Until the introduction of the Industrial Revolution, hand-crafted one-off design and manufacturing was the norm. Blacksmiths were both designer and manufacturer; each pair of horseshoes they crafted was unique, even when made for the same horse! Production was slow and products were made to order. Save for a few high value items like coffee, tea, and spices, products were rarely, if ever, made in advance, inventoried, and ready for sale. Supply chains for manufactured goods were nonexistent.
But this changed in the 18th century with the rise of the machine and the first Industrial Revolution. Textiles went from handspun wool to cotton woven with a spinning wheel and loom, leading to faster production time with lower material costs. The introductions of the weaving loom, cotton gin, steam engine, and factories for assembling products changed the very nature of how things were made.
Over a period of roughly 75 years—late 1700s to the mid-1800s—production became increasingly standardized, and each task from design to manufacturing and assembly was broken down into discrete functions. Henry Ford’s Model T took things to a new level at the start of the 20th century, gaining speed and efficiency with the introduction of mass production and factories. New materials and methodologies from metal casting to Injection Molding have helped to produce most of the products in the world today. With refined workforce and manufacturing practices and the computer automation of previously manual labor-intensive tasks throughout the last century, production rates have accelerated, resulting in the ability to produce in larger quantities. Those who failed to adopt were left behind.
Despite all of this forward movement, the basic design and manufacturing process hasn’t fundamentally changed over the past 100+ years. In fact, not only have the processes not improved but they’ve also put a substantial strain on our natural resources, pushed production farther and farther from the consumer, and constrained design flexibility and customization.
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