Efficiency by design

Visualization technologies help A. Zahner Company build the present and plan for the future

Nick Lerner
22 November 2016

4 min read

For nearly 120 years, US based A. Zahner Company has been at the forefront of technology and innovation within the architecture, engineering and construction industry. Recently, the company implemented a cloud-based design system to improve communication in what is oftentimes a fast-paced, fragmented industry. Compass spoke with A. Zahner Company CEO and President L. William Zahner to understand how the company continues its success and innovation in a high-risk market.

A. Zahner Company is a family business. “That’s 210 families; one for each of our employees,” L. William Zahner, CEO and president, said.

Founded in 1897, the architectural engineering and fabrication firm began making decorative metal cornices for buildings. Now in its fourth generation of the Zahner family, it imagines, designs, fabricates and installs some of the world’s most innovative structures in cooperation with leading architectural practices including Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid Architects.

With a turnover approaching US$50 million, the company employs 30 design engineers; another 90 employees work on production and installation. “Combining experience, skill, technology and craft, we make the complex simple and get buildings built on time and within or below budget,” Zahner said.

The firm works on signature architectural projects where design intent must be retained, despite the inefficient complexities of what Zahner describes as, “a very fragmented AEC industry.” In this often unstructured environment, the company aims to reduce the building industry’s biggest challenge: risk.

RISKY BUSINESS

“What we do is highly risky because we make large-scale things that seem very complex and have never been made before in an industry well known for going over budget and into court,” Zahner said. To reduce risk and shrink project costs, the firm uses cloud-based 3D visualization to communicate designs and precisely define how those designs will be engineered and manufactured. “This reduces waste, labor, materials, weight and cost while improving quality,” he said.

L. William Zahner, President and CEO of Kansas City-based A. Zahner Company. (Image © Cameron Gee)

Complexity is inherent in the firm’s need to engage with many diverse owners, partners, stakeholders, building contractors and interest groups, including city planners and regulators, even as it develops grander and more complex structures. Too often, Zahner said, perceived risk limits creativity and discourages innovation.

But by communicating ideas and plans visually through a digital representation over the cloud, the firm succeeds in explaining its vision in terms that anyone can understand, in any language and at all levels of expertise. This accords with the British government’s “Construction Strategy 2016-20” which states that improved relationships and engagements across clients and the supply chain are key to increased innovation and reducing risk while cost transparency and collaborative working deliver value for money outcomes.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

“Building where there are no straight lines can be confusing,” Zahner said. “Our job is to make that simple, which increases people’s confidence to explore, collaborate and then innovate with new ideas.” Improved understanding also generates efficiencies that help to reduce process redundancy and save as much as 20% of project cost. Zahner recently used this process to cut project redundancy for a federal courthouse building that was US$6 million over budget, delivering the project for US$1.5 million less than the original budget.

The Inner Arbor Trust (IAT) contracted A. Zahner Company for architectural engineering of the Chrysalis Amphitheatre in Columbia, Maryland (designed by New York-based Marc Fornes & THEVERYMANY). IAT President and CEO Michael McCall said the 5,000 square foot (465 square meters) performance space consisting entirely of curves will “feel as if it’s a living part of the environment, blending into the forest and the sky.”

“Communicating designs and ideas with cloud-based 3D dashboards gives us the ability to see progress and understand the fine detail of this complex project even though we are at a distance,” McCall said. “It gives us confidence in the design and it’s fun to use.” McCall also appreciates that, “in an era of transparency, the software gives us a sense of the challenges and solutions so we know about things that would otherwise be invisible to us. Their commitment to cloud solutions convinced us that A. Zahner Company is on top of things and at the cutting-edge of their industry.”

“WE ARE REINVENTING OURSELVES TO BE AT THE FOREFRONT OF THIS INDUSTRY WITH NEW SPIN-OFF COMPANIES THAT ENABLE EMPLOYEE OWNERSHIP AND SUCCESS FOR EVERYONE”

L. WILLIAM ZAHNER
CEO AND PRESIDENT, A. ZAHNER COMPANY

In today’s most iconic designs that incorporate visually stunning curved façades, detailed precision edges and junctions are key to achieving the aesthetic. “We work on beautiful buildings that require a beautiful finish,” Zahner said. “We produce digital visualizations of buildings that some clients believe cannot really be built. So we invite customers into the factory and show them physical examples to prove that designs can be made that exceed their expectations and are a lot more beautiful than they ever believed possible.”

One such building is the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, which opened in December 2015 after a US$90 million refurbishment. The Los Angeles Times architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, described its new stainless steel and red aluminum façade, engineered by A. Zahner Company, as among “the most extroverted ever built in a city famous (and in some quarters infamous) for architectural exuberance.”

WORK OF ART

Many of Zahner’s ideas are inspired not only by visionary architects and designers but also by sculptors who hire the company to manufacture their work. “When you put artists and engineers together, new ideas come out of that collaboration,” Zahner said. “The artists see what is possible and engineers understand the physics in the art.”

Zahner holds an annual sculpture competition and then manufactures the winning artist’s work. “The sculptures can be very challenging to make, but the rewards in terms of inventive input and technical R&D are considerable,” Zahner said. “And it’s a lot of fun working with some of the most creative people you’ll ever meet.”

SMARTER TOMORROW

After 120 successful years as a family business, the company now is investing for future generations. “In the future, buildings will dynamically adapt to their environments with structures that respond to the needs of smart cities, smart populations and changing climates,” Zahner said.

“New surface finishes will be invented that can generate and store energy and even clean the air. Robots will be doing a lot of physical construction. We may even see the emergence of master designers, people who tackle AEC industry fragmentation and inefficiency in the historical role of master builders who use technology to see how everything fits together.”

In line with its company principles, “be smarter tomorrow,” A. Zahner Company is researching and innovating in business developments that capture and capitalize its knowledge and experience using cloud technology to keep everyone informed and empowered.

“We are reinventing ourselves to be at the forefront of this industry with new spin-off companies that enable employee ownership and success for everyone,” Zahner said. Thus ensuring that advanced technology, robots, new thinking and a strong artistic and maker temperament will carry its families forward for the next 120 years.

L. William Zahner shares the design process behind the Chrysalis amphitheater: http://3ds.one/Chrysalis

A heritage of innovation

Embraer is driven to supersize its customer experiences

Tony Velocci
21 November 2016

4 min read

Brazil’s Embraer has gone from a newcomer in the business jet marketplace to one of the aerospace industry’s dominant share leaders in just eight years. Ask any Embraer executive how they’ve achieved so much in so short a time and they’re likely to give a one-word answer: innovation. Here’s a look at how they do it.

In the eight years since Embraer began delivering jets designed specifically for business aviation, the Brazilian company has achieved a seamless progression of improved products that has established it as one of the world’s most innovative aerospace enterprises.

In 2008, the Phenom 100 became Embraer’s first “clean-sheet” (all new) design in the entry-level jet category. Developed in parallel, the slightly larger Phenom 300 entered service in 2009 with innovations that included the largest baggage compartment, largest windows and lowest cabin pressurization in its class.

“The Phenom 100 revolutionized the entry-level segment when it set new standards for comfort, performance and operating costs,” said Marco Tulio Pellegrini, president and CEO, Embraer Executive Jets, “and the Phenom 300 was just as disruptive.”

“EMBRAER HAS BUILT ONE OF THE BEST AIRPLANE DESIGN TEAMS IN THE INDUSTRY. THEY HAVE A REPUTATION FOR DOING THEIR HOMEWORK, LISTENING TO THEIR CUSTOMERS AND LEARNING FROM THEIR MISTAKES AS WELL AS THOSE OF OTHERS.”

RON EPSTEIN
SENIOR AEROSPACE AND DEFENSE ANALYST, BANK OF AMERICA MERRILL LYNCH

Buyers noticed. Within two years of entering service, the Phenom 100 was the industry’s most-delivered business jet. Between 2013 and 2015, the 300 laid claim to that achievement. The Phenom 300 has captured 54% market share in the light-jet category for Embraer, a major accomplishment against larger, more established rivals.

CULTURE OF INNOVATION

Ask any Embraer executive how they did it, and it’s likely their answer will include one critical word: innovation. “Embraer’s culture of innovation has been driven by the need to be competitive internationally, without the safety net of a large domestic market or overprotective government,” said Antoine Gelain, managing director of London-based independent private equity firm Paragon European Partners and aerospace industry practice leader at Candesic, a London-based strategy and management-consulting firm. “This culture still pervades what they do today and will be even more important as more competitors emerge.”

Embraer began exploring the business aviation market in 2000. Leveraging years of engineering expertise gained by manufacturing aircraft designed specifically for regional airlines, the company introduced the super-midsize Legacy, built on the same platform of its Embraer Regional Jet (ERJ) 135. Engineers took the fuselage of the 37-passenger commercial airliner, increased its range and gave passengers inflight access to the largest baggage compartment of any business jet at the time.

“EMBRAER’S CULTURE OF INNOVATION HAS BEENDRIVEN BY THE NEED TO BE COMPETITIVE INTERNATIONALLY, WITHOUT THE SAFETY NET OF A LARGE DOMESTIC MARKET OR OVERPROTECTIVE GOVERNMENT.”

ANTOINE GELAIN
MANAGING DIRECTOR, PARAGON EUROPEAN PARTNERS

Encouraged by the Legacy’s success, along with growing market demand for business aircraft, Embraer fully committed itself to business aviation in 2005.

“Embraer has built one of the best airplane design teams in the industry,” said Ron Epstein, an aerospace engineer by training and now senior aerospace and defense analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “They have a reputation for doing their homework, listening to their customers and learning from their mistakes, as well as those of others.”

TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENT

Embraer’s heritage of aircraft innovation, its leaders say, comes from a sustained commitment to high levels of investment in technology, coupled with new approaches to design and manufacturing processes.

For example, the Phenom 100 was the first business jet designed using efficiency protocols, co-developed by industry and the US Federal Aviation Administration, to simplify aircraft maintenance and reduce operating costs.

“EMBRAER THINKS STRATEGICALLY IN ALMOSTEVERYTHING IT DOES, AND THAT’S NOTABLE IN THE CURRENT ERA OF SHORT-TERM VALUE CREATION.”

BYRON CALLAN
DIRECTOR, CAPITAL ALPHA PARTNERS

Embraer follows a 15- to 20-year technology roadmap that is updated annually. The strategic blueprint is based on research generated by each of Embraer’s business units based on forecasts of product demand, as well as direct outreach to customers on their preferences for everything from galley configuration to seat pitch. Embraer uses the roadmap to help guide management in selecting projects that will be rewarding for both the company and its customers.

Starting in 2008, Embraer developed the clean-sheet Legacy 450 and Legacy 500, which reflect the same design philosophy: more value in the form of larger cabins, faster speeds and better passenger and cargo-carrying capacity, all at a lower price than competing aircraft.

For example, the Legacy 500 is marketed as a ‘super- midsize’ airplane, but the aircraft actually competes against larger business jets costing millions more, said Mauro Kern, chief operating officer, who also is responsible for engineering and technology.

