What makes Pilling worthy of investor attention is that making tablet and smartphone cases is just the beginning. Pilling actually has his eye on entire tablets. That's correct: This truck parts maker is on track to design, build and ship sophisticated, integrated tablet devices. "I hope we can compete with the Panasonic Toughpad," he told me a few weeks back. "Their 7-inch Android device is priced at $1,100. I hope we can make something comparable for $300 to 400."
Probably the biggest clue that manufacturing is heading down the same downward Information Age path is that the same digital age hucksters are showing up in manufacturing. No less than the pied piper of the free information economy, Chris Anderson, just quit his high-profile job running the Wired print and digital brand to helm a drone manufacturing firm. "You can think of the Maker Movement as less about the return of industrial cities in the developed world and more about a new kind of cottage industry," Anderson told ZDNet. A cottage industry with margins that major manufacturers cannot match. "I see a fundamental shift in trends that can tilt the balance of power to favor innovation over scale," says Andrew "Bunnie" Huang, who earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from MIT on the way to becoming an expert in computer-controlled hardware systems. Now, will making things join fully the race to oblivion already being run by the adult entertainment and music industries? Probably not. Real things are still real things. So value will be there. But it's also clear that said real things are no longer a hedge against the uncertainties of a world where information is worth less and less every day. "On the whiteboard in my office I have written in small letters in the corner: 'The future will be just-in-time, made local, contract manufacturing, mass customization.' Because I honestly believe we will all want the same things as our neighbor, just a little different than his," Pilling said. Which led Pilling to write me the obvious question: "So how do I go about shorting Apple?"