Mapping Markets:  

Building Things: 

  • Behind the scenes at NASA: the process for painting the Mars rover

  • Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal describes a nearly seamless system of production, warehousing, and distribution enabled by Industry 4.0 technologies like cheap sensors, sophisticated data analytics, and robots, that will make the movement of goods as easy as the movement of data. One example given in the article is of a container of strawberries plucked by a robot arm, then handed off to a drone for delivery to the end customer. In the 21st century we have witnessed an undeniable upheaval in the handling of logistics and distribution, but the actual production of goods still contains its own universe of friction-filled complexity. Compare the strawberry example to an iPhone: in the case of the strawberry, the assembly (and to some extent, the sourcing, refining, and movement of raw materials) is taken care of, more or less, by nature. In the case of the iPhone, blocks of aluminum (ore harvested, refined, packaged and shipped) must be milled with specific cutting tools (manufactured, packaged, shipped), combined with electronics and battery technologies, all assembled by a mix of human and machine labor. Those inputs must all converge at the right place, at the right time, at the right price. The supply chain for 'manufacturing' fruit (and inputs) are quite localized, whereas the supply chains for complex goods are long, convoluted, and always at risk of disruption from issues of labor, natural disaster, trade policies, and a thousand other variables. The production side of the equation for perfectly balancing demand and fulfillment is loaded with far more stubborn challenges than the vision of a tidy bin of strawberries couriered by drone presents. Atoms, ultimately, are not bits: the proverbial gears in the machinery of physical systems face an ever-present threat of the dirt, dust, and muck of our dirty world seizing them up. 


Just A Game:  


More next week.