Putting Out to Open Source

Thanks to Sukumar for introducing  me to the concept of “putting-out system” of manufacturing. When I first started to research and read about putting-out systems, I never expected it to be an enormous topic with such wide ranging implications.


As mentioned in numerous articles and papers, the world of manufacturing started way back and originally it worked on a system where workers took the work home. Due to the technological advances and industrial revolution, factories began to emerge and became the primary work place for workers. Apart from the obvious changes to economy and society, I discovered a few not-so-popular impacts because of factories:

         Commute: People started commuting to work.

         Behavioural changes: Workers were now taught to be moral, obey orders, be disciplined and respect the next workers personal space.

         Welfare changes : Workers who had a choice of leisure vs income now had almost no choice.

         A plethora of regulations and laws have been introduced and continue to be introduced to govern manufacturing


Factories evolved as the primary place of work compared to the putting-out system primarily because of four reasons:

  1. Physical restrictions: It is (almost) impossible to put an iron furnace or a large loom in your office room.
  2. Cost of moving people Vs. cost of moving information.
  3. The increased volume of production made the putting-out system infeasible
  4. The need to monitor the manufacturing process more closely to ensure quality.


Let us look at these reasons in the modern context. The first reason is the primary one because of which factories  were born  and continue to get created and continue to exist. (i.e until we figure out to put robots and nano-robots there. Desktop Manufacturing may affect this. More on that later.)


As manufacturing in the first world countries moves to the higher end of the value chain, it is becoming more information-intensive, technology is having a major impact.  With the internet and wireless, the cost of information exchange has significantly reduced relative to the cost of commuting. It is obvious that jobs that require little direct human interaction can be done remotely and is happening in the form of telecommuting, offshoring and the open source movement.


The Open Source movement in particular is making the pendulum swing back to the putting out system of manufacturing away from the factory model atleast in the software world. In the putting-out model, the entrepreneur took the raw materials to the weavers, from door to door, and collected the finished cloth. Open Source development is another putting-out system where the raw material is the intellectual capital.


At the same time, it is still not possible to do all of the jobs completely remotely. Due to the fourth reason,  a human element is still in play in most of the jobs


Tanenbaum says in his Computer Networks book, ‘It is sometimes said that transportation and communication are having a race, and whichever wins will make the other obsolete’


Well, communication is winning for sure, but transportation is not loosing either. Related reading:


Joel Mokyr’s excellent paper on Rise & Fall of the Factory System


Comparing the old Dadni Loan Systems in India to putting-out



  1. Anonymous said August 11, 2005, 9:40 pm:


    Good article. Connecting putting out to open source is a nice leap.