MFG.com Fusion: Take 1

Two weeks back, I swung by Columbus, Ohio for the first edition of MFG.com's Fusion road show that brought together what I reckon was 100 sourcing professionals and suppliers (all machine shops, it appeared) for a half-day session. I spoke at the Columbus event, and I'm planning on speaking at most if not all of the remaining dates (which take place Chicago (tomorrow, in fact), Boston, Cleveland and Los Angeles). But I won't dwell on my material in this post (it was about 70% new, which is always fun).

Rather, I thought it would make sense to share some of Mitch Free's insights. Mitch is CEO and Founder of MFG.com. If you've not met the man, he's both strikingly disarming and visionary at the same -- as smart as the McKinsey guys I worked with at FreeMarkets, but more at home in the garage environment of a machine shop. And he's hands-on, giving a better product demonstration than any other CEO who I've observed in recent memory.

Mitch apparently trashed the presentation his marketing and PR team gave to him to present (which as a former vendor marketing geek, gives you heartburn). Rather, he decided to present a number of analogies and archetypes of what manufacturing will look like in the future based on consumer and prototype technologies today. Some of his examples included:

Build a Bear -- a unique business model where consumers pay 5x the cost of buying a similar bear in a toy store for the pleasure of building their own. Coming to -- or already in -- a shopping mall near you ...

Starbucks -- I'll take a "solo vente sugar free vanilla non-fat latte", please. For Mitch, Starbucks is a company manufacturing products made to on-demand customer specifications. Plus they're providing an experience around it -- ambiance, a place where people like to hang out. Personally, I think their coffee is extremely mediocre, but I appreciate the analogy. Especially given that people will pay $4.50 for a product that costs Starbucks $.25 to deliver.

threadless.com -- A site that sells t-shirts. But not just any t-shirts. Rather a community submits and votes for new designs and then members submit their order before they're actually made. Every single production run sells out, and in theory, the shirts increase in value thanks to their scarcity and community interest.

On-Demand drugs -- Imagine a world where generic -- no pun intended -- prescriptions did not exist. Rather, prescriptions would be formulated in a pharmacy based on the specific treatment required and the condition of the patient in question. Think this is going to happen in 2050? Guess again. An organization is using MFG.com to source parts for early, working models of self-contained drug creation and formulation systems like this today. And big Pharma is watching.

Open Source Hardware to proliferate platforms -- It's the old razor blade argument with a new twist. Why not give away the hardware? That's right -- open up the IP and let others produce it so you can sell products or services around it. Look at Apple, who is now making a fortune off of iTunes. Or HP, who makes almost all their profit on ink and toner, not printers. Why not open source the product designs and focus on the core profit areas?

Jason Busch

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