Engineering gender diversity

Female educators are inspiring women to study for and succeed in engineering careers

Jacqui Griffiths
21 June 2017

7 min read

Demand for engineering skills is rising but women continue to avoid the field, representing only 20% of engineering students and 10%-20% of working engineers worldwide. To encourage the diversity that improves problem-solving, engineering educators are working to lower the barriers and inspire more women to choose careers in engineering.

When Ditiro Setlhaolo was a first-year student in telecommunications engineering at the University of Botswana, one lecturer’s negative preconceptions about female engineers almost made her abandon the field. Instead, she switched to electrical engineering. Today, she is a consultant in demand-side energy management and an electrical engineering lecturer at the University of Botswana who works to inspire and support other women in engineering.

“Girls should not believe people who say that women are not clever, because I am evidence that women can reach far,” Setlhaolo told the Nigeria-based African Women in Science and Engineering (AWSE) organization in 2016.

Despite such success stories, gender biases, lack of role models and negative messaging about women’s “brilliance” relative to men’s continue to suppress the number of female engineers worldwide. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates that women – more than half the world’s population – hold at most 20% of the world’s engineering jobs. The European Union (EU) reports that female scientists and engineers accounted for just 2.8% of the labor force of EU-28 countries in 2013, compared to 4.1% for men.

Graduation rates won’t change those numbers any time soon: the American Society for Engineering Education says that just 21.4% of US engineering undergraduates in 2014 were women; in the EU, 19% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering were awarded to women in 2014-15.

But female engineering educators are working to change the trend.

“The work that engineers do shapes the future of our world and our society in many ways,” said Beth Holloway, assistant dean of engineering for undergraduate education and director of the Women in Engineering Program (WIEP) at Indiana’s Purdue University. “It’s hard to fathom that all of the most creative, innovative ideas for the future will come from just one half of the population – men. Diverse perspectives are needed to fully optimize solutions, consider new ways of approaching a problem, consider potential unintended negative consequences of a solution or design and fully understand diverse customer needs and wants.”

LilyAnn Peterson Gapinski, a junior in industrial engineering at Purdue University, demonstrates what she likes most about Purdue’s engineering program. (Image © Purdue University)

BREAKING BARRIERS

Recruiting women into engineering is a challenge that must be addressed before, during and after students enter a university, Holloway said.

“We work with pre-college students to try to spark and nurture an interest in engineering, show them positive role models and counteract the less appealing stereotypes of engineers and engineering,” Holloway said. “For our college students, WIEP provides opportunities to engage with mentors and role models and to create a community of support with peers and professionals. We talk about how gender can play out in the workplace and discuss strategies and approaches to mitigate some of those barriers.

 “IF COMPANIES WANT MORE MIXED TEAMS – AND IT HAS BEEN PROVEN THAT A MIX OF GENDERS GIVES EFFICIENCY – HALF A DAY SPENT VISITING STUDENTS CAN DELIVER HUGE VALUE.”

ANNE-MARIE JOLLY
FOUNDER, INGÉNIEUR AU FÉMININ

“We’ve also worked on improving the climate in the College of Engineering to be more inclusive and welcoming to all our students. Across all our work, we use strategies that are proven effective through research, and we work to add to the research literature by doing research of our own.”

A TRIO OF HURDLES

A 2016 University of Washington (UW) study identified three main factors that drive women away from engineering: a masculine culture that signals – accidentally or intentionally – that women do not belong; a lack of sufficient pre-college exposure to the subject; and gender gaps in beliefs about innate ability.

“Students are basing their educational decisions in large part on their perceptions of the field,” Sapna Cheryan, the report’s lead author and a UW associate professor of psychology, told the UW Today website. “Not having early experience with what a field is really like makes it more likely that they will rely on their stereotypes about that field and who is good at it.”

When a woman does choose to study engineering at the university level, discovering that she is the rare female in her classes may drive her away, a pattern repeated if she prevails and joins an engineering workplace, said Nilanjana Dasgupta, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Brain Science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“Belonging really determines whether you stick it out in a field that interests you,” Dasgupta told the National Science Foundation, the US government- funded agency that supported her research. “You feel a sense of camaraderie and comfort, or you start losing interest, confidence, and start thinking about leaving for another field.”

Engaging men in the cause, therefore, is as important as inspiring women, Holloway said.

“Many men are not fully aware or do not fully understand the challenges that women in engineering may face, but would be advocates and allies for gender equity if they did,” Holloway said. “We need to be able to have open and honest conversations about unconscious bias and continue to work together to create inclusive organizations where everyone feels a sense of belonging and value.”

Rehema Ndeda, a member of the AWSE, said the profession also needs to address stereotypes such as “the archaic picture of engineering as dark factories, which is unappealing to girls.”

Setlhaolo agrees. When she speaks to school groups, girls routinely ask her if an engineering career would require them to wear overalls and look greasy. “Society does not have a clear understanding of what engineering is and the different branches of engineering,” she said.

“GIRLS SHOULD NOT BELIEVE PEOPLE WHO SAY THAT WOMEN ARE NOT CLEVER, BECAUSE I AM EVIDENCE THAT WOMEN CAN REACH FAR.”

DITIRO SETLHAOLO
ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING LECTURER, UNIVERSITY OF BOTSWANA

INSPIRING MINDS

Role models are essential in battling stereotypes and communicating not only what women can achieve in engineering, but also what the field can give to them in return.

“Engineering is such a diverse profession that it can be fitted to various expectations of the different periods of life,” said Anne-Marie Jolly, vice president of the Commission des titres d’ingénieur (CTI), a France-based organization focused on science and engineering, and founder of Ingénieur au féminin, which supports efforts to encourage and motivate women in engineering. “It is rare to have a profession where, with the same education, you can work abroad or at home, engage in research or go into production management.”

Without role models to show them the way, few women think of becoming engineers.

“The fact that most of the girls go to engineering domains where there are already many women [59% in chemical and agricultural engineering schools] and not to fields where they will be paid as much as boys and where enterprises wait for them [15% in transportation systems, 17% in computer sciences and 19% in electronics] is symptomatic,” Jolly said.

Jolly works with two French engineering associations for women – L’association Française des Femmes Ingénieurs and Femmes & Sciences – to shift the balance by visiting colleges and high schools, providing young women with perhaps their first exposure to a female engineer.

“I explain what engineering is and the pleasure I have gotten from it, and I am joined by younger women engineers or engineering students from the Femmes Ingénieurs association or the Femmes & Sciences association,” Jolly said. “If companies want more mixed teams – and it has been proven that a mix of genders gives efficiency – half a day spent visiting students can deliver huge value.”

NURTURING DIVERSITY

Across Germany, universities and engineering departments routinely offer motivational programs for women interested in engineering, which exposes students to the universities’ female engineers.

”Universities all over Germany offer summer programs, mentoring, girls’ days and other activities to attract young women,” said Susanne Ihsen, professor of gender studies in science and engineering at Technical University of Munich (TUM). “There is also a lot of activity, such as role models from industry, to keep female students in the programs.”

Students’ attitudes are not the only ones that need to change, Ihsen said. Educators, too, like Setlhaolo’s first-year lecturer, need to look at how they teach engineering.

“UNIVERSITIES ALL OVER GERMANY OFFER SUMMER PROGRAMS, MENTORING, GIRLS’ DAYS AND OTHER ACTIVITIES TO ATTRACT YOUNG WOMEN" TO ENGINEERING CAREERS.

SUSANNE IHSEN
PROFESSOR OF GENDER STUDIES IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING, TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF MUNICH

“Activities in cooperation with other disciplines focus on the central problems in changing traditional, male-dominated cultures like engineering,” Ihsen said. “They help to sensitize engineering professors to gender and diversity needs so they can analyze courses in terms of bias, undertake diversity-oriented marketing activities and so on. In my own teaching, I use topics that will interest future engineers, such as Engineering 4.0, which discusses the changes in industry and society and the expectations of employers, customers and citizens.”

MENTORING SUCCESS

In Africa, additional cultural barriers further complicate the challenge of attracting women to engineering. In Botswana, for example, fewer than 2% of engineering students at university are female.

Girls work on an engineering design project during a program hosted by the Purdue University Women in Engineering. (Image © Purdue University)

“Economically, in most cases where there is limited funding, the male child will be chosen to pursue a science-based degree, since there is the notion that the girl will probably fail,” AWSE’s Ndeda said. “Other barriers are attitudinal, with girls believing that they are naturally weaker than boys in science and mathematics subjects. These barriers need to be addressed in order to encourage more women to pursue engineering education.”

Role models and mentoring are central to AWSE’s work to break down those barriers.

“Our mwalimu (Swahili for “teacher”) project, conducted in several high schools in Nairobi, aims to train teachers on how to teach girls and encourage them into science, since they are the earliest science role models,” Ndeda said. “Through this project, there has been an increased number of students passing mathematics and science [and] having the opportunity to pursue engineering.”

Mentoring is a critical factor, even after a female engineer enters the workplace.

“It has become increasingly apparent that the presence of a mentor in the workplace tends to encourage women to continue in these careers and even become leaders in their fields,” Ndeda said. “Recently, we worked with Kenyatta University through their Female Enhancement in Science and Technology (KUFEST) program on mentorships. Most of the scientists mentored are currently working in industry and are motivated to continue so.”

20%

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates that women – more than half of the world’s population – hold at most 20% of the world’s engineering jobs.

Each country faces its own challenges in encouraging and supporting women in engineering, but concerted efforts to help women understand that success is possible and that employers need their insights are beginning to make a difference. With encouragement and inspiring role models, more women will find the confidence to join Setlhaolo in rejecting discouragement and making a positive contribution to engineering.◆

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Smart dust

Why the future’s big innovations are microscopic in size

Sam Ballard

4 min read

From helping farmers monitor vast expanses of land to allowing amputees to control artificial limbs, solutions being worked on in multiple industries are linked by one innovation: smart dust. Compass examines why scientists and big businesses are betting big on computers the size of grains of sand.

A swarm of microscopic computers might sound like something from science fiction. But “smart dust” technology is now reality, with applications emerging in a range of sectors, from agriculture to health care. The world’s big pharma and industrial manufacturers are bolstering their teams and betting big on what researchers, including Gartner, say will become one of the world’s most important technologies.

Best classified as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), smart dust comprises a network of tiny sensors – each about the size of a grain of sand – that communicate with a remote computer interface via radio waves or ultrasound, relaying data, such as temperature, vibration or, when used inside the human body, hormone levels.

That information will, in turn, elicit a direct response from a central computer, with applications as diverse as an early warning system for erupting volcanoes to an interface that can warn a diabetic about low blood sugar levels.

WHAT’S THE HYPE?

The potential for the technology is remarkable, according to Rob Milner, head of smart systems at UK-based advisory company Cambridge Consultants. “Mountains could be seeded with tiny temperature sensors that act as an avalanche early-warning system, and fields could be sprayed with smart dust to give real-time information about soil temperature and moisture content,” he said.

One reason smart dust has piqued the interests of so many people is because Gartner has included it on its “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” list since 2013. The firm believes the technology is still more than 10 years away from mainstream adoption, putting it on a similar trajectory to 4D printing, brain-computer interfaces and autonomous vehicles.

“Given its wide range of potential applications and benefits, this technology will, we believe, have a transformative effect on all areas of business and on people’s lives in general,” Ganesh Ramamoorthy, a Gartner analyst, wrote in the “2016 Gartner Hype Cycle Report for Emerging Technologies.”

ZERO SIZE, POWER, COST

The concept of smart dust was developed at a RAND workshop in 1992 and in a series of DARPA ISAT studies in the mid-1990s to explore its potential military application. In 1997, Kristofer Pister, Joe Kahn and Bernhard Boser, all from the University of California, Berkeley, presented DARPA with a research proposal.

Pister later went on to co-found Dust Networks, a company working to harness, and ultimately commercialize, smart dust. Dust Networks was later acquired by California-based Linear Technology, which in turn was sold to global semiconductor company Analog Devices, based in Norwood, Massachusetts.

“I was working on miniaturizing robots, and it became clear that wireless sensors were following exponential curves down to zero size, power and cost,” Pister said. “At the time, it seemed like everything in Los Angeles was ‘smart’: smart freeways, smart bombs, smart houses and so on. So mostly as a joke, I started telling people that I was going to make smart dust. But the name resonated with people, and it caught on.”

For Pister, the potential of smart dust in agriculture and medical applications is most exciting. “Agricultural applications have the potential to increase crop yield while reducing requirements for water, fertilizer and pesticides,” he said. “In medicine, smart dust could improve the quality of life for people with neural diseases and help us to understand how the brain works.”

