The things people make, and the way they make them, determine how cities grow and decline, and influence how empires rise and fall. So, any disruption to the world’s factories matters.
And that disruption is surely coming. Factories are being digitised, filled with new sensors and new computers to make them quicker, more flexible, and more efficient.
Robots are breaking free from the cages that surround them, learning new skills, and new ways of working. And 3D printers have long promised a world where you can make anything, anywhere, from a computerised design. That vision is edging closer to reality.
These forces promise cleaner factories, producing better goods at lower prices, personalised to our individual needs and desires. Humans will be spared many of the dirty, repetitive, and dangerous jobs that have long been a feature of factory life.
But manufacturing jobs have always had a political importance beyond their size. They are often among the best-paid, highest-status jobs available to those without university education.
This new technology may well result in fewer jobs overall, and they will be different jobs, mostly with higher skills – fewer machinists and more programmers. And they will be in different places.
One thing is certain – disruption is coming.