Future-ready workers?

Today’s schools struggle to prepare students for tomorrow’s workplaces, experts agree

Lindsay James
6 December 2017

5 min read

A new report from the World Economic Forum suggests that today’s education systems are not adequately preparing children for the workplace of the future. Compass asked top educational experts from around the world how they would tackle the challenge.

The world of work is changing, and fast. The rise of technologies that include the Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, 3D printing and blockchain are combining to create the Fourth Industrial Revolution, challenging the way industries operate and transforming their business models too.

This shift will have a profound impact on the employment landscape over the coming years. According to the 2017 “Future of Jobs” report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), for example, one third of the skillsets required to perform work by 2020 will be wholly new.

Educators are facing the prospect of changing their entire curriculum, virtually overnight.

“Many of today’s education systems are disconnected from the skills needed to function in today’s labor markets,” said Till Leopold, project lead for Education, Gender and Work for the WEF in Geneva, Switzerland. “And the exponential rate of technological and economic change brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution is further increasing the gap between education and labor markets.”

Maurice de Hond is founder of the Steve JobsSchool in Amsterdam. Thirty SteveJobsSchools, named after the former Apple CEO, are operating in the Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa. The schools actively incorporate digital skills into their curricula.

“Education systems across the world are failing our children,” de Hond said. “The curricula is, on the whole, geared to a world that no longer exists. Thanks to the rise of digital technologies, we’re in the midst of the biggest revolution we’ve ever witnessed – but traditional establishments are still preparing our children for a business world of the past.”


While the future world of work is shifting with each new technology introduction, one trend is already clear: tomorrow’s jobs will require greater science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) expertise.

At the Steve JobsSchool in Johannesburg, digital skills are actively incorporated into the curriculum. (Image © Steve JobsSchool)

According to 2016 research by the Australian government, in the next decade an estimated 75% of jobs in the fastest-growing industries will need STEM skills. However, according to an October 2017 report by Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times, the number of students enrolled in STEM-related programs in higher secondary and tertiary levels is on a decline.

“It’s no secret that there is a challenge of insufficient STEM education,” said Peter Balyta, president of Education Technology at Dallas-based Texas Instruments (TI). “The number of US jobs in STEM fields is growing about three times faster than non-STEM jobs, with a projected 9 million STEM jobs needing to be filled by 2022.”

As a result, many organizations are looking to promote STEM subjects in schools. Private-sector companies, including TI and Honeywell, have invested in STEM-based initiatives. Meanwhile, a number of nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations have been established to tackle the challenge, including San Antonio-based SASTEMIC, a nonprofit organization focused on inspiring both students and teachers to embrace STEM subjects.

“We offer STEM educational services to students to expose them to STEM career opportunities that are available, which they might otherwise not have access to,” said Jake Lopez, the company’s executive director.

Proponents are especially focused on technology aspects of the STEM shortfall.

‘’Our data shows that, in nearly every industry across the globe, technology skills are becoming increasingly important to employers,” said Joshua Graff, country manager at LinkedIn UK and vice president of Marketing Solutions for the company in the EMEA region. “Globally, cloud and distributed computing rank as the top two skills required, based on employer demand, followed closely by statistical analysis and data mining. This means that, for the world’s educators, developing technology expertise should be the priority.’’


Former US President Barack Obama highlighted the looming mismatch between employer needs and educational output in his 2016 State of the Union address, when he launched the Computer Science (CS) for All initiative and promoted funding for schools to close the digital gap.

“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill, it’s a basic skill,” Obama said in a video following his address. Coding, in particular, the former president said, is vital.

“I strongly believe every child has to have the opportunity to learn this critical skill,” Obama said in September 2017, during a national briefing organized by the CS for All Consortium. “We are inundated with technology, and I don’t want our young people to just be consumers. I want them to be producers of this technology and to understand it, to feel like they’re controlling it, as opposed to it controlling them.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook seconds that goal.

“We think coding should be required in every school because it’s as important as any kind of second language,” he said on a recent visit to Woodberry Down Community Primary School in Harringay, UK. “With a knowledge of coding, children may help find solutions to tomorrow’s problems.”

Despite the increased focus, however, TI’s Balyta believes that something is not working.

“For more than a decade, businesses, nonprofits, community groups, concerned parents and civic leaders have collectively invested hundreds of millions of dollars and countless hours to help improve and advance STEM education,” he said. “The sad truth is we’re not yet getting a great return on our investment.”


Parminder K. Jassal, who leads the Institute for the Future’s Learn and Work Futures Group in California, sees a dark flip side to the emphasis on coding.