FOR THE HUMAN BODY

Michel Maharbiz, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, is investigating one of those challenges: how can smart dust benefit the medical field.

“There is a large and growing interest in developing two-way interfaces to the human nervous system,” Maharbiz said. “By nervous system I mean the brain, the central nervous system and your peripheral nerves and the many functions that they perform – from fighting inflammation to being wired into all of your organs.”

Maharbiz and his team have succeeded in implanting the sensors next to organs, gastrointestinal tracts and muscles. The sensors contain a piezoelectric crystal that converts outer body ultrasound vibrations into electricity, which in turn powers a transistor that is in contact with the organ, muscle or nerve. The body’s own electrical impulses alter how the crystal vibrates. The crystal collects information on the changing pattern, or backscatter, which is then translated by computer algorithms, decoding the body’s key metrics such as hormone levels.

“There is academic interest in this research for fundamental neuroscience, but also for uses in futuristic prosthetics and being able to alleviate symptoms from people who have motor dysfunctions such as Parkinson’s disease,” Maharbiz said. “In addition, it has been realized that there may be many, many dysfunctions that can be treated by nervous stimulation in the periphery, like appetite, bladder control and so on. The potential list of treatments is very high.”

This potential, Maharbiz said, is why big pharma player GSK (formerly known as GlaxoSmithKline) and technology leader Verify Life Sciences, created Galvani Bioelectronics, a company located in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England, dedicated to the development of bioelectronic medicines using smart dust technology. Galvani is “developing the expertise to place tiny devices inside the human body,” Galvani President Kriss Famm said. “These will be programmed to read and modify electrical signals passing along nerves.” The goal, Famm said, is to manage the signals to restore patients’ health.

Meanwhile, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, has started a company called Neuralink, based in San Francisco. According to the company’s trademark filings. The Economist reports that Neuralink aims to create “invasive devices for treating or diagnosing neurological ailments.”

A MATTER OF TIME

When it comes to broader applications of smart dust, Pister’s Dust Networks has already achieved some success.

Joy Weiss, the president and CEO of Dust Networks, has been working in the field for more than a decade to develop working examples of how smart dust can be administered within an industrial setting. For example, Dust Networks’ sensor networks are now installed in Chevron’s oil refinery in California and GSK’s plant in Cork, Ireland also uses wireless mesh network to monitor its water storage tanks.

“If you can combine wire line reliability with totally wireless economics – in other words to be able to put a sensor anywhere – then the applications are limitless,” Weiss said in an interview with ARC Advisory Group, a global technology research firm. Wireless communications also improve the economics of smart dust, she said; Dust Networks can install its wireless applications in a matter of hours compared to weeks for wired systems.

However, Pister is quick to emphasize that “most of the commercial stuff out there right now is making the same mistakes that were made 15 years ago.” Like Gartner, however, he believes the smart dust industry will conquer the learning curve and play an indelible role in the lives of future generations. It’s just a matter of time. ◆

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Mate Rimac

Young Croatian inventor aims to electrify the entire world of transportation


6 min read

Starting as a young boy who wanted to build the world’s fastest car, Mate Rimac is now CEO and founder of Rimac Automobili, a Croatian technology company that manufactures high-performance electric vehicles and supplies electric propulsion systems to top global manufacturers of cars, ships and airplanes. Compass spoke with him about the challenges of a startup and his mission to change the future of transportation.

COMPASS: What was the trigger for starting your own business? 

MATE RIMAC: My parents tell me stories of my obsession with cars even before I could walk or talk. As soon as I turned 18, I bought a 1984 BMW E30 and raced it. Soon, the gas engine blew up. That was the trigger to start my dream project – to build an electric race car.

I wanted to prove that electric propulsion systems can be used to power the new generation of sportscars and make them better, faster and more exciting. I’ve been told many times that I can’t do that. But we wanted to show that it’s possible to start from a garage and become a world leader within a highly competitive industry in half a decade. 

The result is Concept_One, that combines all our know-how, technology and experience. With a power of 900 kW / 1224 hp, the Concept_One reaches 100 km/h (62 mph) in 2.5 seconds, top speed is 355 km/h (221 mph) and the battery capacity of 90 kWh allows up to 350 km (217 miles) range. 

Because you’re based in Croatia, a country with no big automotive clusters, do you face particular challenges in finding the right skills? 

MR: Starting the company in Croatia was a huge challenge. We didn’t have any financial government support, local investors or a market for our products. In addition, Croatia never had a car industry, so it had no experienced people. As a result, we can’t hire people with automotive experience. Young or old, Croatians have to learn the automotive world from scratch when they come to us. However, in Croatia we have a lot skilled people with DIY DNA. If you can’t buy something, you have to find a way to fabricate it yourself. 

The Concept_One supercar is a two-seat high-performance electric sports car designed and manufactured by Rimac Automobili. It is used as the official zero-emission race director’s car during Formula E events. (Image © Rimac Automobili)

More and more people from all over the world are joining us, but the majority of people are still fresh from university. Young people are enthusiastic and eager to work, however, and fit into the company culture. 

Forbes chose you as one of the top 30 entrepreneurs and game-changers under 30 in Europe in the category “industry.” What do you think makes you a “game-changer?” 

MR: The recognition from Forbes and other relevant opinion makers is a good sign we are on the right path. An entrepreneur has a clear vision and the drive to achieve it and to turn it into reality. But once you have decided on a goal, you have to be all in. There are many sacrifices, lots of work and responsibilities. But if you love what you do, you have no trouble living it. 

How would you describe your strategy and vision? 

MR: In the beginning, my ultimate goal was to build my own car from scratch. Since then, our objectives and focus have shifted. Today, the goal is to supply solutions to other manufacturers, not only in the automotive industry, and to become a full electrification partner for the global automotive OEMs. 

Our ambition is to push the boundaries of technology further and further and to explore new possibilities to make cars more exciting, faster and smarter. Rimac technology can be used for many different applications, and we are active in the automotive, naval and aerospace industries. 

What is your innovation secret? 

MR: We are not profit driven. We exist to raise the bar. 

We are a fast and flexible team, and we develop our technologies as rapidly as possible. We strive to make our development process less bureaucratic and standardized. 

I believe that bureaucracy and standardization hold back the development of the car industry and prevent a swift implementation of new technology. One of our biggest advantages is our vertical integration. We are developing all vehicle, powertrain and electronics systems in-house, which enables a high degree of freedom and flexibility. 

Speaking of bureaucracy, do you have a plan for how to prevent the creation of functional silos at Rimac as it grows? 

MR: When the organization is small, the flow of information comes naturally. As we are growing, we are finding challenges to share knowledge and experiences among different groups in the company. We have realized that knowledge management won’t happen by itself and really believe that the 3DEXPERIENCE business platform from Dassault Systèmes will help us to structure the information flow and collaboration across different teams. 

Aston Martin is one of your partners. How do partnerships fit into your growth and financing strategies? 

MR: Being a partner for other car companies and a supplier for some of the most demanding systems in their most advanced vehicles means a lot, both for our supercar customers and for other OEMs. This is a good example how our two business units complement and help each other. 

Our B2B activities are 90% of our business; out of the 250 people in our company, most of them work on projects for other OEMs. Some collaborations are public, but most are undisclosed. Our customers push us to get better on every level. It is a huge challenge to satisfy the requirements of big OEMs. But in the end all of their requirements help us to make better products and be a better company. 

Rimac technology also has been applied in wheelchairs, watercraft and bikes. Do you worry about dividing your attention and energy among too many fields? 

MR: I believe that the technologies developed for one field – for example, supercars – can be used to improve many other products. We have demonstrated this already with our Greyp Bikes, wheelchairs and some other applications. The challenge is to find the balance and still be able to focus on developing world-class products in each category. We are trying to solve this challenge with core-technology development teams that are very focused on one product, plus application teams that apply those technologies to different applications. 

You say your ambition is to reshape the way of mobility. However, only eight units of your car “Concept_One” will be produced. How do you reshape mobility with just eight cars? 

MR: I think it is inevitable that all forms of transport – not only cars – eventually become fully electric. The Concept_One is showing what electric cars can do and what we, as a company, can provide others. But of course it is irrelevant in terms of volume. Our real impact is in helping many other companies to make exciting, clean and smart vehicles. You will see our technologies in many other brands’ products. However, I believe that the real change will come with autonomous vehicles, and electrification will be a consequence of that. 

What are some of the low and high points of this adventure so far? 

MR: There have been many successes, but even more near-death experiences for the company. It was incredibly difficult to finance the company as Croatia doesn’t have a single venture capital fund. International investors avoid this region and focus on Silicon Valley and other international innovation hubs instead. In the first four years, I never had the money in the account to pay the next salaries and rent, but somehow we always managed to do it on time. It was a huge challenge on all fronts – technologically, financially, organizationally and personally.

It was a rough ride and we’ve come a long way, but we are still only at the beginning of our journey. 

Speaking about finance – what is your strategy for attracting investors? 

MR: Raising money has been the most difficult task since the company’s inception. Doing things the way we do enabled us to be very capital efficient, but developing complex products like electric supercars and powertrain systems requires some capital. Rimac cannot be compared to other technology companies such as those you will find in Silicon Valley. We need to do crash tests, safety tests, etc. When an app crashes, somebody might be mad. But when a car has a problem, somebody can get hurt. That’s why our investors are more strategic people from the industry. 

What would you do differently, if you could? What one thing would you not change? 

MR: If I knew what I know now, I would probably do everything differently. It was a very steep learning curve. I guess that I had to push myself out of my comfort zone a lot to get where we are, which forced me to adapt and learn fast. 

The best advice I would give myself? Stay under the radar for as long as possible. There is too much hot air in this industry and too many people walking around wasting other people’s time. The one thing I would not change is our strategy – focus on technology, vertical integration and being a provider for the OEMs. ◆ 

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In silico product development

At CPG companies, package and product testing is rapidly moving out of the physical world and into the computer

William J. Holstein

5 min read

Thanks to increases in computer speed and improved algorithms, in silico testing has expanded beyond the aerospace and automotive industries so that even lower-cost items like bottles can be virtually tested and quickly improved.

When is a bottle not just a bottle? For Hansong Huang, a bottle is an entire universe, an environment that fundamentally affects the quality of the product inside.

As director of advanced engineering at Amcor Rigid Plastics in Manchester, Michigan, a division of Australia’s Armor Limited, with US$10 billion in combined US sales, Huang is in charge of designing plastic bottles for major brands, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

“No one wants to look the same as another brand,” Huang said. Bottle shapes, however, affect their performance – strength, fizz retention, light shielding, and more. So creating a bottle that can be identified with a particular brand just by its shape is no easy task – especially when shape also affects dozens of other variables that influence product quality.

“The carbon dioxide inside should not be coming out at too high a rate and oxygen should not be going in, so that it has an acceptable shelf life,” Huang said. “We often have to push our engineering to the limit.”

Until recently, bottle design was a process of trial and error: experts designed them, manufactured a few and then physically tested how they stood up to various types of stress. A new design could take months – or even years – to get right.

Today, however, Huang can test a new bottle design in silico – using computer simulation – in a matter of minutes. Powerful simulation software allows him to subject new designs to varying temperatures and humidities, weight loads and drop conditions – all without a physical bottle or a laboratory. Color-coding shows where a bottle is too weak or where carbonization is escaping, letting him hone in on problem areas. If he makes a change in the virtual design, he can run a new simulation in a matter of minutes.

In silico testing allows for virtual testing of products to ensure the shape does not affect the dozens of variables that influence product quality. (Image © Plastic Technologies Inc.)

When his computer validates that the design works, engineers can spot-test production samples. But the physical tests are mostly for the engineers’ peace of mind. The bottles always perform as expected.

GOODBYE WOOD

In silico testing began in the aerospace and automotive industries, where the first billion-dollar prototype is just too late to discover that a newly designed plane will not fly, and where it is too expensive to test crash dozens of cars to perfect a design that meets regulatory and safety standards.

Now in silico simulations have arrived for less expensive products, like bottles. Prior to the arrival of three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD), designers would develop a design they felt was functional or appealing and then send it to a shop where a worker would physically carve a piece of wood to resemble the desired shape, said Sumit Mukherjee, director of computer-aided engineering and simulation for Plastic Technologies Incorporated, in Holland, Ohio. A cast was made from the wood bottle to create a metal blow mold, which eventually was used to create a plastic bottle. This process took weeks.

But because of increases in computer speed and improved algorithms, the old-fashioned method has fallen by the wayside. “Now by the time they can make one mold, I can virtually test 20 different designs and tell them which is the best one,” Mukherjee said.

