"Phil Cuttance’s Faceture vases look like they have been designed on a computer, with the telltale triangular faces of a low poly mesh. They weren’t.
They’re made by scoring triangles into a 0.5-mm polypropylene plastic sheet, then cutting and folding the sheet together. The plastic would be flimsy if you just rolled it into a cylinder, but the crumpled shape transforms it into a thin-walled rigid casting mold that can produce an unlimited number of vases.
The beauty of this flexible mold is that it can be altered. By folding it slightly different or popping facets in and out, Cuttance can give each casting a unique look.
“The casting appears almost perfect, with sharp, accurate lines that appear digitally made,” says Cuttance, “which is a surprise considering the ‘lo-fi’ handmade process from which it came.”
Cuttance’s process is part handcraft, part mass production. “I wanted to explore the concept of adding value to an object by creating it in a way that renders it unique, without it needing to be sculpted by hand in a time-consuming, labor-intensive way,” he says.”
Architectural Manufacturing in SoCal
Really interesting article on the advancement of manufacturing, particularly with regard to architectural products, in Southern California:
"The facility has numerous advantages over the company’s other factory in the Philippines: it allows the outfit to produce large products that just can’t fit in shipping crates; it produces custom fixtures that the company can’t engineer effectively overseas; it allows for production and delivery in a matter of days, not weeks or months; and it creates the highest-quality components of all of its operations."
“A 2011 study by Boston Consultant Group shows that investment in U.S. manufacturing is beginning to accelerate as the country becomes one of the cheapest locations for manufacturing in the developed world.
And while there has been a steep drop-off in manufacturing in the past two decades, the U.S. is still the largest manufacturing economy in the world, making up 21 percent of all globally manufactured products.”
As discussed here, regarding what has powered China’s success in winning Apple manufacturing contracts, the cost of labor and production is less of an issue than the density of the factory network. This story seems to support the argument that cost of manufacturing in the USA, for many types of industries and products, is very competitive with that done in Asian countries. It also suggests that reindustrialization efforts in the USA might initially want to focus explicitly on products which have less of a dependence on far-away factories in whatever supply chain they are a part of, or are more capable of mitigating those affects (hopefully instigating the eventual formation of a similar network here). The iPhone doesn’t seem to be a good candidate, but high-tech architectural cladding and fenestration are.
Also important - these things are much heavier (relative to their cost) than iPhones and computers. Matter matters - the manufacturing of products like this loses responsiveness to a market relative to distance at a much greater rate than small, expensive things which can be flown.
So, tentatively, an ideal product for manufacturing in the US might:
1) be heavy;
2) not require a supply chain terribly reliant on a massive network of offshore manufacturing for components;
3) require exacting tolerances;
4) have a manufacturing process which can be automated;
5) require frequent mass customization of individual element;
6) require a fast turnaround time;
7) require close collaboration between design and manufacturing teams.
(Which sounds an awful lot like the products being described in the article.)
Another note on heavy manufacturing, via Bloomberg:
"From a windswept corner of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, Japan Steel Works Ltd. controls the fate of the global nuclear-energy renaissance.
There stands the only plant in the world, a survivor of Allied bombing in World War II, capable of producing the central part of a nuclear reactor’s containment vessel in a single piece, reducing the risk of a radiation leak.
Utilities that won’t need the equipment for years are making $100 million down payments now on components Japan Steel makes from 600-ton ingots. Each year the Tokyo-based company can turn out just four of the steel forgings that contain the radioactivity in a nuclear reactor. Even after it doubles capacity in the next two years, there won’t be enough production to meet building plans.”
"Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhonemanufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.””
One of the things that interested me from this iPhone article in the NYT was that it identified the networked manufacturing ecosystem of Asia as the key advantage that region has over the United States in winning iPhone (and presumable other high tech) manufacturing work. In the same way that the density of cities is an advantage for white collar and creative jobs, the geographical density of manufacturing facilities which have become interdependent due to the sophistication and complexity of modern supply chain logistics has become an issue which is more important than simply the cost of labor in powering manufacturing in this region.
Tim Heffernan writes for Atlantic Monthly about “the Fifty”, a 50,000-ton forging press built as a part of the early Cold War-era “Heavy Press Program” — and expected to continue forging metal until at least 2064:
"What sets the Fifty apart is its extraordinary scale. Its 14 major structural components, cast in ductile iron, weigh as much as 250 tons each; those yard-thick steel bolts are also 78 feet long; all told, the machine weighs 16 million pounds, and when activated its eight main hydraulic cylinders deliver up to 50,000 tons of compressive force. If the logistics could somehow be worked out, the Fifty could bench-press the battleship Iowa, with 860 tons to spare."
Heffernan has a longer, fascinating article on the Heavy Press Program at BoingBoing.
Don’t go for failed industrial policy. President Obama’s reform plan includes a host of tax preferences designed to prefer domestic manufacturing over other industries. Instead of abolishing the domestic production tax credit—an easy way to raise revenue and cut the overall corporate rate—Obama proposes to expand it, increasing the tax favoritism shown to the manufacturing sector. The truth is that American manufacturing is not in decline—manufacturing employment has declined because of strongly improving manufacturing productivity in the last several decades. Instead of trying to use the tax code to reproduce the economy of the 1950s, we should tax different types of economic activity equally and let capital be allocated where it can most efficiently be used.http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/ir_3.htm