In 2017, Embraer expects to certify a derivative of the Phenom 100, the Phenom 100 EV, that will deliver even greater operational capability while preserving the 100’s low operating and maintenance costs. For example, Pellegrini said, redesigned engines will provide up to 15% more thrust, dramatically improving the aircraft’s range to reach some of the world’s most inaccessible airports.

Embraer technicians perform diagnostic tests on a Phenom 100 light jet on the production line in Melbourne, Florida. The entry-level business jet is one of the fastest aircraft in its class. (Image © Embraer)

A REVENUE ENGINE

In 2015, more than 40% of Embraer’s revenues were derived from innovations implemented since 2010, Kern said. For example, the Legacy 450 set new and higher standards for passenger comfort, cruise speed and systems technology in the entry-level super-midsize market segment, according to Fred George, chief pilot at Business & Commercial Aviation magazine, who puts new models through their paces and writes detailed pilot reports.

“Embraer thinks strategically in almost everything it does, and that’s notable in the current era of short-term value creation,” said Byron Callan, a director at US-based Capital Alpha Partners, a strategic policy advisor to financial institutions around the world.

SEATING PRIORITY

One of the best illustrations of Embraer’s long-term commitment to advancing innovation is its US$26-million Engineering and Technology Center in Melbourne, Florida. The facility, which opened in 2015, conducts R&D for product and technology development across Embraer’s business, commercial and military aircraft lines.

Initially, its primarily focus is on designing and assembling rapid-prototype interiors.

“In business and commercial aviation, interiors – seats, soundproofing, connectivity, fresh air circulation – are a competitive differentiator,” Kern said.

Seats are considered particularly important because business jets must double as productive offices in the sky. To ensure it can offer the market’s best seats, Embraer made two strategic moves in 2015: it acquired California-based Aero Seating Technologies, which produces some of the highest quality seats for private and commercial aircraft; additionally, rather than outsource its design and production to a supplier, Embraer built a seat- manufacturing facility near its Engineering and Technology Center. Together, these investments ensure that Embraer controls every aspect of the furnishing that, more than any other, determines cabin comfort and customer satisfaction.

Discerning buyers of business aircraft appreciate that dedication to innovation and quality.

“As Mexico’s premier air-charter solutions provider, our customers expect a world-class experience,” said Pedro Corsi Amerlinck, chief executive officer of United Arab Emirates-based Across Aviation, one of two launch customers of the Phenom 100 EV. “Now, with the addition of the Phenom 100 EV to our fleet, our customers will enjoy such an experience.”

Leading learning

Processes borrowed from business help educators to serve students better

Jacqui Griffiths

5 min read

Educational organizations around the world are challenged to improve efficiency and control costs while ensuring that learners and educators have the resources and support they need to succeed. To help achieve those goals, more universities are adopting processes and tools originally developed for businesses.

Like businesses, educational institutions exist to service the needs of a client group -- in this case students, who need good educations to be successful in life; and communities that, in order to thrive, need well-educated citizens.

“Even if universities are autonomous, they have to perform functions and to develop procedures in order to fulfill the expectations of the customers,” Mihaela Drăgan, Diana Ivana and Raluca Arba of Babeş-Bolyai University in Romania wrote in a paper for the 21st International Economic Conference in Sibiu, Romania. “In order to improve students’ and graduates’ satisfaction and to remain competitive, universities should manage their business process(es) similar to enterprises.”

Studies suggest that universities are poised to invest heavily in technology. US-based technology research organization Gartner, for example, predicts that worldwide higher education sector spending on technology will grow 1.2% in 2016 to reach US$38.2 billion and lists predictive analytics at Number 2 in its Top 10 strategic technology recommendations for higher education CIOs. Gartner notes that higher education leaders have shifted focus from reducing costs and driving efficiencies toward using technology to enhance competitive advantage and support emerging business models. 

“Higher education is still mostly considered a conservative and slow-moving industry, with the majority of innovation coming from outside the traditional education IT organization,” said Jan-Martin Lowendahl, vice president and  distinguished analyst for Gartner, in a press release announcing the findings. “However, it is only a matter of time until all this innovation will impact the institution and, ultimately, the CIO.”

PREDICTING EDUCATION WITH BIG DATA

Businesses in many industries use big data to get detailed insights into their markets, customers and product success. Now educators are using big data to understand how they can deliver the best service to students.

“Every educational institution has large volumes of student data, but in the past we’ve mainly been reacting to it,” said Param Bedi, vice president for Library & Information Technology at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

“Now, we’re using that information to do predictive analytics and identify some of the things we need to pay attention to, which allows us to make data-informed decisions.”

 “MANUAL SCHEDULING OF FACULTY IS NOT A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS PRACTICE.”

BRIAN BLODGETT
ASSOCIATE VICE PRESIDENT OF SCHEDULING AT AMERICAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITY SYSTEM

In 2015, Bucknell University examined student data covering five years and identified better predictors of student success and engagement. The aim is to increase its already high rate of student retention between the first and second year of study.

“If we’re admitting students, then it’s up to us to make sure we’re giving them the environment to succeed on campus,” Bedi said. “In most institutions, the biggest loss of students is between the first and second year. So we looked at pre-enrollment and first-semester data for our first-year and second-year students, and we were able to identify certain elements that contribute to a student choosing to leave. This enables us to make data-informed decisions and put in place processes, programs and interventions aimed at keeping those students.”

The project is being introduced for students admitted for the fall 2016 semester, and Bedi is confident it will be a success.

“At Bucknell, our first-to-second-year retention is strong at about 93%, but we want to take it to 97%,” Bedi said. “This is a long-term process and we’ll know if it’s working by the next census date (September 2017), when we look at the retention rates. But we have created a good predictive model based on our examination of the data and a lot of consulting. We’ll be engaging with faculty governance groups and others to see how we can work collectively to put measures in place for these students.”

“EVERY EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION HAS LARGE VOLUMES OF STUDENT DATA, BUT IN THE PAST WE’VE MAINLY BEEN REACTING TO IT. NOW, WE’RE USING THAT INFORMATION TO DO PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS AND IDENTIFY SOME OF THE THINGS WE NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO, WHICH ALLOWS US TO MAKE DATA-INFORMED DECISIONS.”

PARAM BEDI
VICE PRESIDENT FOR LIBRARY & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, BUCKNELL UNIVERSITY

Other universities are implementing data-based business processes as well, but Bedi believes Bucknell is on the cutting edge of the trend. The university is also looking at implementing best-of-breed enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to standardize processes and increase efficiency.

“These ERP packages are causing a lot of disruption in our business processes because each department in education is so used to doing things a certain way,” Bedi said. “We probably have 10 different ways to do one thing right now, but we’re aiming to standardize that and look at the commonalities among them. These best-of-breed solutions are causing some disruption on campus, but they’re really helping us to think about best practices rather than Bucknell practices.”

AUTOMATICALLY SCHEDULED FOR SUCCESS

Efficient scheduling – a skill mastered by many businesses – is a particularly difficult challenge for schools that need to deliver hundreds of courses. American Public University System (APUS) offers its courses online; new sessions start each month, 12 months a year. Many of its courses have several sections running simultaneously, and each of those sections might be assigned to one or more faculty.

The challenges associated with manually registering for university courses may be going away. American Public University System has instituted corporate scheduling optimization software that balances the schedules of studentsand professors, automatically reducing gaps in the availability of courses. (Image © Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images)

For many years, all of this was scheduled manually by more than 40 program directors. Starting in 2013, however, APUS worked with a corporate planning, scheduling and supply chain optimization software company based in the Netherlands and the US to implement an Automated Course Scheduling and Balancing System (ACSB).

“The purpose of the ACSB was to simplify the course scheduling process to become more scalable, eliminate costly overruns, ensure course sections are always available for student registrations, optimize faculty scheduling and standardize scheduling practices,” said Brian Blodgett, associate vice president of Scheduling at APUS. “The objective of the tool is to automate the scheduling process in order to reduce program director administrative tasks and increase the scalability of processes to accommodate growth. Manual scheduling of faculty is not a sustainable business practice.”

The ACSB went live in March 2013, and was run by a scheduling team of just three people. The system allows APUS to develop an annual schedule that balances faculty/student counts and course loads over the entire calendar year while optimizing faculty course assignment.

“Optimizing full-time faculty capacity over the course of the year also helps us budget more accurately in terms of part-time faculty versus salaried full- time faculty,” Blodgett said. “Having an automated tool also helps us to standardize scheduling practices and make sure that best practices are used. For example, we can ensure that faculty does not teach too many students at once and that they do not teach too many unique courses at once.”

CULTURAL CHANGE

In a digitally connected world, data- driven processes are changing the expectations of students and educators alike. For example, after the Australian National University (ANU) implemented a suite of IBM Business Analytics software to gather, verify, analyze and present information that had previously been stored in 30 separate IT systems, it saw a change in the types of discussions occurring among its staff members.

“The most important change is cultural,” Chris Grange, executive director for Administration and Planning at ANU, said in an IBM case study about the project. “By using our data to show people new opportunities, we’re moving from a debate about finance to a debate about how the university achieves its goals.”

 “SERVICE-USER TERMINOLOGY, SUCH AS DISCUSSIONS OF ‘CUSTOMER JOURNEYS,’ IS PERMEATING EDUCATION.”

SHEILA MACNEILL
SENIOR LECTURER IN DIGITAL LEARNING, GLASGOW CALEDONIAN UNIVERSITY

Sheila MacNeill, senior lecturer in Digital Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, notes that students’ expectations about the use of data, and the language used by educators, are becoming increasingly businesslike.

“Service-user terminology, such as discussions of ‘customer journeys,’ is permeating education,” MacNeill said. “Students also are more used to data, ratings and metrics being used in their everyday lives, such as on retail websites or social media. This is not yet widespread in an educational context, but there is a changing balance.”

MacNeill noted that business processes can help educational organizations get the best from their data, but they need to take a rigorous, ethical approach to its use. “As we use more technology in our learning and teaching, we have to be clear, consistent and transparent about how we’re using that data and put processes in place to make sure it’s properly anonymized,” MacNeill said. “At a holistic level, there’s a huge opportunity for educators in understanding business processes better and looking at things from a data perspective, but a lot of work is needed to define the key insights we want to gain from our data.” ◆



For more information :
http://3ds.one/APUS

Toward a holographic future

Holographic displays are projecting themselves into the world of business


5 min read

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dennis Gabo developed the theory of holography in 1947, an its use grew following the invention of lasers in 1960. Today, an explosive volume of rich data, coupled with advances in immersive virtuality, are on track to make holography a part of daily life.

In 2012, Narendra Modi – a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Chief Minister of Gujarat – added his name to the Guinness World Records when Bollywood film director Mani Shankar and his associate Raj Kasu leveraged holographic projection systems from UK-based Musion to enable Modi’s 3D avatar to “appear” simultaneously at 53 public rallies during Gujarat’s Legislative Assembly elections. Two years later, Modi became India’s prime minister after using the same technology to project his image at up to 126 sites simultaneously, allowing him to address 100 million voters at approximately 3,500 events in 1,500 locations in 45 days.

Like most holographic projection technology to date, Musion’s systems are a modern version of Pepper’s Ghost, a 19th-century theatrical trick that beams a person’s image onto a hidden reflective surface, creating the illusion of a ghost onstage. But new developments are now moving the technology into the 21st century, creating realistic 3D holograms that allow people to interact, learn and even market products.