In silico modeling and testing has another advantage: by eliminating most physical testing, in silico reduces the need for expensive laboratories and physical materials. Scientists are freed up to focus their energies, previously spent on eliminating the thousands of ideas that failed, on improving the most promising candidates.

Another advantage: raw materials are 67% of the total cost of a bottle on average. Reducing the amount of PET plastic in a bottle can help drive down the cost of not only the bottle but also the end product. Mukherjee said that the typical two-liter plastic soda bottle had 79 grams of material 20 years ago. Today it is only 44 grams. “And the consumer has not noticed,” he said.

Simulation tools have become more sophisticated, which is resulting in wider adoption. The combination of higher- capacity computing and better computer algorithms has enabled the development of “multiphysics” programs, which enable simultaneous simulations of multiple materials or variables. For example, multiphysics programs can predict the outcomes expected from the materials of a particular object, as well as how those outcomes will change based on the conditions that object is exposed to, such as air pressure, temperature and magnetism. “Multiphysics is making life easier for the engineer,” Mukherjee said.

At the same time, in silico tools are becoming easier to use. Not long ago, only a handful of researchers with PhDs could understand how to build and manipulate an in silico model. Although in silico testing still requires a high degree of skill, the qualifications required to produce accurate computer simulations are becoming less strenuous, enabling more people to use the tools and share their results with peers.

FROM PACKAGING TO PRODUCTS

Today, companies are testing far more than packaging in silico . At sophisticated CPG companies like Procter & Gamble (P&G), engineers who once used in silico tools to design packaging are now using them to design the products inside as well.

Thomas Lange was director of modeling and simulation when he retired from P&G after 37 years. He now runs a Cincinnati-based consultancy, Technology Optimization & Management. 

“In this business, we manage contradictions,” Lange said. “How do you remove a stain from a fabric but protect the cloth? I can take a stain out of anything by bleaching it, but I don’t protect the color.” 

Answers to these contradictions used to be developed from years of physical experimentation, Lange said. Today, however, in silico simulation tools help P&G discover how strong to make Tide PODS so the various chambers won’t dissolve while sitting on the shelf, or how to design Pampers diapers for maximum absorption. 

“In the contradictions world, we use modeling and simulation to engineer products, processes, production systems, the whole assembly lines in the plants,” Lange said. “We even use them to determine how we scheduled the products to run and, when we shipped the products, how hot they would get in a truck. 

“I used to say, ‘I want to figure out whether something fits, whether it works and whether it makes financial sense, before it ever exists in the real world.’” 

When he first started as an engineer, Lange said, he could not have dreamed of performing such complex simulations on a computer. 

“Modeling and simulation is not just for airplanes and satellites anymore,” he said. “It’s for toilet paper and milk cartons and everything else.” 

Lange is currently helping food companies to develop their own in-house simulation and modeling capabilities. In one case, a company retained him to help with a machine that uses tremendous amounts of heat and air to transform an agricultural commodity into food. But there was an imbalance in how the air flowed inside the large, very expensive and old machine, affecting the product. 

It was impossible to experiment with different physical fixes to the machine because of concern that the machine would break. “When you turn this machine on, it had better work or you’re in deep trouble,” Lange said. 

So Lange helped the company create an in silico model of the machine to investigate solutions. The solution was to change the design of a channel that the air passed through and remove some parts that were interfering with the airflow. “The model allowed us to test what we thought were good ideas,” Lange said. “It allowed us to virtually test a solution that you can’t afford to test in real life.” ◆ 

Discover how organizations use virtual testing to meet design specifications while accelerating package development efforts.

Regulatory alchemy

How the financial sector is transforming increased scrutiny into operational efficiencies

Miriam Gillinson

3 min read

Since the financial crisis of 2008, financial regulation has been expanding around the world. Far from putting a brake on innovation and a cap on profitability, however, the challenge of complying with complex regulations is inspiring improved efficiencies and an upgraded investor experience.

Financial executives tend to complain about new regulations, which complicate their companies’ operations and raise costs. The flood of new regulations that followed the 2008 financial crisis, however, is prompting a very different response: global financial institutions are abandoning their manual data reconciliation processes for new computer technologies that streamline their operations.

The result is a bounty of benefits: improved and simplified compliance plus reduced costs and better customer products and services.

“Most major financial institutions have a significant global presence,” said Jonathan Moulds, president, Europe, Middle East and Africa, for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “They are, therefore, affected by regulations in all their main countries of operation. This is a challenge to any major financial institution and results in complexity, cost and occasional contradiction.”

Failure to comply also brings both financial and reputation costs. Regulatory fines and settlements increased by a factor of 45 at the top 20 US and EU universal banks between 2010 and 2014, according to global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

“Regulation means that banks and asset managers must now focus on technology solutions wherever possible, given the huge volume of data that is needed to ensure compliance with all the changing regulations,” Moulds said.

UNANTICIPATED BENEFITS

Almost all of the new regulations are designed to promote “transparency” or “harmonization.”

“Banks, capital markets and other institutions are tasked with collecting, calculating and submitting hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of data points a month to regulators,” Big Four audit firm KPMG observed in its 2016 report, “Data Insights: Regulation’s Silver Lining.” “Increasingly, regulators are demanding evidence of the source, or ‘traceability,’ of the data to verify its credibility.”

Properly analyzed, however, this data can generate major business benefits. KPMG cites improvements in understanding customer behavior; identifying market trends earlier; and comparing the performance of business units, teams and individuals.

 “Everyday decisions on trading, investment, risk management and loans can be transformed by the availability of powerful information.”

KPMG
DATA INSIGHTS: REGULATION'S SILVER LINING

“All financial services companies should benefit from faster analysis and more efficient modeling, which improve targeting and pricing, credit and liquidity models and capital planning,” KPMG observed. “Everyday decisions on trading, investment, risk management and loans can be transformed by the availability of powerful information that is more current, more complete and more accurate.”

At Swedbank, Angelique Angervall is program manager for MiFID II, the European Commission’s latest framework for regulating the operation of financial markets to increase investor protection and market competition.

“Regulations such as the product target market require that banks harmonize their product development process across all business areas and geographies, and this should be positive for the bank,” Angervall said. “It’s probably more cost efficient and better from a compliance perspective, and it will save us some time because we know the same processes are being followed. This should be good for the bank from a return on equity perspective.”

A BETTER CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

By pushing for improved transparency regulators are, in fact, catalyzing a more customer-centric approach.

“Understanding the customer better will hopefully lead to more client-centric products, or more products which better suit real client needs,” said Daniel Veit, in charge of MiFID II Product Management at Deutsche Bank.

Swedbank’s Angervall agrees.

“The requirement to enhance the quality of services is a catalyzer because it actually promotes faster development of services that we have wanted to provide for many years but haven’t prioritized,” she said. ‘‘In the future, clients will have the cost transparency sheet in their hand. We will have to make sure there is some added value in our products.”

THE RACE IS ON

The speed at which technology is being adopted, however, varies greatly, notes London-based Kemp Little, a leading technology law firm.

“While some existing businesses and new challengers are already well along the path to executing business plans that capitalize on technological advances and current and incoming regulatory changes, others are grappling with how best to position themselves and allocate resources in the most efficient way,” the firm observed in a recent report.

Ultimately, technology will help decide which companies emerge with enhanced reputations and improved market share. “Compliance systems are an essential part of protecting an individual financial institution, as well as protecting the financial system as a whole,” Moulds said.

And now it seems, compliance is an essential part of encouraging automation that also makes financial institutions more efficient. ◆

Watch Dassault Systèmes' VP of Financial & Business Services share insights on digitalization’s impact on the industry:
http://3ds.one/Dufour

Disruptive innovation

For future growth, CEOs increasingly look to experts outside their companies

William J. Holstein and Toshio Aritake

9 min read

With growth slowing and low-cost labor disappearing, CEOs can no longer count on emerging markets to dress up their balance sheets. Instead, many are refocusing on great innovations that people want to own – and what they cannot invent in-house, they are willing to buy or form partnerships to get.

Not long ago, chief executives of the world’s largest multinationals were enraptured by emerging markets. As millions of people in China, India, Russia, Brazil and beyond emerged from poverty, they began to buy Philips lightbulbs, Procter & Gamble diapers, Coca-Cola beverages and Toyota cars.

With minimal effort, incumbent multinationals could achieve 10%-20% sales gains annually. Labor also was cheap, holding down the cost and boosting the margins of goods sold into mature markets.

But the bloom is off the emerging markets. China’s growth is slowing. Brazil is battling deep political problems. Economic sanctions against Russia have taken a toll. Though not retreating en masse from emerging markets, CEOs have recognized the need to look elsewhere for growth.

For many, this means a renewed focus on mature markets. But among mature markets, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its March 2017 forecast, the US is projected to grow slightly more than 2% in 2017; Germany, the Eurozone, the UK and France are projected to grow less than 2%; and Japan and Italy are projected to eke out growth around 1%.

To generate revenues in these low-growth markets, therefore, many corporate leaders are doubling down on innovation in hopes of taking market share from their competitors.

LOOKING OUTSIDE FOR INNOVATION

In the Boston Consulting Group’s 2015 survey of corporate executives, 79% of respondents listed innovation as one of their top three priorities. “That’s the highest it’s ever been,” said Chicago-based Andrew Taylor, who leads BCG’s global innovation strategy work.

Because winning in mature markets means taking sales away from someone else, CEOs are investing to continuously disrupt their own businesses. Few are increasing their internal research budgets, however. Instead, in a trend known as “open collaboration,” they are multiplying the innovative potential of their activities through alliances and collaborations with universities, independent research centers and startups.

“NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE, MOST OF THE SMARTEST PEOPLE WORK FOR SOMEONE ELSE.”

BILL JOY
CO-FOUNDER, SUN MICROSYSTEMS

“There’s no doubt that companies are becoming more externally focused in their innovation efforts,” Taylor said. “The basic theme is that there are a heck of a lot more people outside your organization than there are inside. The trick is how you tap them.”

THE DEMISE OF CHEAP LABOR

Executives are looking for new ideas in some old places. Antoine van Agtmael coined the term “emerging markets” more than three decades ago, but now sees the opposite dynamic at work.

“Now the cheap labor is no longer cheap,” van Agtmael said. ”In fact, it’s no longer so relevant. With modern production methods, including 3D printing, the advantage you get from cheap labor is getting less and less. The key to competitiveness over the next 20 or 25 years is smart innovation.”

In his latest book, The Smartest Places on Earth: How Rustbelts are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation, co-written with Fred Bakker, van Agtmael identified and studied 35 of the world’s most innovative regions in the United States and Europe, including 20 considered “Rust Belt”: once-thriving manufacturing cities that were largely abandoned when manufacturing moved to emerging markets.

“These places have great universities,” he said. “They have an undervalued asset called ‘freedom of thinking.’ Innovation is done by out-of-the-box thinkers who need the oxygen of freedom of thinking. There is more of that freedom [in the West]. The West has a legal system that is supportive. And so the competitive edge is shifting back.”

BEHIND THE iV CURVE

One of van Agtmael’s innovation centers is Eindhoven, in the Netherlands. When it was the headquarters of the conglomerate Royal Philips, Eindhoven was known as a somewhat sleepy company town – and then as a company town at risk.

Philips struggled in many markets and was unsuccessful in commercializing its own research and development. In 2002, however, then-CEO Gerard Kleisterlee placed a big bet on the open innovation model.

“They basically began to outsource their innovation,” van Agtmael said. “They made a strategic choice to open up their lab to create a high-tech university and surround it by all kinds of little startups that are doing phenomenally well.”

Semiconductor-making equipment thrived in the new Eindhoven environment. ASML, which produces more than 60% of the world’s chipmaking equipment, is based there.

Philips also established a pattern of watching and then investing in the most promising small startup companies in technology clusters worldwide. Its resulting acquisition binge has thrust Philips back onto the cutting edge of technology in fast-growing fields such as health care.

In June 2016, for example, Philips acquired PathXL, a Northern Ireland-based leader in digital pathology image analysis, which enables researchers to study tissue via digital images rather than physical analysis. A month later Philips bought Wellcentive, a health management software company based in Alpharetta, Georgia. The Wellcentive acquisition gives Philips a premier position in helping hospitals manage different populations of patients to determine when hospital admission is justified.

US: DEEP PATTERNS OF COLLABORATION

Europe may have started the trend toward open collaboration, but Americans are taking it to the next level. Chipmaker Intel and health-care giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J), for example, have established venture capital operations that scour the world’s universities and research institutes for ideas to commercialize. At Intel, what happens next varies with the specific opportunity.

