Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Commoditizing the standardized, commoditizing the individually customized 15: redefining change and technological obsolescence

Posted in strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on July 24, 2013

This is my fifteenth 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 1-13 and Business Strategy and Operations – 3, posting 405 for Part 14.) And in recent installments I have been focusing on how new manufacturing technologies and new materials:

• Can enable the development and mainstreaming of disruptively new products, and
• can also support reliable, cost-effective production of even routine product offerings but in new settings and to meet new types of what had previously been unaddressed need.

See Part 13: the biological and medical 3-D printer and emergent custom manufacturing capabilities and Part 14: on-site 3-D printing, and acute disaster response and its follow-up in regard to those two points.

I turn in this posting to consider how new manufacturing capabilities in general, and 3-D printing as a specific working example can fundamentally redefine obsolescence.

As noted about, this specific new and emerging technology holds potential for opening up whole new approaches to disaster relief and to post-disaster recovery efforts. When effectively deployed and supported it would make it a lot easier to provide on-site the right products, assembled in the right numbers and with the right customizations needed by individual end users, where they are needed and precisely when they are needed too. In a similar way and as the topic of this posting, this new and emerging manufacturing capability opens up new approaches to Green and environmentalism and for the production of the right numbers of more end-user friendly and sustainable products where needed and when needed. For background references on Green business approaches and practices and related issues per se, see:

• My series: Building a Business from a Green Foundation, at Business Strategy and Operations, postings 74 and loosely following for Parts 1-6, and also series such as
• Implementing a Social Networking Strategy to Drive Effective Green Technology and Sustainability, at Social Networking and Business, postings 50 and following for Parts 1-10.

For both of these areas of application: disaster relief and its follow-up, and Green and sustainability, these printers allow end users to select what to build and where, and in what numbers for addressing specific direct end user needs.

We are all but drowning in waste and from use once and throw away plastic containers that do not degrade and recycle back into the environment for their raw materials, and from manufactured products designed and built to be unrepairable – the products of intentionally planned obsolescence, and from many other sources. Most disposable diapers for example, that are definitely use once and throw away products can literally be expected to last intact for centuries in the anoxic environment of a landfill. The cumulative impact of all of this is to both degrade our environment and threaten and damage our health, and a growing awareness of that is coming to reshape our overall public awareness.

• Personalized, customized short run production technologies such as 3-D printers allow for limited production of replacement parts and for individual and individualized small batch production of new product alternatives to the offerings of planned obsolescence-oriented businesses.
• As such, 3-D printing holds promise for becoming a true Green technology where individual product units are only assembled when and where and as needed, and where end-users can select for durability and for capability for repair and maintenance.
• And this type of consumer-based push back against mass produced, one size fits all planned obsolescence products opens up market opportunity for large scale producers that would focus on manufacturing and offering more sustainable products too.

I write this posting at a time when this type of Green envisioning of 3-D printing technology is still more prospective than realized. I see this as a still early stage emerging trend as we move deeper into the 21st century, and for both countries like the United Stated that are more industrially advanced and for the as yet more developing world too.

• New and emerging production technologies and capabilities enable the manufacture and commoditized offering of new products and new types of products.
• But even more importantly they provoke a widespread and even fully mainstreamed rethinking of the possible, and with time of the necessary and required essential too.

I have been writing more about the impact of New on people and societies for information technology and communications here in this blog, but paralleling and equally profound changes are also taking place in our capacity to produce and distribute goods too.

I am certain to come back to the issues that I have been addressing here in this series, in future postings and series, but end this series and its specific discussion here at this point. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its Part 2 and Part 3 continuation pages, and this specific series installment and postings related to it at United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID).


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