“Augmented reality (AR) experiences where people can control and interact with a layer of digital information over the physical world are becoming increasingly popular,” said Martin Richardson, who gained the world’s first doctoral degree in display holography in 1988 and is now professor of Modern Holography at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester, UK.

“Although true 3D holograms are created by the interference of light beams from a coherent light source, physics laws restrict us from focusing light into thin air,” Richardson said. “Consequently, modern holographic solutions tend to combine AR with Pepper’s Ghost to produce what we deem as 3D holograms.”

MORE THAN A GIMMICK


With all forms of immersive virtuality (iV) – including augmented, mixed and virtual reality – finding applications in a wide variety of settings, companies worldwide are developing holographic displays that could fundamentally change how humans work, learn and interact.

Microsoft, for example, has developed the head-worn Microsoft HoloLens, which it describes as the world’s first self-contained holographic computer. “HoloLens leverages mixed reality so users see holograms pinned to specific physical locations or objects in their surrounding environment,” Microsoft HoloLens general manager Lorraine Bardeen said. “They can also interact with holograms using voice and hand gestures, as they would with real objects. HoloLens will be available in eight markets by December 2016 and has many exciting use cases.”

Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and Cleveland Clinic, for instance, will use HoloLens to teach anatomy at their joint Health Education Campus when it opens in Cleveland, Ohio, in mid-2019. “With HoloLens, the students and the professor can all look at the same holographic image of the body and, at the same time, still see each other, even if the professor is in a different city,” said Mark Griswold, faculty lead for CWRU’s HoloLens work and Director of the Interactive Commons, a CWRU initiative that uses imagery to drive research and learning innovations. “In terms of the hologram itself, students can see an organ in three dimensions, from all sides, and all of the shapes and pathways inside it,” Griswold said. “In addition, the faculty member can present different conditions – for example, a tumor inside the brain, or fluid in a lung or a blocked artery
leading to the heart.”

“HOLOGRAMS ARE THE ONLY AUGMENTED REALITY SOLUTION THAT CAN BE USED BY GROUPS, SO THEY’RE A WOW FACTOR.”

ASHLEY CROWDER
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, VNTANA

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has collaborated with Microsoft to develop several HoloLens-based applications. ProtoSpace enables engineers to design space equipment using full-scale holographic visualizations rather than computer-aided designs. With Sidekick, astronauts on the International Space Station are able to access a “holographic instruction manual” and work in tandem with experts on Earth when completing complex tasks. A third project, OnSight, enables Earth-based scientists to virtually walk around and explore Mars using images and data
taken by the Curiosity Mars Rover.

“Our studies show dramatic improvements in scientists’ understanding of a scene and spacecraft design when they view it
via a head-mounted display instead of a computer screen,” said Jeff Norris, Mission Operations innovation lead at NASA JPL. “Feedback has been very positive because holographic visualizations engage humans’ innate ability to explore, allowing them to investigate Mars in a similar way to Earth. We’re only scratching the surface of what is possible with mixed reality in space.”

A BIGGER PICTURE


While most holographic systems require users to wear specialized headgear to view 3D projections, companies such as Texas-based FoVI 3D are creating displays that can be seen by many people at the same time.

“FoVI 3D’s We-R (We-Reality) holographic light-field display (LFD) tables create 3D projections that can be viewed by multiple people simultaneously, making it perfect for real-time collaboration,” said Mike Masters, FoVI’s chief marketing officer. “The government, oil and gas, entertainment and health care sectors will be the biggest beneficiaries.

Case Western Reserve University student Satyam Ghodasara uses Microsoft HoloLens to explore the layers of the human body. Students can see an organ in three dimensions, from all sides, and all of the shapes and pathways inside it. (Image © Microsoft)

For example, a clinical team could collaboratively analyze a hologram of a patient’s heart and develop a comprehensive surgical plan or visualize blood flow.” Ashley Crowder, CEO of California-based holographic solutions developer VNTANA, agrees. “Holograms are the only AR solution that can be used by groups, so they’re a wow factor that will drastically change the way humans interact,” she said. “Our scalable and interactive holographic VNTANA solution helps brands advertise products and services and attract customers in public spaces such as movie theaters, retail stores, trade shows and sports events. VNTANA also simultaneously collects customer data and integrates with social media, allowing brands to generate leads and perpetuate their image on social media via user-generated content.”

Many businesses are seeking scalable AR and interactive holographic solutions, Crowder said. “Our clients are investing in both one-off experiential events and also long-term leases for more permanent installations at museums, stadiums and more.”

PORTABLE DISPLAYS


Companies also are exploring more portable holographic displays. London-based Kino-mo, for example, has developed a plug-and-play Holo Display that uploads an image from a smartphone and instantly projects it in 3D. The projections can be seen with the naked eye and have been successfully tested at 20 UK locations, including bars, nightclubs, shopping malls and casinos.

“Surveys revealed that Holo Display was astonishingly effective at attracting customers’ attention, boosting sales and making brands or venues appear innovative,” said Art Stavenka, Kino-mo’s co-founder, adding that the trials have prompted multiple preorders from major brands and venues. “In the future, people will be able to use hand gestures to interact with 3D objects on Kino-mo Holo Display, stream real-time videos or social media posts in midair, and scan physical objects and instantly project them as a holograph.”

“WITH HOLOLENS, THE STUDENTS AND THE PROFESSOR CAN ALL LOOK AT THE SAME HOLOGRAPHIC IMAGE OF THE
BODY AND, AT THE SAME TIME, STILL SEE EACH OTHER, EVEN IF THE PROFESSOR IS IN A DIFFERENT CITY.”

MARK GRISWOLD
DIRECTOR OF THE INTERACTIVE COMMONS, CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY


True 3D Display is another technology developed by Aerial Burton, a company based in Kawasaki City, Japan, which claims to be the first to create holograms by shooting a 1KHz infrared pulse laser into a 3D scanner. The scanner reflects and focuses the pulses on predetermined points in midair, without bouncing them off glass, smoke or water. The molecules then ionize into pulsing plasma dots to form the hologram.

As the hologram is three dimensional, the image looks different when viewed from different angles.

“Our portable device can instantly project any image or written message to a mass audience, making it ideal for use in large-scale emergencies,” said Hidei Kimura, founder and CEO of Burton Inc., which holds the patent. “We draw arrows directing people to safe areas or write floating warning signs. We’re developing the system so people can use smartphones to capture real-time information from midair QR codes.”

A PHOTONICS FUTURE?


Although researchers are yet to fully understand and exploit the potential of holography, DMU’s Richardson predicts it will gain significant commercial traction in the next 10-20 years. “Photonics will bring a huge infrastructural change, where lasers and individual photons of light will be used to send information, making it even easier to access the rich data needed for true holography,” he said. “Initially it’ll transform commercial sectors such as health care, architecture and engineering, but it will become cheap enough for consumer use. We may eventually have smartphones that can record events using real-time holography.” ◆

Generational stereotypes

Experts doubt that Millennials, ‘Silents’, Boomers and Gens X and Z are incompatible at work

Lindsay James

4 min read

For the first time in modern history, the employment pool is a mix of five generations: the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Millennials, Generation X and Generation Z. To get the most out of this diverse workforce, experts urge businesses to ignore each group’s negative stereotypes and cross-train to maximize their strengths.

Workplace demographics are changing. While the oldest members of Generation Z (generally considered those born after 2000) are just beginning to enter employment, Millennials (born 1980- 2000) will comprise half the global workforce by 2020, according to PricewaterhouseCooper’s study titled “Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace.” What’s more, although a large proportion of Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and those of the Silent Generation (born before 1946) are of retirement age, many are choosing to stay employed.

“This means that, for the first time in history, five generations are working together,” said David DeLong, president of consulting firm Smart Workforce Strategies and a research fellow at AgeLab, a multidisciplinary research program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Many experts believe that this creates a new dynamic resulting in a ‘generation gap,’ which implies that there are significant, meaningful differences between the generations.”

MAKING ASSUMPTIONS

Millennials are often perceived negatively by their managers. “Never before have I experienced so much contempt for a generation,” said Robert Goldfarb, an 85-year-old management consultant based in New York and author of What’s Stopping Me from Getting Ahead? “Many CEOs have told me that Millennials are lazy, that they lack work ethic and that they’ve been spoiled by ‘helicopter parents’ who constantly hover around them. I find this characterization to be baseless and harsh.”

44%

of Millennials would like to leave their current employer in the next two years, according to a global survey by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

Loyalty is another perceived issue for this generation. Global consultancy firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu surveyed 7,770 university-educated Millennials from 29 countries who were employed full time in large, private-sector organizations and found that, if given the choice, 44% would like to leave their current employer in the next two years. Conversely, a recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that more than 40% of interviewed Baby Boomers have stayed with their employer for more than two decades.

Older generations are often said by younger co-workers to be costlier and more set in their ways, according to Brian Beach, a research fellow at the International Longevity Centre in London. “They’re also said to be more frequently sick,” he said, “but the evidence actually contradicts this.” Assumptions aren’t always negative, however. “Millennials – and I’m sure the same can be said for Generation Z – are technically very adroit,” Goldfarb said. “Their greatest strength is their technical virtuosity – they can navigate new software far better than the older generations.”

Jean Martin, talent solutions architect at best-practice insight and technology company CEB in Arlington, Virginia, said Baby Boomers are valued because they hold much of the intellectual property that drives knowledge work, as well as the social capital of key networks inside and outside the organization and the tacit knowledge of ‘how things really get done around here.’ “Our data shows they have the resilience to handle pressure and cope with setbacks at work,” she said.

Andrew Morris, director at specialist recruitment agency Robert Half, based in Sydney, Australia, said that these generational assumptions are more than unfair – they interfere with team cooperation, workplace productivity and employee engagement. “These differences may also restrict communication, which can result in low staff morale,” he said. “This can cause employees to become disengaged and possibly even consider leaving the company.”

SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION

Whether positive or negative, Jessica Kriegel, organizational development consultant for Oracle Corporation and author of the book Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes, said that all generational assumptions are harmful. In fact, she said, the entire concept of a generation gap is a myth perpetuated by popular media, including movies and television.

“BEING BORN IN A CERTAIN ERA DOESN'T MAKE US CARDBOARD CUTOUTS OF THAT GENERATION.”

YEESAN LOH
DESIGN DIRECTOR AND STRATEGIST, GENSLER

“Of course there are differences amongst people, but these differences can exist within generations as well,” she said. “There’s absolutely no value in generalizing across a whole generation. You may see trends, but most of these are the result of studies which have a very small sample size. In the US there’s 80 million Millennials, but generalizations will be made based on studies with 10,000 people or less. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Yeesan Loh, design director and strategist at UK architecture firm Gensler, agrees. “Being born in a certain era does not make us cardboard cutouts of that generation,” Loh wrote in a recent blog post for Virgin Group. “Besides, one generation bleeds into another. What about people born on the cusps? Workers from more recently industrialized countries? There are many other contributing factors to consider.”

A STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS

Stacey Truitt, an attorney and specialist in organizational training and development, based in Edwards, Colorado, believes that to successfully integrate the different generations in the workplace, companies need to banish stereotypes and encourage cross-generational work practices. “Several large companies I’ve spoken to have multigenerational advisory boards. That’s an interesting solution,” she said.

