MFG 2.0

The Real Inconvenient Truth Of A Post-Industrial Economy

Have you ever asked yourself the question: what would happen if the manufacturing sector completely collapsed? Could an individual person, working alone, create the same level of products if coordinated manufacturing activities ceased to exist?

In an attempt to answer this question (or some variant of same), artist Thomas Thwaites attempted to build a toaster, from scratch, "beginning by mining the raw materials and ending with a product that Argos sells for only 3.99."

It's an interesting concept -- how inconvenient would it be to create modern conveniences at the arts/crafts scale? Thwaites started with researching the raw materials needed, dug them up, then got hung up on the processing:

"Finding ways to process the raw materials on a domestic scale is also an issue. For example, my first attempt to extract metal involved a chimney pot, some hair-dryers, a leaf blower, and a methodology from the 15th century this is about the level of technology we can manage when we're acting alone. I failed to get pure enough iron in this way, though if I'd tried a few more times and refined my technique and knowledge of the process I probably would've managed in the end. Instead I found a 2001 patent about industrial smelting of Iron ores using microwave energy...so I tried to replicate the industrial process outlined in the patent using a domestic microwave. After some not-so-careful experimentation which necessitated another microwave, I got the timing and ingredients right."

(Before you get hung up on his use of one modern-day consumer appliance to create another, remember -- this is art, which is often a logic-free zone.)

At the end of the project, Thwaites ends up with what he calls "a kind of half-baked, hand made pastiche of a consumer appliance" which, depending on the success of his art project (and not the bread-browning success of his toaster), might sell for much less -- or potentially much more -- than 3.99.

TAGS: Innovation
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