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I enjoyed reading this presentation that Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, co-founder of maker biz Tinker London, gave at Made North. ADS raps about the familiar theme of the decline of traditional industry.

I think that when we talk about industry, most people have a romantic view that ignores the reasons why we stopped “making things” in the first place. One of the reasons why industrial times was so successful was partly because we had no qualms about hiring children to work (something Lewis Hine documented very well). Eventually when that was socially frowned upon, we started outsourcing the work to other people‚Äôs children and developed better technology to do less work. Cheap labour is China’s competitive advantage and short of going back to slave labour, the UK cannot go back to “making things” in that sense. Sorry.

I like how her perspective focuses on the UK, which has the additional bugaboo of American titans like Apple and Google stifling UK biz with their success.

Make Little, Make Often: Ideas for the Future of Manufacturing in the UK

John Baichtal

My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal nerdage.net


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Comments

  1. I recently saw a British comedy, “The Man In The White Suit” starring a young Alec Guinness (who also played Obi Wan Kenobi). What struck me was the massive scale of the textile manufacturing enterprise shown in the film. (There were no children working in the plant, nor had there been for generations–just grumpy unionists & snotty managers.) The story turned on the premise that a cloth which neither gets dirty nor wears out would disrupt the textile business. Distrustful antagonists of Labor and Management could nevertheless agree to suppress the invention. Add naive boffin and comedy ensues.

    Looking back across the decades we see that all those mills have been torn down and all those workers have been idled–without any help from Alec Guinness’ miracle cloth. I took from this parable the lesson that one oughtn’t tie up so much capital in single-purpose machines and antagonism between labor and management begets dysfunction. Cheap labor may factor in industrial decline, but I think antagonism is also in play.

  2. The British can compete with the Chinese or any other nation for manufacturing. We just have to STOP thinking global with the consequent $$$$$$ signs that implies. If small manufacturers use innovative processes and materials to produce goods for LOCAL consumption we won’t need to import cheap, frequently shoddy goods from the Chinese…..Oh! and don’t forget the Indians.

    The Germans seem to be able to do it but we have abandoned the low skilled worker in this country, most of whom would be happy to work for modest wages, for service industries such as banking…..look where thats got us!

    Most Government funding initiatives are aimed at the next Google, Facebook or eBay; what chance do the ill educated have in that marketplace, they neither want nor are capable of engaging there. Many have been saying since the Thatcher days that the destruction of the working man will hurt the UK badly and we are now reaping the ‘rewards’ of our folly over the last 40 years.

    We need investment in small, fledgling, manufacturing companies with start up requirements in the tens of thousands instead of the hundreds of thousands. People who want to manufacture from wood, metal and plastics; fabrication, small scale, top quality engineering as proven by our world class motorsports industry.

    We have to get off this treadmill of boom to bust with each passing fad, we suffered during the dotcom era and now we’ll suffer when the online and apps market takes a hit; what will we be left with again? A raft of highly educated unemployed in the dole queues along with the uneducated, long term unemployed.

    Our success in small manufacturing operations isn’t an option, it’s a necessity if were not to witness the continuing decline into a growing welfare society that we can’t handle at the moment never mind in another 40 years time.

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