“THE KEY TO COMPETITIVENESS OVER THE NEXT 20 OR 25 YEARS IS SMART INNOVATION.”

ANTOINE VAN AGTMAEL
AUTHOR, ‘THE SMARTEST PLACES ON EARTH’

“Every investment we make has to hit the nexus of strategic and financial,” said Ken Elefant, a vice president and managing director of software and security at Intel Capital. “If a company doesn’t have a strategic fit in some way with one or more of Intel’s business units, we won’t invest.”

J&J, on the other hand, manages development centers in San Francisco, San Diego, Houston, Boston and Toronto, where it invites startups – which may or may not have a business relationship with J&J – to locate.

“To collaborate with innovators everywhere, a company of our scale and complexity has to industrialize it,” said Robert G. Urban, the Boston- based head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation. “We work in specific areas that are in line with what our businesses are trying to achieve.”

To accelerate the pace of innovation, J&J nurtures relationships between its internal research scientists and startups in the same field.

THE JAPANESE VARIANT

Japanese companies have found it difficult to create innovation-stimulating conditions at home like those being exploited by competitors in the US and Europe.

Japan has technology clusters such as Minebea, which makes more than 60% of the world’s small ball bearings, and Horiba, which makes 80% of the world’s motor emission measurement systems.

But Japanese manufacturers tend to be more cautious, worried that their proprietary technologies will leak if they engage in open collaboration. Japanese universities also are less inclined to commercialize their technology, scientists are reluctant to leave universities and research centers to become entrepreneurs, and early stage capital is scarce.

“The country and its people have been trained to be risk-averse,” said Hideo Tamura, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo. “Those perceptions have been imbedded so powerfully, like a tattoo in people’s heads.”

Tamura notes that even Japan’s traditional strengths in semiconductors and consumer electronics have been greatly eroded; maintaining Japan’s lead in robotics will require aggressive development.

Some Japanese companies are realizing, therefore, that they cannot lead by being a close follower of US or European rivals. Their CEOs are eager to obtain footholds in emerging technologies that include artificial intelligence, financial technology, next-generation robotics, autonomous driving, life sciences and the Internet of Things (IoT).

In a major shift, Japan has begun winning global recognition for cutting-edge research. Katsuhiko Hayashi of Kyushu University, for example, used mouse skin cells to create healthy mouse eggs, which in turn created healthy mice. His work is seen as a foundation for breakthroughs in infertility. In 2016, the journal Science ranked his work among the year’s 10 most important breakthroughs worldwide.

But basic R&D takes years to create a payoff. That’s why Toyota Motor Corporation, Japan’s largest company, is embracing a host of open innovation techniques.

New propulsion systems, advanced safety and autonomous driving techniques, plus a shift from individual ownership to shared-use vehicles are transforming the auto industry. For insights into how these trends might evolve, Toyota launched a plan in 2015 to invest US$1 billion over five years in an artificial intelligence (AI) research institute in Palo Alto, California, close to where Apple, Tesla and Google’s sister company, Waymo, are conducting autonomous vehicle research. Early results already are being tested in next-generation Toyota cars and assembly lines.

79%

In the Boston Consulting Group’s 2015 survey of corporate executives, 79% of respondents listed innovation as one of their top three priorities, the highest level the survey has ever measured.

In January 2017, Toyota unveiled a concept vehicle called the Yui, which talks like a humanoid robot and functions in place of a driver, furthering Toyota’s vision of autonomous driving. Affiliate DENSO Corporation launched a joint venture with Toshiba Corporation to develop a version of AI called deep neural network intellectual property (DNN-IP). DNN-IP will be used for next-generation image-recognition systems, which enable advanced driver safety features and, ultimately, fully autonomous vehicles.

In November 2016, Toyota announced the world’s first method for observing lithium-ion battery charges or discharges, a breakthrough that could lead to longer and more reliable battery performance. And in December, it announced the TOYOTA NEXT open innovation program, inviting other companies to offer Toyota technologies that it could co-develop or license.

“In TOYOTA NEXT, we will not be constrained by closed-loop business policy,” Shuichi Murakami, a Toyota managing officer, said at a recent news conference. “Instead, we will tap new ideas, technologies, solutions, and even existing services and others to co-develop new services.”

Other Japanese companies looking to the West’s industry clusters for technologies they can invest in or acquire include SoftBank Group, which acquired Britain’s smart-chip architecture company ARM Holdings in 2016. In October, under the leadership of CEO Masayoshi Son, SoftBank announced a joint venture with the Saudi Arabian government to create a US$100 billion investment fund specializing in IoT projects.

“Softbank’s thinking is that in the new tech world, achieving economy of scale with as many stakeholders as possible is indispensable for spreading out a technology or products,” said Darrel Whitten of Reading Advisors, an advisory firm based in Tokyo. “However big a company may be, it cannot develop a new technology alone.”

‘DE-RISKING’ NEW TECHNOLOGIES

Whatever model they use, the US, European and Japanese companies active in these technology centers are “de-risking” a technology before bringing it in-house, said Jenna Foger, senior principal of science and technology at the New York offices of Alexandria Real Estate Equities.

Because Alexandria specializes in creating facilities where large companies – especially those in life sciences – can co-locate their R&D operations with academics or doctors on the cutting edge of knowledge, Foger has a unique perspective on the grow-through-innovation trend.

Foger notes that large companies, such as Switzerland’s Roche, are leaving their traditional R&D campuses in low-cost but isolated areas in favor of urban technology hubs. Roche’s move from suburban New Jersey into Manhattan spawned a burst of 65 partnerships with researchers and small firms in the span of just three years.

“Collaborating among companies, more and more we’re finding we need to do that,” Roche Global Innovation Leader Judith Dunn said.

SHOW US THE MONEY

Like Roche, Foger finds that the innovation-focused companies she works with are seeking four attributes: location, talent, a tradition of intellectual property (IP) generation and protection, and a ready pool of early-stage funding.

Urban areas tend to win on the location and talent metrics, because talented young people are attracted to the active lifestyles of urban areas. The IP metric gives established Western economies a major advantage. The availability of early-stage funding attracts and encourages the startups that spawn new ideas established companies can buy or help to commercialize.

Established companies now provide a quarter of venture capital dollars invested in the United States, according to CB Insights, a market intelligence firm. And those investors want to be close to industry clusters, where other investors will amplify their own investments.

Add it all up and it’s a formula for faster innovation. “It’s cheaper and less risky to partner with a smaller company than to focus on a specific area (internally) so pharmaceutical companies can fill their pipelines more cheaply and quickly,” Foger said.

THE MENTAL MODEL

Whatever a company’s nationality or industry, the pressures are mounting on all CEOs to develop management systems that allow them to specify which new technologies the company will pursue, which products will continue to be made and which ones should be phased out as part of a permanent process of disrupting existing product lines.

Vijay Govindarajan, Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business in New Hampshire and author of The Three Box Solution, argues that only CEOs can decide which technologies to put in which box. Budgets and personnel must be allocated to the different boxes and their performance measured depending on where their products fit.

“They require different capabilities and different metrics,” Govindarajan said. “This is the central strategic challenge.”

Not everyone agrees with his three-box concept, however. Take Brian Goldner, CEO of Hasbro, the US$5 billion toymaker based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Its new product “box” totals 75-80% of Hasbro’s products each year.

“I think of the three-box strategy as being more like the Matryoshka Russian dolls that nestle together,” Goldner says. “You are managing the present and selectively forgetting the past. But you also may find a new truth that changes current beliefs. That is the future. You have to think about all of these at once. They inform each other.”

CEOs must think about how they link talent acquisition goals to innovation strategies, BCG’s Taylor said.

“If a big company wants to do rapid expansion in a whole bunch of different adjacencies, what you need is a whole bunch of entrepreneurs,” he said. “You need people who can break down walls. But if, in another business, you are taking a fast-follower model, you need a different kind of person. You can’t shift people into a new function that they are not well-suited for. You have to ask yourself, ‘What is the talent I need to enable my strategy?’”

To achieve gains in mature markets, it’s clear that the world’s incumbent multinationals must reinvent themselves to focus on permanent, high-speed innovation and permanent high-speed disruption of their own businesses. If they don’t do it, someone somewhere is creating a startup that will.

For more information on The Smartest Places on Earth:
http://3ds.one/Rustbelt

Digital continuity

As factories implement smart technologies, consistent data becomes vital

William J. Holstein

5 min read

Having consistent data from concept to after-the-sale service is a long-time dream of manufacturers. As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) begins to automate operations in factories with increasingly machine-managed “smart” manufacturing environments, a unique, authoritative and consistent source of data across the entire product lifecycle – a concept known as “digital continuity” – becomes imperative.

Whether they call it Industry 4.0 or “smart” manufacturing, experts worldwide are focused on how to extract data from intelligent machines and then analyze it to improve both their products and the processes used to create them. Benefits include improved efficiencies and reduced costs, plus the ability to quickly respond to market trends with personalized solutions.

In the race to Industry 4.0, however, many manufacturers are tripping over their data silos. Although state-of-the art when installed, data in any of these aging legacy systems must typically be re-created in one or more of the downstream systems. The resulting duplication and inconsistency make it impossible to analyze data for insights and contributes significantly to the inefficiencies found in manufacturing today.

The antidote is “digital continuity,” a concept that is increasingly critical as auto manufacturers juggle a ballooning product set driven by rapidly evolving ownership models, fuel sources and degrees of driver autonomy.

“Digital continuity is the core characteristic that we need for the 21st century digital world,” said Michael Grieves, executive director for the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design at the Florida Institute of Technology. “We cannot afford to not know that the version of design we are using has been obsoleted by a newer design. We cannot afford to have Engineering send designs to Manufacturing that Manufacturing knows cannot be built properly or cost effectively. We cannot afford to not know what machine-to-machine communications are occurring that will result in a major manufacturing failure.”

SILOED DATA COMPLICATES INDUSTRIAL VALUE CHAIN

Manufacturers of all types recognize the challenge, according to LNS Research, a Massachusetts-based business consultancy focused on digital transformation. In a 2015 study titled “The Global State of Manufacturing Operations Management Software: Weaving the Digital Thread Across Industrial Value Chains,” LNS surveyed discrete and process manufacturers of all sizes in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

 “DIGITAL CONTINUITY IS THE CORE CHARACTERISTIC THAT WE NEED FOR THE 21ST CENTURY DIGITAL WORLD.”

MICHAEL GRIEVES
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ADVANCED MANUFACTURING AND INNOVATIVE DESIGN, FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

The study found that the top two operational challenges respondents cited were directly related to a failure of digital continuity: a lack of collaboration across departments, cited by 48% of respondents; and disparate systems and data sources, cited by 39%.

Nearly as many – 38% each – cited difficulty coordinating across their supply and demand chains, a lack of timely visibility in manufacturing performance metrics and a lack of continuous improvement culture/ processes. (Due to multiple responses, the total is more than 100%.) Digital continuity could help to address them all.

“With an unbroken flow of information,” LNS concluded, “decisions stemming from any part of operations, such as quality issues, asset management, meeting supply, customer sentiments and others, can be accessed and integrated to specific decisions among those respective departments and companies, leading to overall increases in productivity, quality, profit and other key performance indicators.”

DISPARATE LEGACY SYSTEMS CREATE DATA CONFUSION

The automotive industry recognizes the challenges of legacy systems as Industry 4.0 gains traction, said John Fleming, former executive vice president of global manufacturing for Ford Motor Company and now an independent automotive consultant based in Fort Myers, Florida. But the temptation to seek workarounds remains strong.

“There’s a cost and an investment factor to changing significant systems, so all too often the decision is to pick your way through the best you can,” Fleming said. “Are we doing a good enough job of fully identifying the real areas of opportunity that today’s technologies can deliver? Sometimes those businesses cases are not fully understood.”

Risk is an ever-present deterrent. “The automakers can’t afford to go to something different and not have it work,” Grieves said. “They are facing severe pressures, which is why it is easier to tinker around the edges as opposed to ripping it out and doing something different. You still have too many people thinking, ‘I’ll engineer the thing and throw it over the wall to Manufacturing and hope they can make it.’”

DO YOU KNOW WHAT I KNOW?

In a survey by LNS Research, manufacturers cited multiple operational challenges caused by a lack of digital continuity, including poor collaboration across departments and with supply and demand chains; disparate systems and data sources; and lack of manufacturing metrics and continuous improvement. (Image © gerenme / iStock)

Digital continuity creates a unique, authoritative and consistent source of data across the entire lifecycle as a product moves from concept to design, engineering, manufacturing and post-sales service.

