How to transform our ideas into objects (Part 2)

Thursday, May 28th, 2009 by Fabio Carati

In a previous post I showed how the modularity of SW and HW allows the customization of products and how it can help the customer shapes his own ideas and turn them into a product.

Below, you can see a 3D model of a foot scan made with a special 3D scanner that takes only four seconds to scan a customer’s feet.

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If we think about it, there is nothing new: my grandfather produced customized shoes with wooden shoes models of his customers.

He manufactured shoes with the help of the models shown below, made in the same shape of the customer’s foot.


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In the early years of the twentieth century, my grandfather was well-known in Bologna for his ability in making leather goods.

He was asked to make saddles and bridles for racehorses.

Back then, he also had all the measures of the horses, and he manufactured customized products for animals. In those days, he also manufactured wooden limbs for amputees in the Rizzoli Hospital in Bologna.

The interesting thing is that he had always worked during his lifetime: in the shop where he sold his products and at home when he was very old; for him, the factory has never existed.

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At the beginning of the twentieth century, the footwear sector had not yet taken on the industry innovation path, with automated and centralized production, like other sectors had in the previous century. Craftsman’s success was based on:

1) manual dexterity
2) creativity
3) experience
4) network of customers

After the second world war, machines had automated the production in the footwear sector; people were organized through a rigid work and process distribution and none of them had the control of the overall process as it was the case for the artisans in the previous times.

Today we have technologies that enable us to return to the working model of my grandfather although with some major differences:

1) manual skills will be achieved by robots
2) the experience will increase over time and won’t be wasted (knowledge and experience sharing e.g. Wikipedia)
3) the market will be global
4) production of personalized items on a large scale (not only my grandfather’s customers in the old Bologna but in the world)                                                                                                                                5) products will integrate ICT and Robot Technology.

 Here is an example of an integration of shoes and a robot to help people with movement disabilities.

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The transformation of production has a major impact on companies that on one hand will need to exploit the factor of scale and on the other hand will need to be closer to the consumer. Mass market and market of one will have to go hand in hand. This is made possible by more flexible production and characterization of products through services. It is likely that we will see a landscape with few large companies, able to invest huge amount of money for infrastructural deployment and up keeping and many small enterprises focusing on niche but global markets.

These smaller enterprises will need to operate in a loose cooperation framework, an ecosystem.


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