At technology firm Dell, GenNext is one of several employee resource groups that help promote cross-generational collaboration. “The GenNext group isn’t just for younger employees, but also includes more experienced team members from different job levels across Dell who support and provide knowledge to recent graduates,” said Tim Loake, UK director of Dell Services and co-executive sponsor of GenNext. “The group provides a real opportunity for all members to exchange ideas and for our organization to benefit from the unique skills that both recent graduates and ‘old hats’ bring.”

Reverse mentorships can also foster inclusivity. As part of a program that sees younger employees coach Baby Boomers, global financial services company Credit Suisse has partnered 28-year-old René Schrackmann with 53-year-old Daniel Niggli. Schrackmann is mentoring Niggli on a range of topics including social media, time management and multitasking.

“In our case, the matching worked very well,” Schrackmann said in an interview on the firm’s website. “Even though I’m actually the mentor, mentoring often goes in both directions. Daniel has been at Credit Suisse for 35 years. It’s fascinating to see such a career laid out before me and to reflect on how it matches my own plans for the future, along with his opinion of it all.”

How does Richard Branson inspire the workforce of tomorrow?
http://3ds.one/BBC

Kengo Kuma

Leading Japanese architect foresees computers unleashing an era of design freedom

Akio Moriwaki

5 min read

Kengo Kuma’s architectural designs range from the whimsical (Asakusa Cultural and Tourism Center, a wildly stacked pillar of houses) to the dramatic (the steamship-shaped Victoria and Albert Museum rising in Dundee, Scotland), to the deceptively simple (Great (Bamboo) Wall, a house in China). Through them he has discovered his calling – celebrating natural materials and creating human connections – and learned that a computer can be an architect’s best friend.

In the years after World War II, Japanese architects grappled with building homes and businesses to replace what the conflict had destroyed and accommodate booming post-war growth. Japan needed fast recovery as its top priority, and its “first generation” architects delivered.

Kengo Kuma, founder of Kengo Kuma and Associates (KKAA) and one of today’s most celebrated Japanese architects, reveres that generation.

“The first-generation architects basically had to reconstruct Japan, and that sense of responsibility had a big bearing on everything they did,” he said.

Kenzo Tange, who designed the Yoyogi National Gymnasium built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, the building that inspired Kuma to become an architect, is a particular first-generation hero. Thanks to Tange and those who came after – Arata Isozaki and Fumihiko Maki of the second generation, and Tadao Ando and Toyo Ito of the third generation – Kuma said he feels empowered to pursue a design freedom his predecessors never had.

“Japan’s a wealthy country now, rivaling the United States and Europe,” Kuma said in a wide-ranging interview. “For our generation, I’d say the main thematic question is what kind of architecture we can create in that context of comfort. I think this generation is trying to redefine architecture as a medium for people to connect with each other.”

REDISCOVERING NATURE WITH A COMPUTER

Soaring buildings with swooping curves and awe-inducing metal façades – the type of architecture that has dominated for nearly two decades – create a sense of wonder, but don’t promote human intimacy or comfort. Instead, Kuma believes that natural materials create the peace that humans instinctively crave.

His most iconic designs – beginning with his award-winning guest house in China known as “Great (Bamboo) Wall” – prominently feature wood and bamboo. Even the stadium he designed for the 2020 Olympics in Japan – the first Olympic stadium built in his country since Tange’s 1964 project – is defined by its wooden details.

Ironically, however, Kuma’s transition from the concrete, steel and glass of the Industrial Age to the traditional, natural materials that define KKAA’s newest and most iconic projects has been enabled by the leading symbol of the modern age: the computer.

Celebrated Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (Image © K.K. Human Centrix)

“It’s really difficult to use natural materials, to be honest,” Kuma said. “There is so much variability. No two pieces are the same, first of all, and you always have to deal with each material’s size restrictions. The challenge is figuring out how to get all those pieces to fit together and create a functional structure, and that’s where computers are so helpful. It seems to me that you need computer technology to bring natural materials to architectural fruition. Otherwise, they are just too diverse and complicated to orchestrate.”

AUTOMATING THE ROUTINE RELEASES CREATIVITY

By managing many of the critical but routine and time-consuming tasks – from verifying structural integrity to compiling precise lists of materials to managing budgets – advanced computer technology, especially Building Information Management (BIM), actually frees architects to focus on creativity, Kuma said.

“Technological progress had had a big impact. We use CAD to design things in 3D now, for example. With computers, we can dream up virtually any architectural space and convert those ideas into actual drawings. As technology continues to liberate our imaginations, it’s cool how the digital advances in the architectural world have gone step-in-step with a renewed awareness of ‘the real thing.’”

Modern architects tend to spend most of their time finding solutions to engineering, scheduling and budget problems, not creating great designs, Kuma said.

“When you call on what BIM can do, it becomes possible to balance out engineering- type solutions with creativity. For example, people used to balance the budget at the end of the project to see whether the costs fell in line with the projections. Those days are now gone. Now you must have your budget in mind right out of the gates and work under those preconditions the whole time, gathering feedback and adjustments as you go. That’s why it’s almost impossible to manage your budget without BIM.

“Achieving a balance of solutions and creativity is one of the biggest issues in the architecture industry. If we can find a way to put these two things together, then I feel we can massively transform the architecture industry.”

DEMOCRATIZING DESIGN

While computers give architects more freedom, however, they also create an environment in which they will face more challenges to their authority, Kuma said.

“Computers democratize architecture,” he said. “For example, someone who is a complete newcomer to architecture will be able to design their own house. Architects who have enjoyed privilege up to now may be opposed to this, but ultimately I think that architecture will belong to everyone. When that happens, I think we will be in for a very interesting future.”

In this new era, Kuma envisions architects being valued less for their engineering prowess and their ability to bring projects in on time and budget and more for their creativity and ability to create harmony, both in the buildings they design and in the working environments they create.

“If you try to make architecture more complicated, there is no end to how complicated it can get,” Kuma said. “For that reason, I make sure to keep a model right in front of me. Everyone gathers around the model and talks. I feel that’s the key to not getting complicated. Everyone is actually very interested in architecture. So I think that if we keep things simple, a number of different people can take part in it.”

Sunny Hills Japan (Image © Daici Ano)

NURTURING AN OPEN, CREATIVE ENVIRONMENT

Part of keeping the working environment open involves avoiding hierarchical structures so that everyone’s ideas can be heard, Kuma said, even as KKAA expands beyond Japan with offices in China and Paris.

“I try to maintain a flat organizational structure,” Kuma said. “We want people to understand that they must take on a certain amount of risk when they assume responsibility for something, so we try to stay away from building too much of a hierarchy. That structure lulls you into thinking that someone else higher up on the ladder will always be there, ready to take responsibility for whatever you do. We want everyone to feel responsible for themselves and know that they are creators.”
 
In addition to encouraging a sense of responsibility, he encourages cultural diversity in KKAA’s staff.

“This diversity doesn’t dilute the character of KKAA; it strengthens it,” he said. “Our organization should be structured so that all of these people can really participate. That is what makes the identity of the organization stronger.”

Kuma’s philosophy is consistent with his definition of leadership.

“I think how qualified you are as a leader really depends on how easy of an environment you can create for everyone to speak up,” he said. “If you create an environment where everyone can easily speak their mind, different opinions will come forth and from those opinions you can find a balance. If nobody expresses their opinions, there’s really nothing you can do.”

A LONG-TERM VIEW

In a world that is rediscovering the beauty of natural materials and human connections, of sustainability and long-term value, Kuma believes that architects are well positioned to lead.

“The advantage the architecture industry has is that it can think over longer timespans, as much as 10 years from the start to the finish of project,” he said. “We are entering an age that is going to be all about taking longer periods of time to think about what will make people happy, rather than shooting for short-term increases in profit.

“Architects are accustomed to listening to people about things. They are accustomed to thinking about things over long periods of time. Architects are people with universally applicable skills.”

What does Kengo Kuma think of 21st century architecture?

CRISPR research

Gene-editing technique offers a promising tool for medicine and agriculture

Charles Wallace

5 min read

Like a pair of microscopic scissors, the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR offers scientists the opportunity to snip away the genetic codes that cause many hereditary diseases. As human trials begin in the US and China, however, excitement for the technique’s medical potential is tempered by concern about its long-term implications for evolution.

Imagine a world in which terrible hereditary diseases such as cystic fibrosis and hemophilia could be edited out of an unborn baby’s genetic code with the ease of cutting and pasting a sentence in your word processor. Or using that same technology to create drought-resistant wheat.

While it sounds like science fiction, this kind of genetic engineering is now becoming easier, thanks to a process called CRISPR, an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” Less than a decade old, the use of CRISPR gene editing technology has taken the scientific world by storm and is being hailed by many experts as the greatest medical advance since vaccines and antibiotics.

“CRISPR is a huge development because it’s such a powerful tool,”said Kristian Laursen, a Danish researcher in pharmacology at New York City’s Weill Cornell Medical College. “It allows you to target specific places in the genome and is much easier to use than the cumbersome systems of the past.”

CRISPR is a discovery rather than an invention. It’s based on the revelation that many single-celled bacteria have immune systems that contain repeating bits of DNA. Between these identical repetitions are short segments of “spacer DNA,” which match virus DNA from previous exposures, ensuring that the bacterium can recognize and ward off further attacks. Whenever a previously exposed bacterium encounters the virus, the sequence acts like tiny scissors to chop it up.

CRISPR RESEARCH IN HUMANS

Using this knowledge, Jennifer Doudna, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, a microbiologist and director of the Regulation in Infection Biology department at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, realized that by adding an enzyme they dubbed Cas9 (CRISPR associated protein 9) and some guidance proteins, they could direct those tiny scissors to a desired location in any genome and snip out a single bit of a gene.

Jennifer Doudna, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, co-developed the process for steering CRISPR to edit a specific gene. (Image © Nick Otto for the Washington Post via Getty Images)

In the space of just a few years, use of CRISPR to edit plants, animal and even human genomes has taken off. One remarkable experiment involves using CRISPR to take samples of frozen DNA from a woolly mammoth, which has been extinct for 4,000 years, and use an elephant as a surrogate mother to bring the species back to life, a scenario reminiscent of the film Jurassic Park.

And now scientists are making the first forays into using CRISPR on humans. In July 2016, Chinese scientists in Chengdu announced that they plan to use CRISPR technology to treat lung cancer in human patients by knocking out a gene in immune system T cells. Four groups of other scientists in China have already edited the human genome, albeit in embryos that could not survive to birth.

Meanwhile, the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced in June 2016 that it had approved the use of CRISPR/Cas9 gene technology to edit two genes in immune system T cells to make them target cancers that include myeloma, melanoma and sarcoma.

INHERITING ALTERED GENES

But some scientists have mixed feelings about experimenting in humans. “While the application of new gene editing technologies in this field has great potential to improve human health, it is not without concerns,” said Carrie D. Wolinetz, associate director for science policy at the NIH, in a 2016 post to the NIH blog “Under the Poliscope: Bringing Science Policy into Focus.”