“The idea behind digital continuity is that, while we still have a progression in time from product creation to product operation and support, the information in these phases is integrated within the other phases,” Grieves said. “In the product creation phase, for example, not only is the product engineered to meet its functional requirements, but the product is also designed for manufacturability and supportability. Information about actual manufacturability is fed back into the engineering phase in order to address potential future manufacturability issues. Information about the actual performance of the product is fed back to engineering and to manufacturing, so that improvements to the product and its manufacturability can be assessed.”

Pairing real-world data with scientifically accurate 3D models of the product and the factory allows manufacturers to monitor the real-time environment and predict its future state, Grieves said. By simulating the factory’s operations minutes or hours in advance, plant managers can detect and correct issues before they happen, balance work cells, implement process quality enhancements and improve worker safety.

One obvious area where digital continuity could have an enormous impact is warranty information, said David Andrea, executive vice president of research at the Center for Automotive Design in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“If a dealer replaces a part, they charge that back to the manufacturer and the manufacturer charges that back to the supplier,” Andrea said. “The issue now is, how can you use data coming in from the field not just for cost adjustment and accounting, but also get that data back into the component development process? That way the manufacturer won’t have the warranty problem in the next generation of the product.”

DON’T WAIT FOR BIG BANG ANSWER

Fortunately, the challenge of achieving digital continuity is being made easier by the same technologies driving digital transformation. These technologies also eliminate the risk factor because they work with the legacy systems automakers have already installed.

Sophisticated digital platforms, for example, are now equipped with powerful search engines that can tap both structured and unstructured information stored in existing legacy systems. The platforms scour all of a
company’s systems for relevant information, then compile and present it to users as data and predictive analytics. Every authorized user, whether they sit inside the OEM or work for a supply chain partner, sees the same data, formatted for each person’s specific function. As changes are made downstream, the data presented to all users update continuously, ensuring accuracy and timeliness.

“Traditional methods of manual information collection and dissemination to key stakeholders are unsustainable and producing rapidly diminishing returns,” LNS observed. “Today’s technology capabilities are enabling the integration of information across the entire product lifecycle – from design, through engineering, manufacturing, delivery and service – to a digital model that allows immediate and actionable information to reach the necessary departments and functions with greater speed, accuracy and efficiency than ever before.” ◆

For more information on strategies for achieving digital continuity, visit:
http://3ds.one/SmartFactory

Customize? No, modularize!

Mix-and-match modules yield more products with fewer parts at lower costs

Rebecca Gibson

5 min read

Industrial buyers want equipment customized to meet their specific operational needs and requirements, but still demand competitive pricing. Modular product architectures are making it faster and more efficient to customize standard products for the mass market while avoiding the complexity and high costs traditionally associated with engineered-to-order processes.

Minnesota-based mechanical test equipment manufacturer MTS Systems Corporation once required 11,000 unique part numbers to build 150 product variations of its servohydraulic load frames. Now, it uses just 800 unique part numbers – 90% fewer – to build more than 100,000 product variants.

In Helsinki, Wärtsilä used to spend 10 years developing a single new medium-speed engine for its marine customers. Since reducing the number of unique parts from nearly 7,000 to fewer than 4,000, it has developed a series of engines that can be adapted for different fuels depending on customer requirements – in half the time at half the cost.

MTS Systems and Wärtsilä are among a growing number of industrial equipment (IE) manufacturers that have mastered the art of fulfilling diverse customer requests for customized products without increasing costs and production time, or decreasing quality. Their secret? Modularization.

MINIMAL PARTS, MULTIPLE VARIANTS

Pioneered by truck and bus manufacturer Scania in Södertälje, Sweden, in the 1960s, modularization breaks complex products into a collection of standardized components that can be mixed and matched to quickly create a wide range of products without the usual costs of customization.

“Whole product families can be formed based on the same limited number of modules, and the internal complexity can be kept to a viable level,” said Jana Golfmann, senior consultant of Ernst & Young’s Advisory Practice. “Modularization is the most efficient way for IE manufacturers to develop varied product line assemblies and achieve mass customization with economies of scale.”

Modularization comes with a long list of benefits.

“Modularization can cut part numbers by 50%-60%, thereby reducing the cost of materials by 10%-15% and decreasing assembly and manufacturing times by at least 25%-35% – and that’s before manufacturers have even looked at the product itself,” said Sam Burman, managing director for SPJ Consulting, which helps companies develop modularization concepts.

“One truck company I worked at reduced its part numbers from 45,000 to 15,000 but created billions of product variant possibilities for one customer. Ultimately, fewer parts and less manufacturing time increases revenue.”

China-based Chongqing Yinhe Experimental Equipment Company (CQYH), which builds environmental testing machinery for the military, aerospace and automotive sectors, provides more proof for the power of modularization. CQYH inputs customer requirements directly into its modular architecture solution, allowing customers to quickly approve 3D models and eliminate physical prototypes.

 “MODULARIZATION IS THE MOST EFFICIENT WAY FOR IE MANUFACTURERS TO DEVELOP VARIED PRODUCT LINE ASSEMBLIES AND ACHIEVE MASS CUSTOMIZATION WITH ECONOMIES OF SCALE.”

JANA GOLFMANN
SENIOR CONSULTANT, ADVISORY PRACTICE, ERNST & YOUNG

“With our modular architecture solution, we accelerated order fulfillment and reduced design errors by 50%,” CQYH CEO Zhixian Zhang said. “Moreover, our R&D activities have become better organized and, although the number of newly developed parts is falling, the number of orders keeps going up. We’ve increased our turnover from RMB40 million (US$58 million) to RMB150 million-180 million (US$218 million-$261 million).”

MASS CUSTOMIZATION MADE AFFORDABLE

Modularization represents a tectonic shift from manufacturers’ traditional product development and business processes, where they design, stock and sell fully assembled products from a standard inventory. Operating in reverse, modularized companies fulfill a customer’s specific order by assembling select components from a library of mass-produced modules.

“IE manufacturers can use modularization to separate the definition of product components/modules from the definition of the rules that govern how they’re assembled,” said Jordan Reynolds, senior manager of innovation consultancy firm Kalypso. “Hence, they can offer the highly personalized industrial products traditionally developed with engineered-to-order processes, but with mass production efficiency that keeps assembly times fast, prices low and profits high.”

Assembling existing modules to create new products also eliminates the need for manufacturers to redevelop, retest and revalidate the design of core components each time they modify individual modules.

“Modularization requires upfront investment and effort, but there’s a big payoff because engineers can rapidly pull together custom-designed products as new orders come in,” said Jim Brown, president of independent manufacturing research firm Tech-Clarity. “A Tech-Clarity survey found that top-performing industrial equipment companies are 49% more likely to use modular design techniques than poorer performing competitors. This allows them to quickly give customers a compelling quote and win the business.”

MOVING TO MODULARITY

Modularization goes way beyond simply standardizing existing modules and processes, SJP Consulting’s Burman said. For long-term success, manufacturers must audit their customers’ needs and redesign the interfaces between product components so they can be combined in different, but viable, ways.

“The interfaces remain the same, allowing manufacturers to install, replace or remove individual components when they need to create entirely new products – all without changing the associated components,” Burman said. “Next, companies must modularize all the products in their portfolio in parallel for at least the first half of the development phase, before going into detail for separate products. This can be a nightmare, but projects will fail if products are modularized one by one in separate silos.”

Successful modular product architectures must be supported by robust product lifecycle management (PLM) systems.

“PLM platforms are essential for configuring products out of standardized, reusable components and connecting their master bill of materials across the product lifecycle,” Golfmann said. “A product architect is also critical for governing the diverse modularization requirements and ensuring that the components fit together.”

PLM systems are particularly effective when integrated with 3D design and visualization software, Burman said. “3D visualization technology allows manufacturers to show customers digital mock-ups of the different options, rather than multiple paper drawings and physical prototypes.”

Pioneered by truck and bus manufacturer Scania in the 1960s, modularization breaks complex products into a collection of standardized components that can be mixed and matched to quickly create a wide range of products without the usual costs of customization. (Image © Kjell Olausson / Scania CV AB) 

Meanwhile, the cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning – a specialized form of artificial intelligence (AI) – can help manufacturers better predict the likely demand for specific modules and product configurations.

“IoT solutions interpret data from smart products to understand how customers use them, while machine learning algorithms can extrapolate customer demand insights from historical sales datasets,” Reynolds said. “Algorithms can also learn what factors lead to compatible product configurations and set rules for module assembly options. This is significantly more reliable than the current expert-based systems.”

DRIVING ADOPTION

Before launching a modularization initiative, experts recommend that the senior leadership team spearhead change-management initiatives to achieve employee buy-in.

“Complete modularization is an ambitious transformation and a fundamentally different way of working that requires the full coordination of all departments across the value chain,” said Mart Tiismann, partner and board director at Modular Management, a Stockholm-based consulting firm that helps companies adopt modularization. “Such a journey must be mapped in a way that ensures early wins and the gradual buildup of momentum and understanding. Most importantly, it requires a new set of governance and support tools.”

Seeking external assistance from modularization experts can also be beneficial, CQYH’s Zhang said. “Think big, but execute step by step,” he advised. “First, get a team of modularity consultants to restructure the product architecture, and then choose a business platform, instead of an IT platform, to support the implementation of the strategy.”

A MODULAR FUTURE

As customers step up their demand for highly personalized products at competitive prices in short timeframes, IE manufacturers must adapt their current mass production processes to remain competitive.

“We used to do a lot of missionary work explaining the benefits of modularity,” Modular Management’s Tiismann said. “With Industry 4.0 and digitalization, we’ve reached an inflexion point where almost all IE companies now recognize the need to better structure their product portfolios, but the implications of structuring information for modularization are not yet widely understood. Consequently, companies that have already implemented or started moving toward this holistic approach to manufacturing industrial equipment will have a competitive advantage for several years to come.”◆

For more information on creating custom products through modularity:
http://3ds.one/SSS-modularity

Rob Parsons and Andy Blood

Hands on the wheel

Dan Headrick

3 min read

Driverless vehicle technology promises improved transportation efficiencies and greater safety, but there is a tradeoff: removing the driver from the controls. For reasons that transcend transportation, Rob Parsons and Andy Blood are working to keep people with disabilities behind the wheel. Because for paraplegics, driving is not just about getting there: it is about getting there on their own.

In December 2016, Rob Parsons traveled from California to Bath, England, to personally install a hand control system into 19-year-old Ben Conolly’s drift race car. It is the first of its kind in the UK, but that is not why Parsons did it. Cancer put Conolly in a wheelchair, but racing gives him back the motivation to dream big.

“It was wrecking him, plaguing him,” Parsons said about Conolly’s struggles. “He got down on himself pretty easily. Race cars pump him up.”

Parsons, 30, understands. A competitive adrenaline junky, Parsons shattered his spine in a 2011 motocross crash. He reset his course during rehabilitation and renewed his focus on drift racing, which features controlled, pinpoint-accurate skids at high speeds.

No one had ever designed hand controls for drift racing. So Parsons – still in the hospital after his accident – trained himself in 3D design with SOLIDWORKS and developed a proprietary handcontrol system so precise that he could drift race with it. Then he rebuilt a 1991 Nissan S13 as a drift car from the seat of his wheelchair.

Still, putting himself back at the wheel was not enough for Parsons. He created The Chairslayer Foundation to motivate other paraplegics to defeat the limitations of their chairs through the power of motorsports.

THE BOND OF SHARED EXPERIENCE

Around the same time Parsons snapped his spine, utility lineman Andy Blood was 40 feet (12 meters) off the ground when the wooden power pole broke and landed him in a wheelchair. Blood, like Parsons, stared into a new future and decided not to settle. He took a hard-fought insurance settlement and launched the Blood Brothers Foundation, which raises money to adapt vehicles for the disabled.

Blood, 37, did not know Parsons when he opened Runnit CNC, a machine shop in Grand Junction, Colorado, but it did not take long for Blood and Parsons to find each other online and join forces. The shop they run devotes much of its time and resources to designing and fabricating adaptive vehicle modifications for the wheelchair-bound.

While still in the hospital, Rob Parsons taught himself to use SOLIDWORKS, which he then used to design the sophisticated hand controls for his drift race car. (Image © Rob Parsons)

“People who love to drive always want to have that control,” Blood said.

Dr. Indira Lanig is the former medical director of the North Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital, Blood’s doctor and a board member of No Barriers USA.

“I believe that transportation and mobility for spinal-cord injury survivors is a woefully underserved need,” she said. “There are transportation services, but that does not lend itself to the spontaneity of life – the sense of independence that any adult would desire. There also are indirect costs of mobility barriers: decreased productivity, quality of life, the costs of being trapped in their homes and in their heads.”
 

