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The Digital Skeptic: Now 'Freenomics' Grinds Manufacturing Into Dust

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Greg Pilling knows how he'll make millions in manufacturing: Take his company's best kept secrets and give them away. For free.

"I am going to attempt to use top-flight, on-demand crowdsourcing," Pilling wrote me about his new line of smartphone and tablet cases. "In exchange I will share the collective effort. And in turn, the whole world will get the knowledge of the thing."

The Tucson, Ariz.-based "inventor type" is the founder of Sascase, an on-demand smartphone and tablet peripheral maker. But that's just a few of the more than 100 products Pilling has developed. He was a top salesman for pricey tool maker Snap-on (SNA) . He is also owner of a self-funded, 10-person truck lift manufacturing firm that has built 100,000 such kits over the past eight years, with reach into 1,700 retail outlets in North America.

Talking to Pilling is like taking a crash course in cutting-edge, 21st century manufacturing theory.

He's as comfortable with SKU spreads as he is quoting Chris Anderson's The Long Tail or Makers: The New Industrial Revolution . He relies on sophisticated fab tools such as laser cutters and on-demand design systems to offer a vast line of products. But he builds when only he gets an order.

"Our Asian-made competitors can't match this, since most factories want a minimum order of 500 items," he said. "We would just build one if that was all that was needed."

So why is this bright, nimble industrialist giving away the intellectual farm?

"Since being copied is a near-certainty, going open source is a method to try to control the process of being copied," he explained.

Here we go again, investors. Just as big-time manufacturers such as Cummins (CMI) , Caterpillar (CAT) , E.I. du Pont de Nemours (DD) , Joy Global (JOY) and Deere (DE) report overall positive news, it looks like the same no-money, "give it away and hope to make it up on the volume" information age economics are leaking into manufacturing.

The iPilling?
What makes Pilling worthy of investor attention is that making tablet and smartphone cases is just the beginning. Pilling actually has his eye on entire tablets. That's correct: This truck parts maker is on track to design, build and ship sophisticated, integrated tablet devices.

"I hope we can compete with the Panasonic Toughpad," he told me a few weeks back. "Their 7-inch Android device is priced at $1,100. I hope we can make something comparable for $300 to 400."

Already there is a fast-growing component parts market in the circuit boards, screens and other digioguts Pilling needs to make his riff on the Apple (AAPL) iPad a reality. The most compelling is the red-hot, $25, credit-card-sized open-source computer called The Raspberry Pi, which has sold 1 million units in less than a year.