The Digital Skeptic: Maker Movement Makes No Money
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Joseph Hotchkiss figures there won't be much to make in the so-called Maker Movement.
Hotchkiss knows something about making things. He is director of the Michigan State University School of Packaging in East Lansing. There he trains the world's best and brightest in the fine art of turning a mere Apple (AAPL) iPhone, Google (GOOG) Droid or Amazon (AMZN) Kindle into a retail unboxing experience worthy of major investor love.
Business at his school is brisk, and for a very good reason.
"Pretty much everybody who gets through our program," he tells me over the phone, "gets a job."
So what is Hotchkiss dying to tell investors after training generations to do the heavy lifting in packaging -- one of the largest sectors in the U.S. economy, by the by?
"As fast-moving and high-tech as our as our industry is," he explains, "I would be very skeptical about the fundamentals of large, industrialized operations following the path of the Internet towards decentralization and mass deployment."
What Hotchkiss is talking about, of course, is the oh-so-hip digital-age notion of the Maker Movement, the burning hot trend that a generation of free or low-cost desktop design and manufacturing tools will dramatically lower the cost to make finished goods.
And therefore what happened in the information economy will happen in the manufacturing economy.
"What you can now see emerging are several vertically integrated 'making chains,' which go from authoring tools to design houses to service bureaus to communities to 3-D printers," Chris Anderson, editor at Wired and author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution , says in a blog post . These chains, he explains, will combine into an integrated supply infrastructure similar to those in large, centralized, capital-intensive manufacturing firms, but at a fraction of the cost and created by just about anybody.
And, no question, democratized industrial systems appear to obey all the rules of digital disruption.
San Rafael, Calif.-based industrial design giant Autodesk (ADSK) has bet heavily on new, free-to-use tools such as the 123D design apps, which offer serious computer-assisted designs for nada. Cheap 3-D printers , including the Dimension 3D unit from Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Stratasys (SSYS) , can fab just about anything in essentially real time. There are flurries of start-ups such as Long Island-based Shapeways, which just opened a printing facility that can create 5 million on-demand objects a year.
Big DYI even has a poster child: one Limor Fried .
This MIT-trained engineer, known as Lady Ada, made the cover of Wired magazine for her New York-based shop, Adafruit Industries . She makes, designs and ships kits for making cool things such as Drawdio, an electronic pencil that makes music based on what you draw.
Indeed, when we chatted via email I found her worthy of all the media attention. She is a bright, young entrepreneur.