Lecture 1: Demise of Traditional and Skilled Manufacturing

I left this lecture with the question ‘is skilled and traditional manufacturing really reaching its demise?’. Craig proposed arguments for both sides.

On one side, there is the titanium bike frame example. While you can buy a beautifully hand-crafted frame for £3000, you can also buy a titanium frame mass manufactured in China for £300. While the latter option may not be quite as refined or performant, it gives you 95% of the performance for 10% of the price. Further to this, being titanium, it should have similar durability. This goes against the Vitsoe narrative of ‘spend more, buy less’. So, what is the value of opting for traditional manufacturing, beyond sentimental value? Perhaps it is just the law of diminishing returns, and only those with cash to burn should take the traditional route.

Craig also shared a more optimistic perspective – I was amazed to see the work that goes into creating moulds for TP-Link’s router components. The requirement for the surface of the mould to be polished to a mirror finish proves that there is still room for highly skilled manufacturing with large scale processes. I had no idea injection moulding required that kind of human skill.

I think there is certainly a space for skilled manufacturing, everywhere you look. The advent of modern manufacturing processes may reduce the numbers of skilled staff required, but then modern manufacturing reduces the numbers of staff required period. As for traditional manufacturing, there is a perceived value, as with Brooks or Tricker’s. You can often get the same functionality for less. Instead, the value of these traditional products increasingly comes from the history and the heritage. Heritage alone does not give the product a functional advantage, so the user must buy into the brand’s identity and aesthetic. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is certainly different to what the traditional company initially intended.

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