One major concern about such experiments in living humans is that any changes in the genome will be passed down to future generations, and those tiny alterations may cause profound but unknown mutations decades from now.

Another immediate concern is that because CRISPR is so simple (synthetic biologist Josiah Zayner is just one of many already marketing DIY bacterial kits online for home use), terrorists or rogue governments could use the technology to create “Frankenstein” diseases as a weapon. In fact, James R. Clapper, the director of US National Intelligence, included genome editing in his list of “weapons of mass destruction and proliferation” when he made his annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” to the US Congress in February 2016.

CRISPR RESEARCH WITH CROPS

For the time being, scientists believe that the most practical and commercial use of CRISPR technology will be in agriculture. Seed companies are already scrambling to improve crops such as rice and wheat with CRISPR to make them more resistant to pests and drought.

Caixia Gao, a researcher at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who is now working in Denmark, noted that scientists previously used a process called mutagenesis – dousing plants with chemicals or exposing them to radiation – to force genetic mutations, but the mutations could change thousands of parts of genes. Forced mutation therefore involved a long and laborious process, until the precisely desired mutation was achieved.

In this model, Cas9 nuclease steering enzyme (blue) guides virus RNA (pink) to remove genes from the targeted DNA (green), eliminating unwanted traits. (Image © Molekuul / iStock)

Another controversial method has been the creation of transgenic plants and animals, in which a gene from one type of plant or animal is inserted into another. This has prompted a smoldering debate about the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which have been dubbed “Frankenfoods” by critics.

Examples are soybeans that have received a gene from a bacterium to make them resistant to pesticides, so farmers can spray fields to kill weeds without harming the GMO crops. Canadian scientists have even created a transgenic Atlantic salmon that grows in half the time of a natural fish by inserting a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon.

Unlike GMOs, Gao said, scientists can now simply use CRISPR to target not only a specific gene, but one part of a specific gene, known as a base pair, eliminating the need to transplant genes from another species. She said she has used gene editing to knock out a wheat gene that makes the plant susceptible to disease, creating a strain that stays disease free.

“In the future, CRISPR will be a common and useful tool to modify plants and agricultural animals and breed new varieties,” Gao predicts.

US APPROVES FIRST CRISPR-ALTERED FOOD

The commercial benefits are already becoming apparent. Yinong Yang, a professor in the department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, for example, used CRISPR to create a mushroom that doesn’t turn brown when exposed to air.

The US Department of Agriculture ruled that it did not have to regulate the mushroom, which is not a plant but a type of fungus, making it the first organism created with CRISPR technology to gain US government approval.

“Technically, agriculture might be the one big use of CRISPR because you don’t have the problem of off-target mutations,” Yang said. “You can simply go back and remove any unintended mutations.”

Yang has set up a company that has applied for patents on CRISPR-edited rice as well as his mushrooms. He said that altering just a few base pairs – there are 3,000 in a gene – reduce rice’s need for water and fertilizer.
 
One problem with CRISPR is that snipping out parts of genes is proving much easier than pasting something new into the space created.

“The efficient replacement of genes in plants is still very difficult,” Yang said. But many positive changes can take place without replacing the snipped gene. In humans, some scientists have estimated that changing the genes in only 10% of cells might be sufficient to cure a disease.

THE WAY FORWARD

Going forward, scientists like Laursen believe CRISPR will have a dramatic impact on treating disease – not only hereditary conditions, but problems such as bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics through overuse.

CRISPR could be used to create a virus that attacks the bacteria and overcomes their immune defenses. It might also be used to knock out a human gene that makes people vulnerable to the HIV virus.

From extending the shelf life of fruit to the human lifespan, CRISPR holds the promise of changing the fundamental genetic makeup of virtually all plants and animals, including humans. CRISPR-derived techniques and variations continue to evolve, and alternative genome-editing systems and new enzymes are coming into play. Whether these changes prove to be beneficial or create new problems is a challenge that scientists and regulators will be watching closely.

CRISPR was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; read more here. 
Learn more about how the CRISPR process works.

High-tech growing pains

From systems and staffing to finance, founders of high-tech startups must master it all

Allan Behrens

4 min read

Founding any startup is a challenge, but founding a startup in the rapidly changing world of high-tech takes a special measure of stamina and flexibility. To discover their common hurdles and strategies, Compass spoke to the founders of four high-tech startups about what they’ve learned and what they might do differently.

Growing a high-tech startup can be rewarding and exciting, but also frustrating and challenging. Small, rapidly growing businesses have agility and enthusiasm, but they also have restraints: too little capital, not enough people, and an organization that quickly outgrows the infrastructure available to support it.

The challenge is to evolve successfully while retaining the rare but highly valuable attributes that sparked a startup’s early success. To understand how they approach this delicate balancing act, we contacted Bo Burlingham, contributing writer at Forbes and a former editor at Inc.; Chris Rommel, executive vice president at US-based industry and IT consulting firm VDC Research; and the founders of four high-tech companies making the difficult transition from startup to established player:

 • Ben Stagg, CEO and co-founder of North Carolina-based Halo Smart Labs, which developed connected smoke detectors that can be networked into an early warning system for tornadoes.
• Jack Kutner, CEO of Massachusetts-based Bigbelly, which manufactures solar-powered and networked refuse containers that notify city workers when they need emptying.
• Syed Ahmed, CEO and founder of UK-based Savortex, which makes smart hand dryers that play video advertisements while monitoring foot traffic and alerting staff when a washroom needs servicing.
• Alan Weinberg, director of Marketing at Massachusetts-based Myomo, which helps people overcome upper extremity paralysis with myoelectric orthotics and services.

SUCCESS BEGINS WITH A PLAN

Every startup begins with enthusiasm and an exciting idea, but many forget the vital third pillar that gives a startup its stable base: a sound business plan.

“We spent years planning,” Ahmed said when asked about the “secret sauce” of Savortex’s early success. “We researched our sector for at least two years to understand the pain points, and then we embarked on looking at the market trends before launching our company.”

“We spent years planning,” Syed Ahmed, CEO and founder of UK-based Savortex, says about the company, which makes smart hand dryers. “We researched our sector for at least two years to understand the pain points.” (Image © Savortex)

Even with a plan, it’s easy to get sidetracked, Weinberg said. “Realistically, plans are only predictable to a point, especially in product development and engineering phases. It’s so easy to get distracted. That’s not to say that new ideas aren’t worth investigating, but it’s about timing. Keep reviewing your strategic plan.”

An added benefit of frequent reviews, he said, is that your plan is already up to date if a new funding opportunity appears.

“ONE NEEDS TO ADAPT ONE’S TOOLS AND PROCESSES TO SUPPORT THE EVOLVING NEEDS OF THE BUSINESS, BUT IT TAKES A DEGREE OF SCALE TO MAKE THAT PRACTICAL.”

CHRIS ROMMEL
EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, VDC RESEARCH

Burlingham said it is important to plan not only what to do, but to envision what success will look like.

“Many entrepreneurs don’t have a concrete plan where they’d like to end up,” Burlingham said. “They do things that have unintended and unplanned consequences down the line, and things start to happen that you don’t understand.”

THE RIGHT SYSTEMS SUPPORT COLLABORATION

Collaboration is easy when everyone shares the same vision and works in one room. As companies grow, however, degrees of separation naturally appear between those who steer the business and those who perform the day-to-day work.

When each employee can no longer have direct access to the founders, a company must make the difficult move from individual knowledge and ad hoc processes to institutionalized ones. But the low-cost tools that were practical in the early stages often don’t scale effectively.

“One needs to adapt one’s tools and processes to support the evolving needs of the business, but it takes a degree of scale to make that practical,” VDC’s Rommel advises.

At Bigbelly, Kutner said, inflection points to adoption were driven by organizational “noise”: sales teams complaining that it was difficult to place orders, for example, or customer service finding it difficult to manage customer satisfaction.

“One can’t just rely on gut feel or a belief that the right things will happen at the right time” when managing growth, Kutner said. “The business needed to move from anecdotal and qualitative to quantitative” decision making.

CHANGING WITH THE ENVIRONMENT

Automating outdated processes isn’t the answer, however.

“It’s pointless moving from cowpaths to paved cowpaths,” Kutner said. “One needs to create roads and pave them.”

Systems that are difficult to adjust to changing business priorities can be as bad as no tools at all, Stagg said. “One must find the right balance between sophistication and entrepreneurialism. Making sure we can run and monitor the business, while at the same time challenging the status quo ” is essential.

“Growth is a funny thing,” Stagg said. “It’s difficult and cumbersome at times, but it’s all about balance.”

FOUR HIGH-TECH STARTUPS

Myomo, Entrepreneur and Director of Marketing Alan Weinberg
Myomo’s mission is to enable individuals to overcome upper extremity paralysis by providing innovative, myoelectric orthotics and support services. The MyoPro powered brace can empower individuals with neuromuscular disabilities to perform functional activities at home, at work and in the community, promoting an improved quality of life, increased independence and lower health care costs. The Myomo technology was originally developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in collaboration with medical experts affiliated with Harvard Medical School. In 2006, Myomo spun out from MIT and became the exclusive licensee of two patents behind the myoelectric technology. www.myomo.com

Halo Smart Labs, Co-founder and CEO Ben Stagg
Every new product innovation from Halo Smart Labs is subjected to one simple but profound question: will this save lives? One when the answer is ‘yes’ does it move forward to production. The singular focus on saving lives led Halo to produce Halo and Halo+, which the company describes as “the world’s safest, smartest smoke alarms.”

“It’s this focus that ensures we will deliver on our mission – to make the environment in and around every home in the world safer,” Stagg said. https://halosmartlabs.com

Bigbelly, CEO Jack Kutner
Bigbelly, founded in 2003 in Needham, Massachusetts, is a leading provider of smart waste and recycling systems that beautify public spaces while reducing environmental impact and operational costs by 70%-80%. With more than 1,500 customers in 47 countries, the solar-powered Bigbelly system combines waste-compacting and recycling stations with cloud-connected management software for real-time visibility, actionable insights and robust analytics for optimized, data-driven waste operations. Big belly currently has 55 employees. www.bigbelly.com

Savortex, CEO Syed Ahmed
Savortex Limited, which is backed by UK Trade & Investment and the Technology Strategy board and co-funded by Innovate UK, has won multiple awards as a green technology company, including a listing in Guinness World Records. Savortex designs, manufactures and supplies smart, advanced and environmentally responsible hand-drying technology for commercial washroom facilities. Savortex’s design and engineering capabilities and patented technology are transforming the hand-drying marketplace and contributing to the smart energy-saving revolution. The company, founded in 2007, has more than 10 employees and consultants. www.savortex.com

Integrating innovation

Experts suggest practical steps to build a creative culture in business

Sean Dudley

4 min read

Large, long-established organizations can find it difficult to foster the innovative spirit associated with small and dynamic startups. Experts highlight five simple things leaders can do to stay ahead of the curve.

For a startup, an innovation culture is in place almost by definition as it looks to make its mark with a new idea. With time and growth, however, that initial spark can be lost. Here is what top experts recommend for giving innovation a boost.

ANALYZE THE OPPORTUNITIES

Every company is different. To truly innovate, it’s paramount to find the areas where opportunities lie.