“While STEM and coding skills are an important part of the basic skills needed for the future, they are not the key,” she said. “By simply having coding skills, a person might end up having the new blue-collar job of the future – a contract programmer. This job would be similar to factory workers and other manual laborers of the past century and some today. What’s really needed is for the education system to foster future work skills – proficiencies and abilities that will be required across different jobs and work settings. The ability to gain new knowledge is far more valuable than the knowledge itself.”

Singapore Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung also emphasizes a need for lifelong learning skills.

“Besides being a pathway into good jobs and lifelong employability, education also needs to be a journey to fulfill hopes and aspirations,” he said in a March 2017 speech to Singapore’s Parliament. “The two need not be at odds with one another. Education must impart skills, not just information and knowledge. This is for a simple reason – information can be Googled; skills cannot.”


A similar emphasis on practical skills led to the inception of Big Picture Learning, co-founded in Rhode Island by educators Elliot Washor and Dennis Littky, who wanted to demonstrate the need for radical changes in education.

"Today's traditional schools only think about certifying students in academics or career pathways inside the school,” Washor said. “They do not pay attention to whether (students) can do the work in the real world, and they are not paying attention to what students do outside of school that might be developing real-world skills.”

In contrast, he said, Big Picture Learning starts with students’ interests, involves their families and mentors and then develops a college and career pathway plan to help students develop their interests and achieve their goals.

“We have students leave the school building to learn and work with mentors around their interests two days a week,” Washor said. “We focus on real-world certifications before they leave high school and help them accrue college credits while they are in high school that are connected to people and places who know them outside of school and can get them work.”

The Steve JobsSchools take a similar approach.

“Recognizing that success in the future requires an understanding of the basic skills that workers in the future will need, our approach is not about teaching information but about teaching problem solving,” de Hond said. “We focus on three key principles: find, filter and apply. Flexibility is also very important; we concentrate much more on the talents and possibilities of the individual pupils.”

By taking inspiration from these success stories and using experience-led approaches to teach children how to learn, these innovators agree that educators can empower students with the skills they need to tackle problems and independently develop solutions once they arrive in the workplace.

“As new approaches and new technologies emerge, funding and experiments are necessary for identifying the most effective models with potential to scale and create meaningful change in education,” WEF’s Leopold said. “Successful approaches will empower students to be lifelong learners who take ownership of their upskilling throughout their lifetimes.”

Read McKinsey Global Institute’s November 2017 report on the potential shifts in the workplace

Victory at sea

For an expanding group of maritime firms, cloud computing powers competitive advantage

Greg Trauthwein

4 min read

As the maritime industry embraces digital transformation, major players are increasingly focused on one key enabler: the cloud. Compass talked to maritime industry players large and small about why cloud is critical to their digital evolution, and how they are taking advantage of its capabilities to transform their business.

From a two-man naval architecture business in the South Pacific to an 18,000 employee global leader in advanced technologies and power solutions for the marine and energy markets, maritime industry organizations of every size are increasingly looking to cloud computing for transformative capabilities.  

According to James Espino, president of Gnostech Inc. – experts in cybersecurity, software development and Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems engineering for defense and maritime markets – cloud-based solutions allow the maritime industry to implement state-of-the-market technology solutions while being able to better predict their operational expenses and eliminate worry about the capital expenses needed to maintain and manage a complex IT infrastructure.

“Rather than expend resources on maintaining an IT infrastructure, resources can be focused on how technology can be used to increase an organization’s ability to respond to customer needs more quickly,” Espino said. “For example, rather than invest in a physical IT infrastructure, organizations can focus on implementing data analytics and machine learning tools to enhance or implement a condition-based maintenance program to ensure core systems do not shut down at inopportune moments.”


Martin Fischer, a naval architect specialized in hydrodynamics and shape optimization, leads a company of two located on the small island nation of New Caledonia. From this remote locale 750 miles (1,210 km) east of Australia, Fischer seamlessly collaborates on high-level sailboat racing projects, from private high-performance yachts to America’s Cup entries – a business model made possible via the cloud.

“We started using cloud computing about four years ago,” Fischer said. “During the Groupama Team France America’s Cup (project), I was collaborating with people located in France, Italy, Argentina, New Caledonia, Belgium and Spain. Currently, I am working on three different projects with people spread over several countries.”

The Wärtsilä 46 medium-speed marine diesel engine dwarfs a worker. Wärtsilä solutions are sold into vessels operating across the world’s oceans, and power plants in every continent. Being able to develop on the cloud gives Wärtsilä holistic view of their customers’ assets, work with a wide range of partners and create industry-wide value propositions. (Image © Wärtsilä)

These long-distance collaborations through the cloud include creating 3D geometry, structural analyses, computational fluid dynamics, velocity prediction programs and dynamic simulations. This represents massive amounts of data that, if exchanged manually, would cost days or weeks in time, leaving various partners out of step with real-time project developments.