STAYING IN CONTROL

Parsons and Blood, unwilling to accept such limitations for themselves or for others, were determined to create more affordable adaptive technologies.

“It’s nice that we have the ability that we do,” Blood said. “We’re building hand controls for off-road and we’re going to start an off-road driving school. We’ve got three or four versions of hand controls and we’re seeing who likes what the best. You’ve got to build to where you’re at.”

Blood and Parsons are not the only gearheads interested in designing around a driver’s unique capabilities. Nevada last year became the first state to issue a restricted driver’s license to a quadriplegic, Verizon IndyCar Series team owner Sam Schmidt, who was paralyzed from the neck down after a racing accident in 2000. Schmidt’s car, a 2014 Corvette Z7 Stingray – the so- called Arrow SAM Car – was modified to shift gears with voice commands, steer with head motions and accelerate and brake through a breath tube.

“The hot topic right now is autonomous vehicles and driverless cars,” said Will Pickard, the lead Arrow Electronics engineer on the SAM car. “From both an engineering and philosophical point of view, driverless cars try to get humans out of the loop. Everything we’re trying to do is to put a driver back in the driver’s seat.

“The crash did not change Sam. He’s still a race car driver, and he was a winning race car driver. He just didn’t have a car to drive. Now we’re getting to a point to design a system toward the capability of the human user. Almost like an athlete.”

Discover how the Chairslayer Foundation uses SOLIDWORKS to create modified race cars:
http://3ds.one/Chairslayer
 
Learn more about Blood Brothers Foundation:
http://3ds.one/BloodBrothers

The human touch

Automation is coming to asset management, but it will likely have a human face

Miriam Gillinson

3 min read

Technology is disrupting every industry, and asset management is no exception. In a highly customized industry like financial services, however, experts agree that new technologies are more likely to augment the work done by humans than to replace them.

Automation is coming quickly to the asset management industry. Computer-driven online investment advisers, known as “robo-advisers,” are proliferating. The Vanguard Group’s virtual advisory platform alone has attracted nearly US$50 billion in new investments over the past three years.

A casual observer might assume that the traditional money manager is an endangered species. Instead, industry experts argue that automation could lead to a more personalized investment experience combining human expertise with technological wizardry.

“In the end the most powerful combination is integrated solutions, which combine discretionary investment advice and automation to improve the customer experience,” said Philip Watson, head of the Global Investment Lab at Citi Private Bank, where his department oversees the creation of innovative financial strategies.

RISE OF THE ROBO-ADVISERS

Watson notes that technology-driven disruption is commonplace in the financial industry. What is different now is the rapid rise of robo-advisers, artificial intelligence (AI) computer algorithms that create a custom experience at an affordable price.

“The fledgling robo-advisers are gaining traction,” said Amin Rajan, CEO of CREATE, a UK-based think tank focused on trends in global fund management. “Today they manage nearly US$90 billion worldwide, and this figure is expected to increase fivefold over the rest of this decade.”

The reason for the rapid advance of the robo-advisers is simple: cost and convenience.

“Within minutes, robo-advisers allow you to set up customized, diverse portfolios and can give you access to wealth management services previously reserved for the ultrawealthy, like tax-loss harvesting and access to a certified financial planner,” Joy Blenman, a financial columnist, wrote recently on Investopedia, a leading financial website.

Rather than rushing to automate, however, the industry has opted for a more nuanced merging of human and technological strengths. In January 2017, for example, Betterment LLC, an online investment advisory service based in New York City, announced plans for a hybrid investment service that combines robo and human advice. Two months later, US-based discount brokerage Charles Schwab launched Schwab Intelligent Advisory. The service provides unlimited access to human advice via phone or video, along with investment portfolio suggestions generated by computer algorithms.

BALANCING SPEED WITH PERSONALIZATION

In its 2016 FinTech survey “Beyond Automated Advice,” global business consulting firm PwC predicted that automation will create a more tailored customer experience.

“New, accelerated online platforms and applications improve the retail customer experience by providing bespoke but affordable services to help investors set their investment goals, choose the right product or service and manage their investment portfolios,” the report states. “Forward-thinking AWMs [asset and wealth managers] will be able to find the right mix of technology and personal touch for a given customer segment.” For Watson, this combination is merely an extension of the skill-merging commonplace in the financial industry.

“In the past, the model frequently relied on information advantage through [human] teamwork,” Watson said. “For example, a PM (portfolio manager) and research analyst, a team operating across regions, a relationship manager and an investment adviser – all providing incremental value. Automation can be thought of as extending that path with human plus AI, rather than AI alone.”

“THE MOST POWERFUL COMBINATION IS INTEGRATED SOLUTIONS, WHICH COMBINE DISCRETIONARY INVESTMENT ADVICE AND AUTOMATION TO IMPROVE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.”

PHILIP WATSON
HEAD, GLOBAL INVESTMENT LAB, CITI PRIVATE BANK

Automating the routine portions of customer service should actually help to increase the service that customers receive by allowing human advisers to off-load routine tasks.

“The more accessible our digital interface becomes, the faster we can connect customers with the answers they are looking for, using services such as accentuated voice recognition and secure technology,” Watson said. “This is more efficient for customers and also more efficient for relationship managers, who can focus on higher-level analytical activities.”

TECHNOLOGY AND TRUST

The future for automated asset management, experts agree, will depend on both technology and trust.

“Markets, products and customer needs will continuously evolve,” Watson said. “As such, there will always be a need for humans.”

For robo-advisers to succeed, however, consumers must feel well-served by the combination of human and automated advice.

“Trust remains an ever-important need in any decision-making process,” Watson said. “The provision of high quality, personalized advice based on holistic solutions with a human touch will always be advantageous.”

Discover customer-centric solutions for financial services at: http://3ds.one/FBS

Battling data silos

Data collection schemes abound, but operational silos limit effectiveness

Dan Headrick

5 min read

While big data analytics, the Industrial Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are creeping into our homes, cities and industries, most utility companies have yet to see the full value of these technologies. Although leading utilities are experimenting on many fronts, experts caution that only a fully integrated approach that eliminates traditional data silos will provide the insights needed for effective management.

Tucked between Rancho Cucamonga and San Bernardino in Southern California, 20 suburban homeowners in the city of Fontana have volunteered for a visionary pilot project: to test whether smart homes can function as operational grid nodes, managing demand response and load shifting while generating electricity from rooftop solar panels.

“The thermostat may be the hub that everything integrates around,” said retired utility executive Randy Brecheisen, who serves on boards of member-owned utility organizations in the southeastern United States. “Appliances, garage doors, everything can all integrate into the controller of that thermostat. We’re trying to capture and integrate all of the resources to further leverage upstream. Solar, demand side management (DSM) resources, electric vehicle potential, distribution and generation, batteries...if we can integrate all that into a resource and have control of all that as a resource, then we’re in a position where we can impact the generation upstream and transmission supply.”

“ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WILL MERGE WITH THIS PORTABILITY TO PUSH CONTEXTUALLY RELEVANT INFORMATION.”

KEN HEPBURN
VICE PRESIDENT MARKETING, REALWEAR

But smart meters represent just one slice of rapidly proliferating information technologies competing for utility dollars. From generation, transmission, distribution and load management to market trading, retail pricing, consumption, billing and storage, data has become the true energy behind the industry. Utilities are scrambling to adapt, but few have a vision for achieving a comprehensive overview or management capability.

“It’s a very, very confused marketplace out there,” said David Socha, a practice partner with the Singapore-based energy consulting firm Teradata International. “Everyone’s suddenly a data and analytics company: ERP vendors, smart meter vendors, startups, even companies that used to sell you books online. It’s no wonder that utilities might be hesitant to jump in.”

INTELLIGENCE EVERYWHERE

The combination of artificial intelligence (AI), sensor-enabled data collection via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and data analytics offer dizzying potential. But which technologies will become industry standards? What are the best applications? How can they be integrated with other digital initiatives throughout the power generation and distribution industries?

According to Navigant Research, a global market research and consulting firm that analyzes clean technologies, many utilities are starting with the lowest level of data collectors: smart meters. Worldwide, Navigant reports, smart meters, particularly with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) communication capabilities were expected to represent about 30% of all smart meters by the end of 2016, and are forecast to rise to 53% by the end of 2025.

Swiss electricity producer and distributor Alpiq, for example, recently launched a smart meter and AI algorithms for buildings and facilities management. Alpiq continuously measures electricity consumption and loads on the grid, factors in weather forecasts and tracks electricity prices. Based on data patterns over time, it also learns the behavior of users for each load-controlled device installed in homes and commercial buildings.

In 2017, the German research organization Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft introduced an AI-managed smart meter that goes a step further, not only measuring but also controlling the electricity usage of as many as 20 appliances through a single node.

Enedis, the French networks business of EDF Group, which manages 95% of the power grid across France for 35 million customers, has invested heavily in a data and analytics platform with aims to manage usage regionally. Its “Linky” smart meters send and receive data and instructions through computer hubs at transformer substations, enabling Enedis to manage loads automatically and gain greater visibility into the grid.

DIGITALIZING THE ENTERPRISE

While smart meters can help utilities shed loads at times of peak demand or give consumers insights into managing their energy use, they do little to keep the system running. In New South Wales, Australia, state-owned electricity infrastructure company Ausgrid is tracking that issue by outfitting 22,000 workers with digital field data collection technology.

53%

According to Navigant Research, smart meters with AMI communications capabilities are expected to account for 53% of all smart meters by the end of 2025.

The technology guides workers in maintaining more than 250 power stations, 500,000 power poles, 30,000 small distribution substations and nearly 50,000 kilometers (31,000 miles) of above- and below-ground electrical cables. As a result, Ausgrid has improved end-to-end work cycle productivity by an average of 72%. The company expects to save US$60 billion by 2025, according to a January 2016 World Economic Forum white paper entitled “Digital Transformation of Industries” in collaboration with Accenture.

Canadian utility Manitoba Hydro International, meanwhile, is testing audiovisual headsets for its workers in the field. Miles away, managers use real-time simulation and location positioning information transmitted by the headsets to identify the affected equipment and access its maintenance history. That information is fed back to workers on site, along with information on how to make the repair. Depending on what they learn from the pilots, company officials hope to expand the capability to other operations.

“We’re all walking around with the world’s information in our pockets,” said Ken Hepburn, vice president of marketing of Silicon Valley-based company RealWear, which is testing its field service headgear in Canada. “AI will merge with this portability to push contextually relevant information. That’s inevitable. It’s just a matter of when that will happen, but it will probably be pretty fast.”

“INVESTMENT NEEDS TO BE IN CAPABILITIES, TOOLS AND A PLATFORM THAT CAN UNDERPIN ALL  THEIR ANALYTICS OPPORTUNITIES.”

DAVID SOCHA
PRACTICE PARTNER, TERADATA INTERNATIONAL

Spanish utility Iberdrola has taken the collection of information systemwide. From a single, automated control center in Toledo, Spain, workers operate in real time with machine learning, analytics and robotics to perform condition monitoring, predictive forecasting and reliability maintenance. These functions are particularly critical to Iberdrola’s varied clean energy mix: 7,000 megawatts (MW) of installed power from 220 wind farms, 70 mini-hydropower plants and more than 6,000 wind turbines across nine countries.

Information from sensors monitoring about 2 million operational signals, for example, help managers improve insights into fault detection, turbine and control system malfunctions. Preventive measures can be taken remotely, reducing operational and maintenance expenses. Iberdrola expects to save US$387 billion over the next decade and cut 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon emissions due to reduced trips into the field, according to a 2016 World Economic Forum white paper.

WHERE TO BEGIN

While these utilities have begun to digitalize operations at every level, the industry as a whole has been slow to adapt.

“There are many reasons why most utilities have yet to really see the value in big data – or any kind of wide-ranging, integrated data and analytics,” Teradata’s Socha said. Chief among them is a tendency to keep operations siloed, which hinders information sharing. Each operation functions relatively independent of the others.

To fully benefit from all of the smart options available to them, Socha said, utilities need to break down the data silos that separate their operations and create a holistic management system.

“Holistic” can be a challenge in decentralized decision-making environments, however. Utilities already have invested in a host of systems optimized for each function, and replacing those with a one-vendor solution is not an attractive option. Instead, utilities should seek a platform that can federate all of their best-of-breed applications while eliminating silos, enabling real-time digital continuity and pushing the right information to users rather than forcing them to hunt it down.

“No matter where they invest first, that investment needs to be in capabilities, tools and a platform that can underpin all their analytics opportunities,” Socha said. “Strategically, the biggest opportunity is to start down the path toward becoming data-driven.”