Jimmy Leppert, a partner at Kotter International, a US-based specialized management consulting firm, and his team pose the same question to every senior executive they work with: how can you get the whole organization, at every level, going at speed to deliver on core business strategies?

“Innovation correlates to the rate of change,” Leppert said. “In a faster-moving world, innovation becomes a word that applies to anything you do. This covers how you save money, how you handle talent, how to come up with something significantly different to how it’s been done before and even how the industry has done it before. Identifying these opportunities and acting on this is what innovation is all about.”

Knowing what you need to achieve with innovation is an important part of the equation, advises Bart Higgins, a partner at ?What If! Innovation, a global company that helps organizations build in-house innovation capabilities. “Investing the time upfront to help identify what innovation needs to produce for you is often the most important part of the journey. Asking the right questions and defining a clear innovation ambition will help a business make the right commitments to the scale of innovation they require.”

New York’s Steinway & Sons piano makers, for example, worked with ?What If! Innovation to launch Spirio, a high-resolution player piano that re-creates performances by great pianists as if conducted at a live performance.

“THE KEY ELEMENTS OF AN INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM ARE ALL CENTERED AROUND AND SUPPORTIVE OF LEADERSHIP THAT PRIORITIZES, DRIVES AND INCENTIVIZES COMMITMENT TO INNOVATION.”

BART HIGGINS
PARTNER, ?WHAT IF! INNOVATION

“The end goal of innovation wasn’t just about developing a product, it was about restructuring their business thinking around this new market,” Higgins said. “Using innovation as a process, Steinway was able to understand where the value of the new technology was and what the new offering should stand for in the mind of the consumer.”

LOSE THE LAYERS

Companies often try to become more professional as they grow, but this leads to more layers that form a hierarchy, creating gaps in communication. Too much distance between management and idea-generating staff is an innovation killer.

“As companies expand, they increase their use of management,” Leppert said. “To deliver on all their commitments and grow, organizations must balance innovation and great management and close the gaps that can form.”

Hierarchies can interfere with discussing or acting on innovative ideas. To recapture their innovative cultures, companies must remove these barriers so that ideas from every level can be heard.

“Many startups and companies have great ideas and a pioneering spirit,” said Anke Kleinschmit, vice president of Group Research and Sustainability and chief environmental officer at Daimler. “To innovate, it’s vital that companies bring these to the fore.”

CREATE AN INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM

For innovation to thrive within an organization, it’s important for staff to buy into its philosophy of innovation and to work in an innovation-supportive environment.

“The key elements of an innovation ecosystem are all centered around and supportive of leadership that prioritizes, drives and incentivizes commitment to innovation,” Higgins said. “Organizations must develop tools and processes for the ‘doing’ of innovation; governance and planning that ‘steers’ innovation; performance goals and knowledge that ‘enables’ innovation; and behaviors and collaboration agreements that allow teams to ‘be’ innovative.”

GET THE TECHNOLOGY RIGHT

Modern technologies and concepts, such as the Internet of Things, make data collection and analysis easier and more powerful than ever before.

“THINKING SMARTLY AROUND HOW TO APPLY THE TECHNOLOGIES THAT ARE OUT THERE, IN THE CONTEXT OF THE SITUATION THAT YOUR BUSINESS IS IN, CAN SUPPORT INNOVATION”

MICHAEL RINGEL
SENIOR PARTNER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, BOSTON CONSULTING GROUP

“Getting a handle on new technologies and what they might do for you is key,” said Michael Ringel, a senior partner and managing director at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global business consulting firm headquartered in Boston. “Thinking smartly around how to apply the technologies that are out there, in the context of the situation that your business is in, can support innovation.”

Thanks to such technologies, the cost of data gathering is plummeting, said Ian Ferguson, vice president of Worldwide Marketing and Strategic Alliances at ARM, a leading global supplier of microprocessor technology. “Technology is now cheap enough, and wireless technology is proliferating enough, to see it become invisibly buried into the ecosystem and infrastructure that surrounds us. This is the massive growth of this time.”

With so many technological touch points now available, companies that put in place systems to capture and relay this information can gain new insights into their business. These insights better position their executives to make dynamic and innovative decisions.

TAKE EDUCATED RISKS

Pharmaceuticals company Gilead Sciences placed eighth on BCG’s 2015 Most Innovative Companies list. Key to its ranking, Ringel said, was the company’s deep understanding of relevant technology and science, plus Gilead’s willingness to look outside its four walls for innovative ideas.

In 2012, for example, Gilead purchased Pharmasset, a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company, for US$11 billion.

“This was something other companies in the industry were afraid of doing because they didn’t understand the science enough,” Ringel said. “Gilead understood it enough that they were open to external innovation and saw a return on investment by 2014. Gilead was at the forefront of the fight against hepatitis C and developed the drugs that effectively led to the curing of this illness. Their innovations have helped change the lives of millions of people.”

GET STARTED

Analyze the Opportunities. Lose the Layers. Create an Innovation Ecosystem. Get the Technology Right. Take Educated Risks.

This five-point plan for innovation isn’t easy to achieve as an organization grows. If leaders keep these factors top of mind and communicate them throughout the company, however, they’ll be well on the road to reclaiming the innovative fervor that gave birth to their organization.

Liberating design

Retailers and designers begin to embrace 3D printing

Sean Dudley

3 min read

Early adopters praise 3D printing for enabling greater design freedom, cost savings and faster production times. These advantages are now starting to move beyond the shop floor, and into the shop.

If you want to take up jogging to improve your health and fitness, you’ll probably head to a sports shop and buy a pair of running shoes. But if those shoes are hard on your feet, give you blisters or just aren’t comfortable, you’re unlikely to be running for very long – and you may never buy that brand of running shoes again.

To ensure that its buyers are happy users, adidas is piloting 3D printing technology to create tailor-made trainer midsoles that support and cushion the precise contours and pressure points of each individual’s feet. Currently a prototype, the company’s Futurecraft 3D concept was created in cooperation with Materialise, an additive manufacturing software and services specialist based in Leuven, Belgium.

The idea is that one day you will be able to walk into an adidas store, hop onto a treadmill, run a bit and be able to order a 3D-printed custom-built running shoe with midsoles that conform to a scan of your foot.

“From the very start with 3D printing, the promise of the technology has been enabling freedom of design – to make objects aesthetically better and to allow objects to be optimized for the function they perform instead of the manufacturing process, as evidenced in our partnership with adidas,” said Alireza Parandian, corporate business development manager for wearables at Materialise. “Freedom of design can also be taken to its highest degree – i.e., individualization.”

A NEW WAY OF THINKING

Unlike traditional manufacturing, which involves cutting away portions of solid materials to create a part, most additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, uses computers and 3D modeling software to build up products layer by layer from various materials, such as plastic, nylon, epoxy and resins or even sheets of paper, into finished products.

The technology is being harnessed to create products for a range of consumer goods industries, including wearables, housewares, eyeglass frames, jewelry, luggage and toys, as well as orthopedics and medicine – and the list is growing rapidly as the use of 3D printing expands into homes and offices. Additive manufacturing experts envision the day when, for example, a consumer with a defective vacuum cleaner part can simply log onto the company’s website, download the CAD file and 3D print a replacement part.

The rapidly expanding field keeps companies like Arcam, based in Mölndal, Sweden, which specializes in electronic beam melting (EBM) machines used mainly in the aerospace and orthopedic implant industries, in continuous evolution.“We started off as a supplier of 3D printing machines to create prototypes, but have become more of a supplier of machines for the shop floor,” said Magnus René, Arcam’s president and CEO.

 “Our customers are using our machines for real production applications, which is opening the eyes of other companies and making them understand they can use this method for their own manufacturing. More and more people are realizing additive manufacturing can be a viable production method.”

DESIGN CONTROL

Early adopters are finding that additive manufacturing has the potential to significantly improve product design. It can also cut costs, as customers and manufacturers are able to quickly create what they need, when they need it.

“Additive manufacturing allows you to manufacture efficiently,” René said. “Companies can manufacture with lower tooling costs and lower starting costs, and actually take out cost. With the ongoing development that is taking place, additive manufacturing technologies will only become more and more efficient.”

Additive manufacturing is driven by three core competencies, Parandian said: quality, reliability and traceability. These are particularly important in highly regulated industries, such as medicine or aeronautics. With the flexibility of additive manufacturing, companies must ensure that they are meeting these regulations right from the start.

“In the medical sector, we have a separate product line for our surgical guides, which have to meet certain standards of the medical industry, and we have a similar model for the aeronautics industry,” Parandian said. “In wearables, we have a certified product line for eyewear. Wearables is a highly demanding industry on the cosmetic side, so you need that level of quality, control and consistency.”

A POSITIVE IMPACT

Andy Middleton, EMEA president at Stratasys, a manufacturer of 3D printers and production systems headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, believes that the key to the widespread adoption of 3D printing by consumer goods companies, which need to produce products by the millions, boils down to whether it proves to be more effective than traditional methods.

“For the production of low-volume quantities or on-demand parts that improve workflows, 3D printing’s evolution from the prototyping lab to the factory floor has significant benefits,” Middleton said. “I believe that the positive impact of 3D printing, and the way in which an increasing number of companies are adopting this efficiency-driving, cost-reducing technology, will be instrumental to supporting the manufacturing industry going forward.”

In both the retail and manufacturing spaces, Parandian believes that transferring more creative power to the designer – and to the consumer, as adidas is doing – is the real future of additive manufacturing.

“Being able to empower people and allow them to bring personal content into their end products will ultimately create more value,” he said. “This is what additive manufacturing offers.”

Take a look inside adidas FutureLab

Technology + design + investment

Youngse Kim, consumer electronics design star, creates incubator for high-tech startups

Youngjin Choi

3 min read

When Youngse Kim arrived in Silicon Valley, California, as a young designer, the region’s top high-tech companies knew Korea mainly as a manufacturer of low-cost products – not a producer of great design. Today, after winning dozens of major design awards for iconic high-tech products, Kim is launching an incubator to help more of Korea’s young designers make their impact on the world of high-tech products.

Youngse Kim is one of the world’s most celebrated high-tech designers, with 16 major design awards, dozens of iconic products, rave reviews from top publications and the admiration of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who called Kim’s iriver MP3 player “a leading design product of the digital era.”

Thirty years after founding his high-tech design firm, INNO Design, in Silicon Valley, California, however, Kim hasn’t forgotten his roots. He remembers the struggles of being a Korean-born designer in the days long before Korean companies like LG and Samsung – often with Kim’s guidance – became synonymous with beautifully designed products. He remembers the risks of financing his first product, an innovative golf bag called ProTech, with a bank loan. And he remembers the discomfort of sitting with his sample in a tiny tradeshow booth, realizing he had none of the skills needed to market or sell it.

Because he remembers, Kim is devoted to easing the paths of tomorrow’s star high-tech designers with his new Design Accelerator Lab (DXL-Lab) in Pangyo, at the heart of Korea’s Techno Valley.

“DXL-Lab, where technology + design + investment takes place under one roof, will become the world’s first platform in which all participants can expect to succeed,” Kim said.

HIGH-TECH DESIGN CHALLENGES

Kim sees DXL-Lab as an opportunity to help future generations surpass his accomplishments.