“The interaction between 3D geometry and structural analyses has become much easier and more efficient since we have been using our design and simulation software on the cloud. That’s because all you need to access the 3D models is a password and a web browser.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Wärtsilä, a leading smart technology company with complete lifecycle solutions for the marine and energy markets, which generates €4.8 billion ($5.68 billion) in annual revenue across 200 locations in 70 countries.

“Digital for us is part of our business DNA,” said Marco Ryan, chief digital officer, Wärtsilä. “The capabilities and scale offered by modern cloud vendors and platforms offer a richness of solutions, both in traditional IT and in product-focused areas, affording a technological reach that would be impossible for us to achieve via any other means. We have a proactive approach to the cloud, and today most of our capacity is in the cloud in some form.”

Leveraging the collaborative power of the cloud allows New Calendonia-based naval architect Martin Fischer to seamlessly work with partners around the world on high-level sailboat racing projects, from private high-performance yachts to America’s Cup entries. (Image © Martin Fischer)

That capacity also gives Wärtsilä the means to serve its clients’ vessels anywhere, even when they are far removed from any port.

“Wärtsilä solutions are sold into vessels operating across the world’s oceans, and power plants in every continent. Being able to develop on a cloud fabric allows us to take a holistic view of our customers’ assets, work with a wide range of partners and really create industry-wide value propositions,” said Toby White, vice president of digital engineering, Wärtsilä.

Another benefit? Enabling new processes in manufacturing.

“On the production side, there is still a lot to do,” Fischer said. “For example, composites are still assembled manually by experienced boat builders and composite specialists. But to improve quality and reproducibility of these complex structures, robotics will take over the job. A fully computerized approach is inevitable for these new production methods. A fully cloud-based approach will avoid the manual exchange of information, eliminating a major error source.”


Rather than wait to be disrupted, other players are leveraging cloud computing to create disruptive offers of their own.

“All industries have the potential to be threatened by digitalization, either in terms of new entrants, new channels or new products,” said Juha Rokka, vice president engineering, Ship Intelligence, at Rolls-Royce Marine. The 5,000 employees of the Ship Intelligence business unit, therefore, are focused on developing cloud-based solutions for remote and autonomous ships, including artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies.


Cybersecurity is a top agenda item for most corporations, but corporate leaders should not let those concerns become an excuse for cloud complacency.

“Good cloud service providers can help reduce an organization’s cyber risk exposure,” said Espino. Maritime industry leaders need to view cybersecurity as a risk-based decision and deciding to implement a cloud solution and selecting a cloud service provider should be viewed no differently.

“One risk that a reputable cloud service provider can help mitigate is an organization’s cyber exposure due to obsolesce and poorly maintained hardware and software,” Espino said. “Cloud service providers do not eliminate an organization’s need to have IT and cybersecurity staff, but it can facilitate an environment where these teams can support the organization’s core functions and enhance the customer experience.”



Wärtsilä’s Marco Ryan is even more blunt: “The risk of not adopting an ecosystem mind-set, is that your products and solutions are only available in discrete areas of the ecosystem. As new products and services are created through the sharing of data and interaction of components across the ecosystem, the worst case is that your market access and even your margins are at the mercy of people operating on an entirely different scale. That level of disruption will cause tremendous financial challenges and could even be terminal.”

Real-virtual loops

Visionary companies leverage operational data and virtual models in “digital twins”

William J. Holstein

7 min read

Manufacturers worldwide are building sensors and communications into their devices to collect real-time data. The most advanced are feeding this data into what analysts are calling “digital twins,” creating real-time feedback loops between in-use devices and the 3D simulations used to create them. Compass looks at how four companies are using the insights to improve their customers’ experiences.

The four-stroke diesel engines that Finland-based Wärtsilä designs and manufactures provide power for oceangoing freighters and cruise liners in 70 countries. With a typical lifespan of 25-30 years, they are some of the world’s largest engines. The 2015 edition of Guinness World Records also recognized Wärtsilä’s engines as the world’s most efficient.

How has Wärtsilä done it? Beginning in the 1970s, Wärtsilä recognized that building physical prototypes of each giant engine to identify and eliminate errors was an impossibly expensive proposition. So the company became an early pioneer in using sophisticated 3D modeling and simulation to achieve engine designs that were “right first time” when manufactured.

