Q&A with John B Rogers Jr, president, CEO and co-founder of Local Motors, a start-up that uses “crowdsourcing” to build cars. Rogers has worked as an investment analyst and at a start-up medical device company in China, and served for six years in the US Marine Corps. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Q Your company has created the world’s first open source production vehicle – the Rally Fighter – and the world’s first crowd-derived combat-support vehicle, the XC2V, which is now being tested. How did you come up with the idea of bringing crowdsourcing to vehicle manufacturing?
A Vehicles are complex systems that are characterised by long lead times for their development. The traditional way to develop a vehicle is to raise a billion dollars, hire the best engineers, build a big factory and hope that you can sell your product. I think that’s a brute force approach.
With crowdsourcing, instead – what we call co-creation – you realise that if you had a better handle on what people wanted and if you had a way of keeping them informed about events over a lengthy development period, you would probably come up with a product that would have a higher level of acceptance than if you did not do this.
Q So co-creation is all about tapping into what customers really want, not to mention the creativity of the crowd?
A Most people assume that we do crowdsourcing to get good ideas for free. First of all, the ideas are not free. But more importantly, the driving force behind our business is that future customers are involved in what we’re building. There is also a collective dynamic at work here. When you have a finite team, you have limited ability. But when you have a huge community you have the potential of aggregating just the right people in a very organic way.
Q What motivates members of your community to get involved?
A Money, recognition, resumé padding, or simply the desire to tinker. Customers such as BMW and Peterbilt trucks come to us. They offer prize money for a design that solves a problem. In principle, anyone participating in such a project can make a lot of money for three or four weeks of work. But what’s important is that even if your idea is not chosen, you’ve had an opportunity to be part of the action. And some of the awards are tiered, meaning that you can say that you were among the top players.
Q How are simulation, collaborative software tools, and high-speed communications changing manufacturing?
A I want to make one point clear before I answer. The idea of digital manufacturing and the idea of open collaboration are two separate notions. It is important to keep that in mind. Now, simulation and modelling, and advanced software and communications are essential technologies for manufacturing; but there’ another key technology: scanning. Fifty per cent of the time, you start out with something that already exists and you need to get a 3D virtual version of it quickly.
Put it all together – including scanning – and you have the ingredients for revolutionary change.
Q Three-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is opening the door to rapid prototyping and inexpensive, individualised products. Is it a game-changing technology?
A The level of enthusiasm for additive manufacturing may be a little overblown. There are traditional technologies that are excellent. And they are not going away. But additive manufacturing fills a gap in some key areas such as inventory reduction and reducing the cost of complexity. In my opinion, traditional and additive manufacturing will probably coexist in the future. But ultimately, the combination of digital manufacturing and the ability to share data in high-bandwidth lines will truly revolutionise manufacturing.
– By Arthur F Pease | First published in Siemens’ Pictures of the Future magazine.
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