Youngse Kim, award-winning designer and founder of INNO Design.(Image © Lee Nam Sun)

“Designers are queuing up to join INNO Design, but we simply cannot hire all of them,” he said. “The next dream of a designer who once climbed to the top is to help many junior designers to make their debut.”

“I WANT TO LEVERAGE MY DESIGN CAPABILITIES TO TRIGGER THE GROWTH OF KOREAN INDUSTRIES. I WANT TO INFLUENCE AN ERA OF DESIGN.”

YOUNGSE KIM
AWARD-WINNING DESIGNER AND FOUNDER OF INNO DESIGN

High-tech products present unique design challenges, and technology concepts alone – which most of DXL-Labs’ applicants already have – is not enough, Kim said. What the technology does must be integrated with great design that attracts consumer attention and interest, but also streamlines and enhances how the technology functions.

“I believe ‘Me’ is the design megatrend,” Wired magazine quoted Kim as saying. “It’s hard to impress consumers unless the design moves them.”

Today he adds: “The designer is no longer a supporting actor on the world stage. Now the designer finds himself playing the lead role.”

DESIGN TOGETHER

Existing accelerators rarely know how to create the unique marriage of form and function that delights high-tech consumers. But it is a skill at the heart of INNO Design’s success, and one Kim intends to share with DXL-Lab startups, embodying the DXL-Lab motto, “Design Together.”

In keeping with Kim’s philosophy, INNO Design evaluates every design on three axes: always beautiful, functionally convenient and easy to manufacture. INNO Design will help DXL-Lab startups achieve this design trifecta and will directly invest in any project that appears to have growth potential. “INNO Design manages these projects,” Kim said.

A PLATFORM FOR SUCCESS

To help facilitate startups, DXL-Lab is providing a cloud-based business platform to link aspiring designers with INNO Design experts and potential investors. Designers put their projects on the platform, INNO Design helps with development of the best ideas, and venture capitalists can watch the progress and discover projects that meet their investment criteria.

Every step of the collaborative process happens on the platform.

INNO Design joined forces with Hycore, a startup, to design and manufacture an innovative bicycle that combines INNO Design’s foldable bicycle frame with Hycore’s self-pedaling technology. (Image © Hycore)

INNO Design Center in Korea will be the headquarters for conducting DXL-Lab development work, and INNO Design USA will help high-tech startups introduce their products to the global marketplace. DXL-Lab is launching with four startups, chosen by Kim after he met personally with 10 aspiring entrepreneurs.

“Engineers tend to possess good technology, but do not know how to make and sell any products whatsoever,” Kim said. It’s a reality he remembers well from his own experience in trying to launch ProTech.

DESIGNING THE FUTURE

Hycore, which manufactures electric bicycle wheels, is one of the four startups Kim selected. When its electric wheel and a battery are installed on the rear wheel of any bicycle, the bicycle propels itself.

“THE NEXT DREAM OF A DESIGNER WHO ONCE CLIMBED TO THE TOP IS TO HELP MANY JUNIOR DESIGNERS TO MAKE THEIR DEBUT.”

YOUNGSE KIM
AWARD-WINNING DESIGNER AND FOUNDER OF INNO DESIGN

“Immediately after I read an article about Hycore on the return leg of my overseas business trip last year, I contacted the company and arranged a meeting,” Kim said.

There he gave Hycore INNO Design’s patented foldable bicycle frame. “If INNO Design’s bicycle is able to merge with Hycore’s technology, the value of both products will become greater and Hycore’s brand value will be enhanced.”

The result is scheduled to launch in March 2017.

Kim is giving back because he remembers what it is to be unknown, struggling and Korean. “I want to leverage my design capabilities to trigger the growth of Korean industries,” he said. “I want to influence an era of design. The start of this movement is DXL-Lab.”

Clusters of industry

Governments worldwide nurture ecosystems to stimulate economic innovation

William J. Holstein

5 min read

States, regions and nations are pursuing different methods to create industry “clusters,” concentrations of one-industry, technology-based economic activity that spawn innovative startups, attract private investments and give the entire area an economic boost.

South Korea is trying to do it in Daejeon and in Gyeonggi province. France is working on it in 12 cities starting with Grenoble. Mexico has at least 38. Even the Canary Islands is trying it.

The “it” everyone is trying to accomplish, inspired by the spectacular success of California’s Silicon Valley and Boston’s Route 128, is to spur economic growth by creating technology-based clusters of a single industry. An online search for the words “creating technology clusters” produces an astounding 25.2 million results.

“Clusters are an old theory which has its most compelling examples in the United States,” said Mark Muro, senior fellow and director of policy at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. “Nations around the world are stressing the importance of the innovation economy, which is why they are attempting to build these early-stage ecosystems or clusters.”

US UNIVERSITIES FUEL THE R&D ENGINE

Silicon Valley and Route 128 began with the decades-long flows of US government research money into those areas’ universities and research institutes, which developed waves of new ideas. Entrepreneurs sought to commercialize them, and venture capital investors flocked to finance them. Large companies opened listening posts to scout partnerships with promising startups. State and local governments, plus chambers of commerce and public-private partnerships, attempted to round out these “ecosystems.”

“NATIONS AROUND THE WORLD ARE STRESSING THE IMPORTANCE OF THE INNOVATION ECONOMY, WHICH IS WHY THEY ARE ATTEMPTING TO BUILD THESE EARLY-STAGE ECOSYSTEMS OR CLUSTERS.”

MARK MURO
SENIOR FELLOW AND DIRECTOR OF POLICY, METROPOLITAN POLICY PROGRAM, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION

At first, many technologists believed that clusters occurred completely by accident – until several were created by design. Austin, Texas, for example, created a semiconductor and electronic gaming cluster around the University of Texas, and San Diego created a wireless cluster around the University of California, San Diego, and a biotech cluster around the Scripps Research Institute.

Today, dozens of clusters exist across the United States, and state and local governments continue to create new ones.

CHINA’S APPROACH TO CREATING CLUSTERS

In China, the world’s second largest economy, the first industry cluster appeared organically in northwestern Beijing near the Peking and Tsinghua universities. The district, called Zhongguancun, developed in the 1980s and gave birth to Lenovo, now a global personal computer and mobile phone manufacturer, and to Baidu, the dominant search engine within China.

The Chinese government has attempted to create other technology clusters in Shanghai and Shenzhen, but Chinese experts believe that those cities’ concentrations of international supplier networks, created when foreign companies outsourced manufacturing to China, actually drove their success.

Inspired by the success of California’s Silicon Valley, which gave rise to tech giantssuch as Google, governments worldwide are trying to encourage the creation oftechnology-based industry clusters. (Image © Michael Short/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

“Chinese and foreign firms set up semiconductor foundries in Shanghai to serve large foreign companies making electronic products there – that’s how Shanghai became the most significant semiconductor site in China,” said Yu Zhou, a professor of geography at Vassar College and co-editor of the new book, China as an Innovation Nation.

As a result, private-sector Chinese semiconductor design firms were able to launch in growing numbers, creating a cluster. Similarly, the cellphone cluster in Shenzhen arose from a concentration of foreign companies focused on supply chains and manufacturing.

“Chinese companies started to build their own knockoff cell phones because of the extremely flexible and comprehensive supply chain that existed,” Zhou said.

The Chinese cluster model does not depend on the flow of ideas from universities, partly because the government directs most of its R&D money to government-owned research institutes.

“The intellectual property emerging from universities and research institutes is rather minor at this point,” Zhou said. “What we’re seeing is companies introducing technology from a variety of sources and adapting them to the Chinese demand patterns.”

The challenge facing government-mandated clusters is creating what Zhou calls the “invisible industrial ecosystem”: the right mix of skills, supplier and financial relationships and personal connections.

“You can declare that a place is a cluster, but if the invisible ecosystem is not in place and if companies don’t want to locate there, you basically have a real estate development project,” she said.

GERMANY’S SECRET WEAPON: 60 FRAUNHOFER INSTITUTES

Germany structures its clusters around 80 research units, including 60 Fraunhofer Institutes, each dedicated to specific technologies. The institutes receive subsidies from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as well as local and regional governments, but senior leaders often hold two positions: one at an institute and one in the private sector. Collectively, they serve as a uniquebridge between research institutions and private-sector companies.

One such cluster is called Intelligent Technical Systems OstWestfalenLippe, commonly known as “it’s OWL.” This cluster is aimed at helping German companies in the OstWestfalenLippe region in northwest Germany become more advanced in manufacturing. This technology-based revolution, known in Germany as “Industrie 4.0,” emphasizes advanced expertise in the Industrial Internet of Things, robotics and 3D printing.

“THE FINANCE INDUSTRY IN GERMANY IS MORE RISK-AVERSE. THIS IS UNFORTUNATE BECAUSE THERE ARE A LOT OF GREAT TECHNOLOGIESAND IDEAS THAT HAVE POTENTIAL TO CREATEPROMISING BUSINESS MODELS.”

ROMAN DUMITRESCU
MANAGING DIRECTOR OF STRATEGY AND R&D, INTELLIGENT TECHNICAL SYSTEMS OSTWESTFALENLIPPE

“The different institutes are dedicated to specific technologies but can still have a broad range of topics,” said Roman Dumitrescu, managing director of Strategy and R&D at it’s OWL and a director at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Mechatronic Systems Design. Altogether, 174 businesses, universities, research institutes and organizations collaborate in it’s OWL. Another widely admired piece of the German model is its dual educational and vocational training system. Some students go to universities, but others become apprentices in 342 recognized trades and attend vocational schools. Trades help ensure that companies in emerging technologies can find sufficient numbers of employees with relevant skills.

NATIONS RACE TO CREATE THE PERFECT FORMULA

Each of these models has strengths and weaknesses, but few planned clusters have achieved the magic combination of government-funded R&D, a critical mass of businesses, creative startups with growth potential and ready access to capital that emerged organically in Silicon Valley and along Route 128.

For example, American clusters tend to be driven at the state, regional or metropolitan level, so several governments may compete for the same companies. In contrast, central governments in countries like South Korea and Singapore control which location can host specific technology clusters.

“You can declare that a place is a cluster, but if the invisible ecosystem is not in place and if companies don’t want to locatethere, you basically have a real estate development project.”

YU ZHOU
CO-EDITOR OF THE BOOK 'CHINA AS AN INNOVATION NATION'

“There are other weaknesses of the US model,” Muro said. “We’re good at early-stage deployment, but we aren’t good at later-stage development and we’re not very good at all at creating large pools of technically appropriate workers with skills relevant to growing technology industries.”

Germany, meanwhile, provides little support to startup companies, Dumitrescu said. The it’s OWL project therefore works primarily with large companies, including Miele and Hella, that can afford to spend millions of euros in just a few years to create full-fledged collaborations with research organizations. “Small and medium-sized enterprises do not have large R&D departments and cannot handle close cooperation like that,” Dumitrescu said.

Venture capital also is relatively unknown in Germany. “The finance industry in Germany is more risk averse,” Dumitrescu said. “This is unfortunate because there are a lot of great technologies and ideas that have potential to create promising business models.”

China supports startups well and benefits from plentiful venture capital, but its clusters have tended to encourage companies that adapt existing technologies and business models to the Chinese domestic market.

