Monday, December 08, 2014

Favorite business writing linked to - on manufacturing and/or resource utilization

As part of the aggregation project I've been working on around my favorite and most impactful business writing, including past posts done in the areas of writing about health care and writing about venture capital, below are the stories that struck me (and are available for reading without subscription) on manufacturing and/or resource utilization:

"Materials That Will Change the World: Graphene" by Peter Diamandis for Medium in Oct 2014 – Diamandis is founder of the X Prize awarded for private spacecraft development and author of the book Abundance: The Future is Brighter Than You Think. In this story, he did a fascinating piece on Graphene as a material noted as having potential applications in the many areas of energy storage, flexible screens, desalinization and filtration of water, medical applications and sensors, photovoltaics and solar cells, computing and electronics and material composites.

"The Road to Resilience: How Unscientific Innovation Saved Marlin Steel" by Charles Fishman for Fast Company in June 2013 – on a company that used to solely make bagel baskets and has grown tremendously with now the large majority of products being much more expensive baskets for industrial and manufacturing environments. Noted in the piece was an interesting quote from owner Drew Greenblatt with "what I realized is that the customers who are a pain in the neck are really the great customers."

"Is Origami the Future of Tech?" by Drake Bennett for Businessweek in May 2012 – on the topic of DNA fold origami manufacturing. It's an amazing idea that departs completely from manufacturing paradigms based on sculpture (take a block and chisel away what's not needed) or piece-together assembly. Instead, Bennett describes a process of manufacturing for objects (both large and nano-sized) based at least in part on the work of mathematician and computer scientist Erik Demaine. "Fold-and-cut allowed you to make any shape in the world, any collection of shapes, even, as long as they had straight sides. One could, in an angular font, create the entire text of this page with the right folds and the right cut. In a paper published two years later, Demaine expanded on this idea, extending it into three dimensions: Any faceted solid, he showed, no matter how complex or irregular, could be folded from a single uncut sheet of paper. Start with a piece of paper big enough, and you could model Notre Dame down to the last gargoyle." The idea seems outlandish, but is actually based on objects in the natural world like flowers or snowflakes (with the idea of folding illustrated by paper snowflakes usually made in school). It was a remarkable concept that seems to me likely the type of innovation Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Perlman had in mind when he said the following from an April 2011 Businessweek story "Facebook is not the kind of technology that will stop us from having dropped cell phone calls, and neither is Groupon or any of these advertising things," he says. "We need them. O.K., great. But they are building on top of old technology, and at some point you exhaust the fuel of the underpinnings." It's not to find fault with communication platforms like Facebook or Twitter, but rather to highlight this case of what could be real true breakthrough innovation in the field of manufacturing.

"TechShop: Paradise for Tinkerers" by Ashlee Vance for Businessweek in May 2012 – on the facility chain where members have access to expensive equipment to build things from plastic, wood, metal or other materials for a $100/month membership cost.

"MakerBot's 3-D Printers Let Consumers Dream up Prototypes of Pretty Much Anything. But Do We Need More Plastic?" by Rob Walker for Fast Company in Jan 2012.

"Alaska’s Billion Dollar Mountain" by Daniel Grushkin for Businessweek in Oct 2011 – on entrepreneur Jim McKenzie and his mining company, UCore. Focus is on Bokan Mountain near Ketchikan, Alaska and the large support of valuable rare earth metals held deep underground. It's an interesting story in the efforts of McKenzie to gain mining access and in how the land reached its current valuation. Previous attempts to mine Bokan were unsuccessful at trying to find and extract uranium and this is exactly what McKenzie was initially interested in and hoping to convince the old prospector (Bob Dotson) who owned the mineral rights to allow him access to. Through spending time with Dotson, McKenzie learned of the rare earth metal potential in the mine and then brokered a deal with Dotson and his estranged children (to whom who he had granted shared rights) to be able to mine Bokan. In 2010, China as the world's largest producer of rare earth metals then made the decision to dramatically cut its exports of these minerals (that go into complicated electronics, jet engines and missiles) and as a result made prices skyrocket and dramatically increased the value of Bokan. It still remains to be seen whether the cost of deep underground extraction will make the investment pay off, but the potential is very much there.

"The Siberian Energy Rush" by Joshua Hammer for Fast Company in Nov 2010 – about Russia pushing natural gas exploration further and further into the Arctic Circle. Written by Joshua Hammer it's a pretty amazing look at a country staking a claim to new territory.

"I Have Just One Word for You: Bioplastics" by Mar Der Hovanesian for Businessweek in Aug 2008 – on biodegradable plastics and the biotech company Metabolix.

"China Invades Africa" by Richard Behar for Fast Company in June 2008 – a special report on the ongoing private / public efforts of China to stake claim to needed resources that are and will be taken out of the continent of Africa.