Back in 2000 I was working on automating engineering website development. I was working with Solidworks, a 3D computer aided design (CAD) software, which has a wonderful API, Application Programming Interface. I wrote programs that took an assembly built with the CAD software and created an HTML hierarchy of web pages where all of the components were listed by name, part number and any other selected attribute.
This allows the manufacturing person on the shop floor direct access to the design so they can determine dimensions or tolerances required. This is a method of stream lining the manufacturing process and it requires a loot of training.
It solves a problem, design communication, but, it requires significant training and responsibility on the part of the manufacturing personnel.
This idea never really took off. Today we still use blue prints, or 2D drawings of objects for the most part. Yes, manufacturing people still have access to the models, but, prints create a paper trail for litigation.
Someone could change a model and my HTML hierarchy would change. Someone up stream from manufacturing could make a mistake and the person in manufacturing could be blamed for it.
The person doing the design could be in India and the person doing the manufacturing in Germany. The whole thing was portable to the Internet or Intranet.
It sucks, but, in the end most commercial manufacturing that is outsourced will have prints that can be signed and approved. The end product will be checked against approved prints and that determines if the manufacturing contracts have been met.
This paper drawing legal issue has been about the same for hundreds of years all over the world.
It sucks because this limits the ability of manufacturing to move into the 21st century.
Manufacturing people set up machines which build parts and even assemblies directly from 3D models.
Typically these systems use powders or "wire" or a kind of hot melt glue gun as precursors to the completed part. There are a lot of benefits to these process and as a result the processes are being developed and costs are being reduced all the time.
There are some very inexpensive 3D printing systems out there and Makerbot is one of the most popular. Recently Makerbot made the news because they removed some 3D models of gun parts from their website. Not a big deal, these models are widely available on other websites, and the Makerbot is a big 3D glue gun. Censorship has always existed and always will exist. People will always want to destroy knowledge they are afraid will endanger people. I used firearms in this example, but, there is no end to censorship.
So in looking at the future of manufacturing we have the same issues we have always had, litigation and censorship.
There is also the problem of skilled employees. As direct manufacturing becomes more and more capable the need for skilled manufacturing labor becomes lower and lower. There will always be room for craftsmen. You can still buy a hand made buggy whip.
We can't limit the future by limiting the implementation of new technology.
As skilled trades die away the middle class dies away and we become an economy of servants, just as it has been in the past.
And what happens when there is a two class system? Revolution. Always. It may be a peaceful revolution or it may be a violent, bloody revolution.
What I expect is that people in the States will submit to authority and become a 2 class system and they will have some terrorism and some peaceful demonstrations that will be about as successful as those actions were in Rome 2000 years ago.
What then? Population grows and Asia needs land to feed their people. North America has a land surplus and so Asia will invade North America. By then, just as in Rome, the military will be a high tech heavy "cavalry" that will be over run the same way Roman cavalry was. The people won't care who is in charge anymore than the Roman plebeians did.
So when does this happen?
In 30 years the world population will be over 10 billion. There are 4.4 billion hectares of land available for growing crops. It takes about 0.25 hectares to produce enough food for one person for a year (that number depends on a lot of non-renewable resources). So we have enough land for 17.6 billion people, right? No, there are droughts and pestilence so we need a safety factor of about 2:1 or about 0.5 hectares per person. That's arguable from a production standpoint, but, in real application we already have people starving to death world wide so...practical application we can support maybe 8.8 billion people.
20 years from now, right around the time computers take a dump because of the date issue.
That isn't so far away, and it can become closer depending on what happens in the world. A disaster here, famine there.
The world isn't going to end, it will go through a political upheaval the same way Rome did.
It sucks, but, history repeats because people don't learn.