“Simulation comes very naturally in this business,” said Juho Könnö, manager of the company’s digital design platform. “It’s a lot about getting closer and closer to reality and, when you do that, you better understand your product and what the critical things to look at really are.”

Today, Wärtsilä is feeding its models and simulations with real-world performance data from hundreds of sensors installed on each new engine, creating a “digital twin” simulation that replicates actual, in-service operating conditions.

When used to drive the scientifically accurate 3D simulation, the data allows Wärtsilä experts to visualize how a specific engine is being used and to run “what if?” scenarios in search of opportunities to improve performance. Based on the analysis, Wärtsilä can recommend changes to settings and operating parameters to improve how ship owners operate their engines.

Or, Wärtsilä can incorporate identified design improvements into future engine designs.

GE Power Division is seeking to create fully accurate 3D digital models of its turbines, such as this electric power-generating 9Emax. The models are the first step toward creating a full digital twin to use in optimizing the design for different applications and operating conditions. (Image © GE Power Division)

“Getting the data from the real engines is really important for developing the simulation methodology,” Könnö said. “We try to use that as much as possible to calibrate our engines. We are also using it the other way around, using simulation models to see what and where we should measure on the engine. It’s a symbiosis.”


Worldwide, other innovative companies are striving to arrive at similar sweet spots in their own industries. Combining rapidly expanding computational power, sensor-equipped machinery and real-time data collection and analysis via the Internet of Things (IoT), these companies are driving intelligent 3D simulations to new levels, dramatically improving design and construction processes, manufacturing environments and customer-engagement outcomes.

As a result, Gartner, the information technology consultancy, ranked “digital twin” as one of its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2017.

While most companies have not reached Wärtsilä’s level of sophistication, leaders in other industries also are chasing the benefits of creating a virtual-real loop of continuous feedback and experimentation.

In automotive racing, for example, Onroak Automotive, a design and production unit of the Everspeed Group of France, is in the second year of a three-year project to overhaul the way it builds cars, trains mechanics and drivers, and manages races at Le Mans, the world’s oldest sports car endurance competition. The annual race requires that a vehicle be operated for 24 hours straight and complete 12 loops of a track that is a combination of closed public roads and a race circuit.

Wärtsilä gathers data from physical tests of its finished engines, then uses the data to fine-tune its simulation methodology. That methodology, in turn, is used to calibrate finished engines and plan sensor placements in future engine designs. (Images © Wärtsilä)

Even small advantages can make the difference between winning and losing, and Onroak Automotive believes its digital twin capabilities will give its teams a competitive edge.

“We can use this new system to design and to produce cars,” said Sébastien Metz, the Le Mans site director for Onroak Automotive. “We can also use it as training for the pit stop mechanics. You can know where the parts are placed and how they all fit together and what are the spaces for your hands and whether you can get access to the parts. You can train the mechanics and the drivers. It’s amazing what you can achieve.”

Onroak Automotive is particularly excited about using its twin to manage an actual race. Currently, Onroak Automotive has 10-15 data points on each car, which it can monitor in real time as the data flows into its 3D simulation via the IoT. But Metz anticipates the day when he could have 500 points of data feeding into the digital model, giving the team insights it can use to better manage the race, reduce cost and enhance its victory prospects.

“At some point, we will be able to simulate a pit stop (before it happens),” Metz said. “We can help the crew choose the right type of tire, depending on track conditions. We can simulate different weather conditions, whether it is raining or dry. We can simulate the real life of the car on the track.”

Like Wärtsilä, Onroak Automotive is seeking to achieve a two-way flow of information between the real and virtual car, insights that he expects will save 5%-8% on fuel. Eliminating even one pit stop, Metz said, could be the key to winning a race. Onroak Automotive also hopes to apply what it learns on the racetrack to high-end features for consumer vehicles.


In terms of sheer size, one of the world’s largest rollouts of the digital twin concept is occurring in Palu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where an international consortium of energy companies is planning a €9.8 billion (US$11.5 billion) integrated crude oil refinery, strategic oil reserve and downstream petrochemical processing complex.

The Palu GMA Refinery Consortium (PGRC) in late September 2017 announced a four-year project to build a new greenfield refinery, inspired in part by the live-data simulation that nearby Singapore is creating for its entire city-state. Known as Virtual Singapore, the simulation allows city planners to visualize, understand and optimize everything from traffic, waste disposal and air quality to the placement of new buildings. PGRC’s digital model will help optimize the complex’s physical design and then streamline its construction, managing construction sequencing, coordinating subcontractors, eliminating errors and reducing waste and rework. Mohammad Rusydi, PGRC’s CEO and investment and finance director, said it is the first integrated refinery built using a complete virtual replica. Going beyond a 3D model, Rusydi said, PGRC’s digital twin is linked to two other dimensions – scheduling and project management, plus budget control.