For information on how to combine connectivity, AI and IIoT into a fully integrated system, visit:
http://3ds.one/energy

Education and research in 3D

Lifelike learning helps students achieve while expanding the boundaries of knowledge

Dora Laîné

6 min read

For decades, industries worldwide have steadily advanced their businesses with increasingly sophisticated 3D virtual models that accelerate discovery, enable collaboration and improve quality. Although 3D also is proven to help both students and researchers accelerate their quests for knowledge, the technology has been slow to permeate education and research. Compass looks at three new projects that are changing that trend, using 3D to help students succeed in school and improve their job prospects, as well as helping researchers accelerate the pace of medical discovery.

Businesses worldwide have proven the power of 3D digital modeling to accelerate discovery, increase quality, simplify design and manufacturing, and enable collaboration and understanding across distances and disciplines. Now, with the advent of Industry of the Future initiatives that simulate and manage every aspect of a facility – from a factory to an entire city – in scientifically accurate 3D via links to the Internet of Things (IoT), knowledge of the technology is becoming increasingly vital to success in the workplace and the research lab.

The growing need for 3D-trained workers and researchers is beginning to stimulate pilot projects designed to demonstrate how 3D can be applied to both education and research. In the process, 3D is teaching hundreds of students that with 3D even the most technical courses can be fun, while giving researchers powerful new tools in their quest for solutions to global challenges.

“3D technologies play an interesting and very important role in bringing students who have abandoned formal learning back into the classroom,” said Jean-François Thoorens, technology teacher at Apprentis d’Auteuil, an academic foundation that provides educational, training and job placement programs to underprivileged students in France.

In his third-year high school class, Thoorens’ students are designing and building a miniature car that they will race against cars developed by students at other schools.

“The students will be involved throughout the different phases of the project,” Thoorens said. “This not only includes the design of a 3D digital mock-up of the car, but its fabrication as well.” In addition, students will generate marketing assets, design a booth for presenting their car at the competition, and give an oral presentation of their work to the competition’s jury.

“3D TECHNOLOGIES PLAY AN INTERESTING AND VERY IMPORTANT ROLE IN BRINGING STUDENTS WHO HAVE ABANDONED FORMAL LEARNING BACK INTO THE CLASSROOM.”

JEAN-FRANÇOIS THOORENS
TECHNOLOGY TEACHER, APPRENTIS D’AUTEUIL

The project-based learning exercise allows students “to experience the way different disciplines collaborate to share ideas and opinions on design choices and techniques...all the activities that need to be performed in real-life situations and that students should master for when they enter the job market,” Thoorens said.

Using 3D design tools contributes to the students’ enthusiasm for their work, increasing their chances of success.

“I really like using the 3D design software to create the car,” said Alassane Gueye, a student in Thoorens’ class. “It’s fun to work with others and share ideas as a group and see our design come to life in three dimensions. A project like this is very motivating and opens up new perspectives for me, as I am currently in the process of deciding which career to pursue when I graduate.”

Learning how to collaborate with others to accomplish a shared goal is a valuable aspect of the project, said Alexandre Petit, another student in Thoorens’ class. “I know this is what I want to do in the future,” he said. “This project has taught me how to be an engineer, but above all how to work in a team.”

BUILD, MEASURE AND LEARN

Base 11 is a California-based organization focused on encouraging more students to choose careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, or to become entrepreneurs and start their own companies. With numerous US industries facing profound shortages of STEM-trained workers, Base 11 focuses on creating opportunities for low-resource students to realize their full potential and find high-paying jobs through STEM training.

“Base 11’s mission is to close the STEM talent pipeline gap, fueled by the underrepresentation of women and minorities, and to transform them into a skilled workforce that industry and our country so desperately need,” said Landon Taylor, CEO of Base 11. “Our goal is to produce 11,000 STEM-trained graduates by the year 2020.”

3D solutions help students to advance in their STEM academic pursuits and prepare for their careers, Taylor said. “3D is effective because it really allows them to work in collaboration with others and to actually follow through on something that we teach, which is to build, measure and learn,” he said. “When you have the opportunity to work in a virtual environment, you have the ability to tinker. Low-resource students don’t usually have that opportunity. If they break something, they won’t have another try at it. Consequently, they fall behind. Working in a 3D virtual environment gives them the ability to iterate, learn, measure and grow. That’s going to increase their motivation and confidence in themselves and, therefore, their skillsets.”

Base 11 has established a partnership with the University of California Irvine’s Samueli School of Engineering, enabling academically gifted but low-income engineering students to study at UCI.

“3D IS EFFECTIVE BECAUSE IT REALLY ALLOWS [STUDENTS] TO WORK IN COLLABORATION WITH OTHERS AND TO ACTUALLY FOLLOW THROUGH ON SOMETHING THAT WE TEACH, WHICH IS TO BUILD, MEASURE AND LEARN.”

LANDON TAYLOR
CEO, BASE 11

“This partnership gives them the opportunity to acquire hands-on experience in engineering, in design and in problem-solving,” said Sharnnia Artis, Samueli’s assistant dean of access and inclusion. “Many of our students, when they come, have no idea what type of 3D technologies are out there. And so when we put these technologies and tools that are being used in industry at their disposal, they are excited and motivated to learn.”

UCI and Base 11 built an Autonomous Systems Engineering Academy lab to provide students with hands-on, project- based learning.

“Through this lab, the students are able to take an idea and turn it into a product,” Artis said. “During the design phase, they can conceptualize their idea in 3D, then put it into a format where they can 3D print it and use our laser technology to bring the concept to life. When they graduate, they already know how to use the same tools that are used in the industry so that when they enter the workforce, they hit the ground running.”

Gregory Washington is Stacey Nicholas dean of engineering at the UCI Samueli School.

“The first group of students that participated in the program last year was blown away,” Washington said. “They learned how to take 3D CAD and use design and engineering principles to build an autonomous drone. Throughout the process they learned principles of aerodynamics, computer science and basic electronics and literally built these machines from the ground up. To see individuals come in a little tepid, a little afraid, and to see them leave with an understanding, ‘I can do it, this is doable,’ is very rewarding. Without 3D tools, you cannot get the results that we want to see in our future engineers.”

TARGETING CLINICAL TREATMENT

A continent and an ocean away, researchers at UK-based University of Sheffield are using 3D technologies to break ground in medical research by predicting the outcome of clinical procedures through 3D modeling and simulation.

Base 11 has established a partnership with the University of California Irvine’s Samueli School of Engineering, enabling talented but low-income engineering students to study at UCI. An Autonomous Systems Engineering Academy lab provides students with hands-on, project-based learning. (Image © Base 11 / UCI)

“Computational modeling and virtual reality are entering many aspects of engineering, medicine, biology and technology,” said Alberto Marzo, lecturer of computational biomechanics. “3D virtual models serve to bridge the engineering and medical worlds because it provides a contextualization of the model data that can improve the dissemination of this data to a non-engineering audience.”

Among other projects, Marzo and his team are studying the treatment of a cerebrovascular condition known as an intracranial aneurism.

“These are abnormal dilations of an artery that can produce devastating consequences if they rupture, causing bleeding in the brain that can lead to death,” he said. “Our students use 3D virtual reality to understand the anatomy of the patient through the development of a computational, patient-specific clinical procedure and to predict the effect of a treatment before actually performing it on a patient.”

The Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine, a collaborative initiative between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is applying new 3D technologies to design a medical device or treat a disease.

“WE AIM TO TRAIN NEW STUDENTS TO BECOME THE ENGINEERS AND RESEARCHERS OF TOMORROW.”

DAMIEN LACROIX
PROFESSOR OF MECHANOBIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD

“We aim to train new students to become the engineers and researchers of tomorrow so that they can actually use the new technologies in a clinical context,” said Damien Lacroix, professor of mechanobiology at the University of Sheffield and director of research at Insigneo.

For Kyle Murdock, a research assistant at Insigneo, 3D is valuable in both research and teaching.

University of Sheffield is pioneering new learning methods based on virtual reality technology to train the students of tomorrow and to help clinicians make better patient-specific decisions. (Image © University of Sheffield)

“3D universes create a collaborative space with which we can analyze different objects or concepts simultaneously, providing more detail in our teaching approach because teaching in virtual reality increases the depth of knowledge,” Murdock said. “Without it, we would be limited in how we can discuss complicated physiological concepts with physicians and students.”

3D also helps clinicians make more informed decisions that create better outcomes for patients, Marzo said.

“To diagnose, treat or monitor disease using 3D simulation models in a very advanced virtual reality environment enables clinicians to rely on engineering principles rather than empirical processes to make better, moreinformed decisions on which treatment is best for each patient,” he said. “The potential to transform health care is substantial.”

LA FONDATION DASSAULT SYSTÈMES

All of the projects featured in this article are recipients of education or research grants from La Fondation Dassault Systèmes.

La Fondation contributes to transforming learning and research experiences by supporting schools, universities, research centers and other not- for-profit organizations as they apply 3D virtual technology to their processes and share their learnings with others in their fields. La Fondation’s objective is to transform the learning experience, help educators increase the employability of their graduates through a holistic, 3D-based approach to teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and expand the boundaries of knowledge by applying 3D to research and intellectual heritage projects.

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

Discover La Fondation Dassault Systèmes: http://3ds.one/lafondation

Uniting for resilience

Cities are facing environmental and social threats through civic cohesion

Sean Dudley

6 min read

Cities around the globe have networks of organizations, systems and processes in place to cope with threats such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters. But a new focus on civic unity – encouraging citizens, businesses and governments to work together to strengthen the community – also is helping cities become more resilient.

When Glasgow, Scotland, hosted the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the city saw an opportunity to not only showcase itself to a global audience, but also benefit the lives of its citizens. A site previously prone to flooding and contaminated from industrial use was cleared, made safe and developed as an athletes’ village. Today, that site is a safe residential area with 1,400 houses.Glasgow’s experience reflects the city’s dedication to resilience, both physical and social. Although resilience traditionally is associated with prevention of and response to major threats, including natural disasters, terrorism and climate change, a growing resilience movement is expanding to focus on creating a better community.

The Rockefeller Foundation, a nonprofit organization headquartered in New York City and dedicated to “improve the well-being of humanity” since its founding in 1913, defines resilience as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow, no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.” The Rockefeller Foundation formalized its resilience ambitions in 2013 by creating the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) movement, which works with cities to enhance global resilience.Three of the 100RC cities – Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Toyama, Japan, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, reflect how widely the challenges can vary – and why resilience is becoming an increasingly important issue for cities everywhere.

COMPARING THREE CIVIL CITIES

Rotterdam faces location-specific challenges – especially flooding – that cannot be ignored. Its leaders, however, are equally focused on social issues.“It’s important from a resilience perspective that our physical systems are robust and resilient,” said Arnoud Molenaar, chief resilience officer (CRO) for the city. “But the same applies for the social fabric of the city. Without a good physical resilience infrastructure, it’s impossible to be a resilient city. But without a good social resilience system, the same applies. Both components are of vital importance.”Rotterdam’s resilience focus includes stepping up its efforts to move companies with a presence in the city away from fossil fuels and toward more sustainable energy sources.

“THE FIRST STEP TOWARD RESILIENCE IS DEFINING WHAT KIND OF CITY YOU WANT TO BE.”

ARNOUD MOLENAAR
CHIEF RESILIENCE OFFICER FOR ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS

“We have to start a journey of transformation,” Molenaar said. “We must find the best way of meeting our resilience goals, which include physical and social factors and cover social cohesion and education, cyber use and security, adaptation to climate change, infrastructure and changing governance.”Like the Netherlands, Japan is renowned for the physical challenges inherent in its geography. But while the city of Toyama has occasional floods, its main challenges are social in nature.“When we look at resilience, we’re not necessarily thinking about catastrophe,” said Joseph Runzo-Inada, Toyama’s CRO. “Relatively, Toyama’s pretty secure. But we do have a declining and aging population, and this affects everything. It means costs go up while the tax base is going down. That’s a stress on our city that we must become more resilient to.”In Vancouver, on the other hand, isolation is a major issue, said Penny Gurstein, professor and director of the School of Community and Regional Planning and the Centre for Human Settlements at the University of British Columbia.“If people don’t know their neighbors or feel comfortable enough to work with their neighbors, that could be a big issue,” she said. “There’s a lot of density in most modern cities, but if a shock occurs and people don’t know how to work together, problems will arise and resilience will be lower.”

