and manufacturing principle, the prospect of incorporating customizable chips into these products, that could be functionally set up on the fly and even by the 3-D printer itself, and at an electronics hardware level using field-programmable gate array technology.
• And that is where current technology, as of this writing at least, hits a wall.

In principle, pre-developed chips and associated, supportive hardware or even those more fully customizable chips could be installed into 3-D printer products. And for chips that come pre-developed and essentially completed at the strictly hardware level, it should still be possible to fairly significantly customize them for any given final product produced, through firmware and software programming. These chips and associated and supportive electronic hardware could be added in as functionally capable and structurally compatible laminar layers in the course of 3-D product assembly, which is carried out through a layer by layer build-out process.

• The engineering challenge is to cost-effectively find ways to produce these electronically functional layers on the fly, so they can be incorporated into end product production assemblies
• And with compatible sizes and shapes for the assembly layers they are built into, for fitting into the end product.
• And they would have to be customizable, cost-effectively, for their intended uses and at whatever level of customization that would be required (e.g. field-programmable gate array construction of functional customized circuitry hardware, firmware programming of circuit systems already in place, software programming of these systems or some combination.)
• And these functional layers would have to be able to functionally survive further product construction steps as, for example when next layers in these laminated structures are added on, and through any final post-lamination assembly processes as they are carried out.

This is a challenge that requires innovation in materials used and in the manufacturing processes that they would be added in through, so that both the finished unit product and the manufacturing systems used to make them could be cost-effectively produced and used and with acceptably low product failure and defect rates.

• And with that this current manufacturing challenge as outlined above, can be viewed as a working example of a more archetypal process of how the state of the art for new manufacturing processes advances,
• As ways to manufacture products that meet certain needs and goals are developed as prototype possibilities,
• And for how these are then refined and made reliable and cost-effective enough to go into wider production.

And successful new products and successful new manufacturing innovations that make them commercially possible and practical, set new standards that serve as baselines that next-step and next-generation innovation can grow from.
I am going to continue this series in a next installment where I will at least begin delving into the issues of neural networks and self-assembling systems. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its Part 2 continuation page.

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