World Futures: What Do We Need? STUFF – Distributed Manufacturing – Volume/Density/Mass

Los Alamos World Futures Institute

In the not so distant past of world history, humans were primarily concerned with survival. Their time was spent engaged in activities at the lowest levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy, primarily focused on food and shelter. As the human population grew, the fabrication of other things such as tools, weapons, fabricated shelters, things of comfort, and even concocted food stuffs grew with the organization of civilization. Then the industrial revolution occurred and manufacturing bloomed.

In the revolution, depending on the product produced, manufacturing became centralized. The products being built or manufactured gained efficiency in production by being constructed at central locations and subsequently distributed to the customer/user audience.

Flash-forward to today. There is a mix of manufacturing locations, depending on the product.  A loaf of bread can be manufactured at home from raw materials (almost) of flour, yeast, water, and other stuff using the home oven (also a manufactured product) or purchased as a manufactured product at the grocery store or bakery.

Of course, the bread manufactured outside of the home environment has handling, packaging, and distribution costs. At the individual level, these costs are probably offset by the time-cost of the home resident – what could he or she have been productively doing?

In contrast, a house or other building must be manufactured locally. Yes, there are prefabricated houses, there are Quonset huts, there are sheds, and on and on. But are these adequate enough to meet the judgment call as a house or office building or skyscraper?  Probably not, or…?

In between these sizes of objects are millions of other tangible items. A notable example is the automobile. It is assembled from other manufactured parts at centralized locations and then shipped as a finished product. Stated another way, after some valued has been added, the sorted and assembled parts are reshipped to another location. This process has distribution costs in handling and energy consuming movement.

Finally consider information products including computer code. Books obviously conform to the model outlined above. But digital products (including books in digital form) use a new model.  

Once the network has been established, be it by wire or using the ether (obsolete term intended), the distribution is almost free. It has moved into the domain of communication because information is not physically tangible. Yet it provides an abstract model for the creation of goods where the workforce (for creation and assembly of components) can be distributed globally.

Distributed Manufacturing has many aspects in common with the item Product Distribution. The difference is that distributed manufacturing is concerned with identifying what products or product components can avoid or reduce the need and costs of distribution and how. It also supports brainstorming what will be needed by an evolved humanity, especially at the higher levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

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