Cluster boosters worldwide are discovering that establishing the “invisible industrial ecosystems” that enable technology-based growth depends heavily on managing complex relationships among educational and research institutions, companies, financiers and governments. So far, no one has achieved a perfect model, but dozens of nations are working to improve their game.

Digital preservation

Saving the past with tools of the future

Dan Headrick

4 min read

Earthquakes, floods, war, the ravages of time — even the careless trampling of everyday human life — threaten precious cultural heritage sites. Armed with new tools to capture the physical in digital form, preservationists are working to save some of the world’s most important sites for future generations.

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck southern Taiwan before dawn on February 6, 2016. Within hours of the initial shock, 3D modelers at the National Cheng Kung University Museum launched aerial drones over devastated parts of the city of Tainan to map the destruction, which included many of the island nation’s historic buildings.

The museum’s quick action helped rescue-and-recovery personnel manage their operations while illustrating an emerging role for museum preservationists: using digital technologies to preserve the past. “The art, objects and structures people create in their lifetimes and leave behind, they communicate with future generations,” said Elizabeth Lee, managing director of CyArk, a California-based international nonprofit organization working to create 3D archives of the world’s most precious and at-risk cultural heritage sites for preservation and education.

A RACE AGAINST TIME

“There has been a huge acceleration of destruction in recent years due to human aggression, and that increases the urgency of our work,” Lee said. “Cultural artifacts and buildings are targets.” Her organization has responded by ramping up efforts to train teams on the ground to identify vulnerable sites on the fringes of conflicts.

One example is Project Anqa (Arabic for phoenix, the bird that rises from the ashes), which, in collaboration with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and Yale University’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH), is training students, as well as local and international museum professionals from Syria, Iraq and other high-risk areas in the Middle East, to use “reality capture technology” in the field to preserve sites in digital form. The goal is to preserve a detailed record of at-risk artifacts such as the colossal Buddhas of Bamiyan, hewn from the cliffs of the Bamiyan Valley in central Afghanistan more than 1,500 years ago and dynamited by the Taliban in 2001.

Using 3D scanning tools that fit into a small backpack, field teams aim laser beams at every surface of a historic site. The beams pulse hundreds of thousands of times per second to collect data points—each a unique point with x,y,z coordinates and a color and intensity value. Software, which advances almost daily, processes the data to recreate, in virtual reality, what humanity and Mother Nature may not preserve.

In 2010, a CyArk team, working with the National Park Service in the United States, spent two weeks rappelling down the carved faces of Mount Rushmore collecting 3D data of every facet of the mountain, from the pupils of Teddy Roosevelt’s eyes to George Washington’s nostrils. (Image © CyArk) 

In 2010 a CyArk team, working with the National Park Service in the United States, spent two weeks rappelling down the carved faces of Mount Rushmore collecting 3D data of every facet of the mountain, from the pupils of Teddy Roosevelt’s eyes to George Washington’s nostrils. Since then, drone and software technology has advanced rapidly, accelerating the team’s progress. Today, CyArk has digitally archived more than 200 sites from more than 40 countries across all seven continents – from the Brandenburg Gate to the Mayan temples of Tikal in Guatemala, from expedition huts in Antarctica to the Tower of London and the ancient Drakensberg rock art in South Africa. “These are man-made objects at the end of the day, and they do degrade and change over time,” Lee said.

SEEING THE PAST THROUGH MODERN EYES

Along the northern banks of the Danube in Linz, Austria, the Ars Electronica Center (AEC) incorporates breakthrough digital technology within its museum offerings to not only preserve historical artifacts, but also to help define the cultural future of a world rushing into new and uncharted technologies. The center’s Futurelab serves as a research and development engine and scientific and artistic think tank.

“THE ART, OBJECTS AND STRUCTURES PEOPLE CREATE IN THEIR LIFETIMES AND LEAVE BEHIND, THEY COMMUNICATE WITH FUTURE GENERATIONS.” 

ELIZABETH LEE
MANAGING DIRECTOR OF CYARK

Gerfried Stocker, the Center’s artistic director led the development of Deep Space 8K, a pioneering, immersive and interactive experience. At its most basic, Deep Space is a massive projection room where as many as 100 people can virtually tour CyArk’s archive of cultural sites around the world, among other virtual experiences. Futurelab’s goal, he said, is to develop “prototypical future sketches” incorporating media art, architecture, interactive exhibitions, virtual reality and real-time graphics that will shape human societies of tomorrow.

It is likely that these tools will determine how future generations come to know and remember past cultures, museum technologists say. Elizabeth Rodini, professor of art history and director of the Program in Museums and Society at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, said the field of digital preservation has exploded in recent years. “Virtual archaeology is actually a concept now, which I find fascinating,” she said.

A GLOBAL INITIATIVE

Organizations from more than 20 countries comprise the membership of the Virtual Archeology International Network (INNOVA), which promotes research and training as well as integration between universities and the private sector. Museum preservationists have begun partnering with gaming and virtual reality (VR) companies in new private- sector ventures that bring virtual cultural access to millions of people who otherwise wouldn’t experience it.

Lee said her organization has been approached by a video gaming company that has 128 million users to develop content compatible with existing platforms. Technology market research firm Tractica forecasts that 15.9 million new VR headsets will be shipped in 2016, according to online tech magazine Motherboard. Such trends will help popularize and support digital preservation, Lee said.

“Now we’re seeing for the first time technology that is able to interact, especially with the lay person,” she said. “We can bring you there. Put on a headset and we drop you right in the middle of these sites.”

Visit some of the sites digitally preserved by CyArk: http://3ds.one/CyArk

Additive manufacturing

Business challenges drive aerospace companies to advance 3D printing technology

Tony Velocci

4 min read

Additive manufacturing – the ability to construct solid objects by building them up, one layer at a time – is a natural fit for the aerospace industry because of its ability to manage small volumes, create complex designs and fabricate strong yet lightweight structures. To gain widespread adoption, however, it needs to overcome the challenges that limit its use.

Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing has moved well beyond prototyping. Today, most aerospace companies use it to improve the functionality of existing components and fabricate non-structural parts for commercial and general aviation aircraft.

AM enthusiasts envision the day when this revolutionary process will be used to “print” entire fuselages, wings and critical engine parts with complex geometries, including embedded sensors and other electronics. To achieve that disruptive vision, however, AM needs to overcome some difficult hurdles, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a US Department of Energy research facility in Tennessee. ORNL is collaborating with hundreds of companies across multiple industries to advance AM.

“In some applications, such as rapid prototyping or specific medical devices, where many parts have been printed, additive manufacturing is pretty mature, but for most applications it’s embryonic,” said Bill Peter, director of the US Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL.

QUALITY ASSURANCE WITH 3D PRINTING

Each year, ORNL hosts more than 5,000 visitors representing about 700 organizations who want to discuss, among other technologies, additive manufacturing. Those visitors make clear, Peter said, that one of AM’s biggest hurdles is to achieve quality levels that instill as much confidence in AM-produced parts as in those made with traditional processes, including parts that are critical to the end product’s performance and safety.

 “Their biggest concern is that there is no methodology for establishing the integrity of additively manufactured components,” he said.

“IN SOME APPLICATIONS,SUCH AS RAPID PROTOTYPING OR SPECIFIC MEDICAL DEVICES, ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING IS PRETTY MATURE, BUT FOR MOST APPLICATIONS IT’S EMBRYONIC.”

BILL PETER
DIRECTOR, OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY

Small modifications in process parameters and the resulting microstructures of the deposited material, such as powdered titanium or nickel, can drastically change how the end product behaves, Peter noted.

“Long term,” he added, “we’ll use a framework of data analytics and visualization systems to show how to repeatedly build a complex part with the level of quality that aerospace manufacturers require, but we are still a few years from reaching a full solution.”

ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING'S NEED FOR SPEED

Another hurdle is the speed at which the raw material used to print a part can be deposited.

The AM process starts with a computer- generated, three-dimensional part design. The file is downloaded to the additive machine’s computer and electronically sliced into extremely thin layers. The machine spreads a thin, even layer of metal onto the build plate. A computer-controlled laser or other energy source, following a path that corresponds to the sliced data of the original 3D design, sinters or melts this thin layer of metal. The layering process is repeated until the part is rendered, but the process can take more time than traditional manufacturing techniques.

That’s a problem, because manufacturers are continually looking for ways to reduce production cycle times. “Improvements in deposition rates will increase the viability for applications of additively manufactured components in aerospace and other industries,” Peter said.

Based on progress in just the past two years, however, researchers are encouraged. For example, ORNL collaborated with Cincinnati Incorporated, a US-based build-to-order machine tool manufacturer, to develop a highly innovative AM system able to print reinforced polymer components up to 10 times larger than today’s machines, up to 1,000 times faster, with a deposition rate of 16,000 cubic centimeters per hour, compared to the 16 to 65 cubic centimeters per hour more typical of AM machines historically on the market. Applying knowledge gained from working with polymers, Peter said, the team is now focused is on achieving similar improvements in deposition rates using powdered metals.

COMPOSITES' JOURNEY PARALLELS AM'S

Kevin Michaels is a vice president with ICF International’s aerospace and MRO consulting practice and a globally recognized authority on aerospace manufacturing. As AM continues to evolve, Michaels said, the industry should draw lessons from its experiences with other transformative technologies, especially composites.

“THE PACE OF INNOVATION AS A WHOLE IS GETTING MUCH FASTER, PRIMARILY BECAUSE ESTABLISHED PLAYERS HAVE REALIZED THE DANGERS OF NOT MOVING FAST ENOUGH.”

ANTOINE GELAIN
AEROSPACE INDUSTRY PRACTICE LEADER, CANDESIC

In the 1970s, composites were widely touted for their strength and corrosion resistance but took decades to perfect. Few foresaw the day when entire fuselages would be built from composites, as they are now.

“The future of additive manufacturing will bring similar surprises that may look logical in hindsight but are hard to envision today,” Michaels said.

A tool extending downward from the top of Cincinnati Inc.’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine builds the wing tip for a Boeing 777x jetliner, one layer at a time. The process, which took place in the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, demonstrated that 3D printing can be scaled up to print large, high-quality objects. (Image © ORNL, US Department of Energy).

The comparison of composites’ development to that of additive manufacturing is instructive, said Antoine Gelain, managing director of London-based independent private equity firm Paragon European Partners and aerospace industry practice leader at Candesic, a London-based strategy and management consulting firm.

“The analogy tells us there is a huge gap between a technology’s applicability and marketability, and it takes years if not decades to close that gap,” he said.

Like AM, composites had to earn manufacturers’ trust. “While composites’ applicability to aircraft structures was established early on, its disruptive nature in terms of certification and manufacturing processes meant that it took a long time to convince customers to switch and to make the business model of composite manufacturing viable,” Gelain said. “However, additive manufacturing is likely to go much faster, because transformational technologies can be more easily adapted in the digital age.”

In the end, he said, business challenges will drive advancements in AM.

“The pace of innovation as a whole is getting much faster, primarily because established players have realized the dangers of not moving fast enough, and so they are willing to take more risks and invest more money in disruptive technologies than they used to.”

Watch the creation of the world’s largest AM part: http://3ds.one/3DPrintBig

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