100 RESILIENT CITIES

In response to growing concerns about resilience, the Rockefeller Foundation pioneered 100RC to help “cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.”When 100RC was first created, cities globally applied to be part of the new network. An expert panel judged cities’ suitability for membership based on factors such as “innovative mayors, a recent catalyst for change, a history of building partnerships and an ability to work with a wide range of stakeholders.”The foundation’s 100 member cities face vast and varied challenges, including inefficient public transportation systems, endemic violence and chronic food and water shortages.100RC helps cities adopt resilient practices by providing the resources needed to develop a resilience road map. In addition to delivering financial and logistical guidance, the organization helps cities access strategic partners to support their resilience efforts and offers a network for 100RC members to collaborate by learning and sharing ideas.

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Each member city also has a CRO. The CRO is employed by the city to help lead its efforts, work with government departments and stakeholders and act as a “point person” to ensure the city applies a “resilience lens” to all of its plans and projects.

A NETWORK OF RESILIENCE

To help cities become more resilient, 100RC developed a City Resilience Framework, which guides cities in addressing health and well-being; economy and society; infrastructure and environment; and leadership and strategy.“The Resilience Framework helped our city staff and citizens achieve a more comprehensive understanding of resilience and the issues Toyama was better at tackling and not as good at tackling,” Runzo-Inada said. “This framework is a starting point for resilience planning.” CROs are responsible for developing strategic plans to address their cities’ specific challenges. While these differ from city to city, common themes emerge. A city in Asia, for example, could face a threat from earthquakes similar to those faced by a city thousands of miles away in South America. Through the 100RC network, the two cities could benefit from common advice and systems, allowing for improved resilience efforts.“The strategic plan each city produces is its most important tool,” RunzoInada said. “These are shared among the 100RC cities. 100RC also sponsors conferences, and these often provide the best opportunities for one-on-one discussion to help truly understand the significance of the published plans.”

LISTEN AND LEARN

While the 100RC network offers a global forum for resilience challenges, Duncan Booker, Glasgow’s CRO, stresses that it is important for cities to work with local companies and people to quickly identify a city’s most prevalent issues.

“IF PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THEIR NEIGHBORS OR FEEL COMFORTABLE ENOUGH TO WORK WITH THEIR NEIGHBORS, THAT COULD BE A BIG ISSUE.”

PENNY GURSTEIN
DIRECTOR, SCHOOL OF COMMUNITY AND REGIONAL PLANNING, UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA

“When we got together with our local partners, they immediately said to us that the key issue in Glasgow was around tackling inequalities,” Booker said. “That was the real long-term stress on people that we needed to look at. Therefore, in many ways, we believe a more just and a fairer city is the basis for a resilient city.”Rotterdam’s Molenaar emphasizes the need to listen to the collective voice of the city’s most important asset – its people.“We’ve done interviews with around 3,000 citizens in Rotterdam,” he said. “We asked them what they thought was the most important of all the resilience topics, and they consistently told us ‘social resilience.’” By gathering firsthand information from citizens, Rotterdam is now better equipped to identify what it must do to boost resilience and can act as an example for other cities to follow.“The first step toward resilience is defining what kind of city you want to be,” Molenaar said. “Identify what are the major challenges or disruptive transitions you are facing right now and will face in the future. Then define goals and develop an approach to meet these. In Rotterdam, our mission is to come up with solutions that are integrated, multifunctional and always add value to the city in a broad perspective.”

ACCESS TO THE BEST

100RC cities can access a range of platform partners to support resilience efforts. These include global software organizations that can help with resilience planning, as well as companies in resilience-relevant industry sectors such as insurance and transportation.“Through the 100RC system, you can meet the key people in these organizations who are interested in helping with resilience,” Runzo-Inada said. “You have the opportunity to access skills these organizations have and begin to identify how they can help with the specific problems your city faces. Working with these platform partners can be very valuable.”

BETTER TOGETHER

Though the movement’s initial emphasis was on cities’ physical challenges, more CROs today are investing in their citizens to reach their goals.“If you look at an incident that would normally require an ‘emergency’ response, the first responder ideally should be your neighbor,” Booker said. “Therefore, building greater social cohesion across communities is a key aspect of resilience. In Glasgow, most people don’t know or need to know the names of their neighbors. We’ve got a challenge there. But if you start from the point of view of emergencies and of shocks, this is absolutely at the heart of things. This is increasingly becoming a key feature of our resilience approach.”In Vancouver, Gurstein identifies a growing activism across all aspects of society, with civic pride, cohesion and resilience at its heart.“I think when people are pushed to the breaking point, things come out,” she said. “People are saying ‘no’ to things and being more active about enabling positive change in their cities. In Vancouver there’s a growing sense of civic pride and citizens wanting to make a great community, despite pressures such as lack of affordability and house prices in the city. But I think there are enough people saying, ‘This is enough, we have to do something.’ That, for me, is resilience in action.” Such passion is key to resilience, Runzo-Inada said.“I look at cities like athletes,” he said. “Two athletes might have the same ‘measurables,’ but one performs at a consistently outstanding level and the other does not. With athletes, we sometimes talk about ‘heart’ – that immeasurable something extra. Likewise with cities. A resilient city must have civic pride, strong community bonds and deep commitment among citizens. These are not fully measurable qualities, but are fundamental to the creation and sustainability of a resilient city.”

For more information on the 100 Resilient Cities movement:http://3ds.one/Resilient

Machines that learn

Artificial intelligence may transform manufacturing, but adoption is slow

Lindsay James

5 min read

Manufacturers recognize that artificial intelligence offers an exciting future, enabling greater automation, improved predictive maintenance and a move to mass customization. While adoption so far remains slow, experts agree that the combination of human expertise and industrywide collaboration will pave the way for success.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) – defined by San Francisco-based computing company NVIDIA as “human intelligence exhibited by machines,” are being made at breakneck speed. Al comes into play
every time we ask Siri or Alexa a question, view a recommendation by Netflix or add a friend suggested by Facebook.

While AI helps drive many everyday consumer interactions, its power has only recently been felt among businesses.

“AI has reached a tipping point in what it can do for enterprises,” said Mark Purdy, managing director and chief economist at Accenture Research in London. “This is thanks to developments in processing power, data storage, data retrieval, sensors and algorithms. As a result, businesses are now able to optimize processes with intelligent automation systems, augment human labor and physical capital and propel new innovations.”

Business AI breakthroughs are everywhere. Computer scientists at Stanford University’s AI Laboratory in California have trained an algorithm to visually diagnose potential skin cancers. Microsoft has demonstrated a speech- recognition system that makes the same or fewer errors than professional transcriptionists. Scientists at MIT’s Computer Science and AI Laboratory in Massachusetts have mined data from more than 3 million taxi rides to develop a smarter way to move people around Manhattan. And major automakers have used deep learning, a machine learning implementation technique, to create autonomous vehicles that scan, analyze and then respond to their surroundings, aiding drivers in optimizing their decisions and actions.

ADOPTION IN MANUFACTURING

The manufacturing sector, however, is lagging. In an article for media intelligence company Meltwater, Brent Dykes, director of data strategy at Utah-based software company Domo, said that “analytics maturity is a key milestone on the path to being successful with AI.” According to global consulting firm McKinsey, however, manufacturing industries to date have only captured about 20%-30% of the potential value of data and analytics – and most of that has occurred at a handful of industry-leading companies.

“AI HAS REACHED A TIPPING POINT IN WHAT IT CAN DO FOR ENTERPRISES.”

MARK PURDY
MANAGING DIRECTOR AND CHIEF ECONOMIST, ACCENTURE RESEARCH

 
Forrester, a global business and technology research and advisory firm, said that much of this existing value is in preventive maintenance, a specialty of global factory automation equipment producer FANUC. The company is running a Zero Down Time (ZDT) application on its new FIELD system, which collects data from more than 6,000 robots in 26 factories and analyzes it with a machine-learning application. Any issues that could lead to a failure are highlighted, and FANUC sends parts and support to address the issue before downtime occurs.

“FANUC’s FIELD system enables companies to utilize the vast amount of data available to them,” said Steve Capon, technical manager at FANUC UK. “Manufacturing is set to become more intelligent than ever before. By using AI, the scheduling of predictive maintenance requirements to reduce downtime is a reality.”

A BUDDING FUTURE

There is huge potential in other areas too, such as improving factory automation.

FANUC is running a Zero Down Time application on its new FIELD system, which collects data from more than 6,000 robots in 26 factories and analyzes it with a form of AI known as machine learning. (Image © FANUC)

“This is an area of huge opportunity for any company, including Boeing,” Harish Rao, the company’s senior director of data analytics, wrote in Boeing’s February 2017 “Innovation Quarterly” newsletter. “Complex jobs can be automated to improve productivity, quality and safety while helping to meet delivery schedules. Data from sensors on machines can be connected with traditional data, such as design, inventory and safety records, to optimize tasks. Instead of simply identifying a task to be automated, a deep learning model can analyze all the data, determine patterns and recommend the best task for automation.”

Recognizing the potential in AI-driven factory automation, FANUC has invested US$7.3 million (900 million yen) in Japanese deep-learning specialist Preferred Networks (PFN) to create a robot that uses AI to train itself in new tasks.

“NO MATTER HOW GOOD AN AI SYSTEM IS, WITHOUT THE HUMAN CAPITAL TO APPLY AND MAINTAIN IT, MANUFACTURERS WON’T BENEFIT.”

ROBERT ATKINSON
PRESIDENT, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION FOUNDATION

“FANUC is the first company of its kind to integrate AI technology into its products in this way,” said Shohei Hido, chief research officer at Preferred Networks’ California office. “We’ve been trailing AI technology in bin-picking robots, using deep learning to estimate which would be the most successful point inside a bin to pick an object from. This process would usually require an engineer to spend around two weeks at a factory to tune the rule-based system. But by using the AI-enabled system, the robot can learn how to pick any kind of object in a few days, with over 90% accuracy. We expect this technology to be implemented by manufacturers later this year.”

MACHINE TO ORDER

AI also has the potential to facilitate the creation of more adaptive and agile enterprises.

“If manufacturing has progressed from an era of mass to lean, the appetite today is for ‘custom mass manufacturing,’” said Sreenivasa Chakravarti, head of manufacturing innovation and transformation at Tata Consultancy Services. “This implies a lot more responsiveness and quick, on-the-spot decisions. As more product features get postponed toward the latter half of operations, systems will need to respond more rapidly than ever before. This is possible only with machines that learn and adapt to these needs.”

Global sportswear brand adidas is already experimenting with AI-driven custom production, with plans to open a “SPEEDFACTORY” in Atlanta by the end of 2017. Adidas is keeping the specifics secret, saying only that the SPEEDFACTORY will use data to connect the different parts of its production process in a smart way. Robotic technology and 3D printing also will combine to create an automated, decentralized and flexible manufacturing operation. “This allows us to make products for the consumer, with the consumer, where the consumer lives in real time, unleashing unparalleled creativity and endless opportunities for customization in America,” said Eric Liedtke, the company’s group executive board member, in a press release.

A WORK IN PROGRESS

For all of this potential to be realized, however, manufacturers will need to address a major skills gap.

“No matter how good an AI system is, without the human capital to apply and maintain it, manufacturers won’t benefit,” said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), based in Washington, DC. “McKinsey has estimated a shortfall of 140,000 to 190,000 data scientists in the US alone by 2018, as well as an even greater shortage of managers and analysts with the analytical skills needed in a big-data world.” Milind Lakkad, global head and executive vice president of manufacturing at Tata Consultancy Services, also sees a lag between the current state of the manufacturing industry and the pace at which AI is advancing.

20%-30%

According to McKinsey, manufacturing industries to date have only captured about 20%-30% of AI’s potential value.

“For a production facility to be effective, it’s not just the individual machine or equipment that needs to support AI,” he said. “The success of AI will require a close understanding of the dependency of the behavior of one piece of equipment on the other to plan sequenced operations.” To achieve this understanding, Lakkad said, three parallel needs must be met.

“Open and standard protocols for information interchange are required to facilitate cognitive learning,” Lakkad said. “Plus, there’s a need for sustained efforts on the part of all OEMs to bring a larger segment of their installed base ‘under management’ via the smart route. The issue of safety prognosis under such conditions also needs to be addressed. None of this can be done at a company level, but will require the entire industry to collaborate.”

LOOKING AHEAD

While the manufacturing sector plays catch up, advances in AI will continue to evolve.

“Certainly, I think we’ll be amazed at what’s possible a few years down the road,” said Bill Franks, chief analytics officer at the Atlanta branch of the data management and services firm Teradata. “In the end, AI will only lead to more efficiency, more consistent quality and less waste or spoilage for manufacturers.”

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