“We call it 5D,” he said. “The project will be completed on time and we will not be facing any cost overrun.” Once operations begin, Rusydi said, “We can run a parallel digital refinery. Everything can be tested and simulated in the digital twin. We can attack a problem before it happens.”

For example, the digital model will alert managers to equipment that is wearing out, allowing them to replace it before it fails, and will be used to train operators on how to respond to a fire or other emergency. “It’s like an airline pilot doing training in a simulator,” he said. “If there is a fire in the cockpit, they know how to handle it.”

Rusydi said the consortium expects that insights provided by its digital twin will allow PGRC to build the complex for 25% less than blueprint-driven construction, with operational improvements of 15%-20%, compared to industry standards.

Virtual Singapore offers many services for citizens and visitors. Currently in development: a service for identifying personalized commuting options. Consider a sample scenario: Marisole usually takes the 7:45 am MRT rush-hour train from Jurong East station to her office near Raffles Place. In the future, she will be able to check Virtual Singapore for a less crowded option.The commuting function will show her choices, including a pre-peak train at 7 am and a bus at the same time. Both options qualify for a free pre-peak fare; because the train station is a shorter walk and the system shows an approaching rain storm, Marisole will choose the train. (Left image © monkeybusinessimages / iStock; right image © Virtual Singapore)


While new projects like the PGRC refinery complex begin life as a digital twin, project development and manufacturing processes created in a pre-digital era have the difficult challenge of retrofitting the concept into long-established processes. General Electric’s turbine division is dealing with just such a challenge. Its products – used to generate power for industry and utilities – include as many as 60,000 parts, according to Jeff Erno, head of Virtual Product Development for GE Power Generation in Greenville, South Carolina.

Because they are installed worldwide in a host of different climates and elevations, fine-tuning each turbine to achieve optimum efficiency in its particular setting is an ongoing challenge.

“A machine running on a top of a rainy mountain has completely different components than one operating in a dry valley,” Erno said. “That’s the nature of the beast.”

Each of the division’s different functions – design, parts engineering, systems engineering and manufacturing, among others – have traditionally focused on that team’s relatively narrow challenges, without full visibility into the overarching vision. Instead, each function works in specialized, disconnected computer silos, forcing them into sequential processes that interfere with real-time collaboration on interrelated issues.

“Nobody sees in virtual 3D what our product looks like,” Erno said. “The (legacy) tools historically do not handle the data well. The CAD systems and simulation systems don’t give you a good way to see what it looks like.” The first task for GE Power Generation, Erno said, is to create a “digital thread,” a single set of consistent, real-time data that each function and department can access and that automatically updates as changes occur anywhere along the value chain. Converting that digital thread into a robust digital twin of a core turbine, he said, would allow each function to optimize the design for different applications and operating conditions.

“That’s what we’re trying to use this technology for – to handle these different configurations,” Erno said. “You would not be burdened by managing them completely differently.” A single master model, he said, would accelerate the development of site-specific turbines and greatly reduce costs.

While companies in different industries and countries are at different points on the journey toward realizing the benefits of digital twins in their operations, Wärtsilä, Onroak Automotive, PGRC and GE Power Generation consider the technology a genuine game-changer – one that could enable enormous advantages over less visionary and committed competitors. 

For more information on Virtual Singapore

Silicon-free semiconductors

Nanomaterials provide alternatives for powering devices for the Internet of Things

Rebecca Gibson and Michele Witthaus

5 min read

Smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs, drones, smartwatches – even refrigerators – all get their “intelligence” from tiny semiconductors, which carry an electric current when exposed to heat, light or electric fields. As the shrinking size of electronic devices tests the limits of silicon-based semiconductors, however, the market for conductive nanomaterials is growing.

As Internet of Things (IoT) devices decrease in size, semiconductor manufacturers are also looking for ways to make their products smaller, as well as more powerful, energy-efficient and reliable. Increasingly, that means seeking alternatives to silicon. Nanomaterials are emerging as a top contender.

Broadly defined as materials measured in billionths of a meter, nanomaterials are faster, lighter and more energy-efficient than silicon.

“Today’s silicon semiconductors are already nanotechnology – the feature size of silicon devices has reached as small as 10 nanometers,” said Aravind Vijayaraghavan, lecturer in nanomaterials at the UK’s University of Manchester. “A number of nanomaterials, like nanotubes, nanowires and nanoparticles, are being investigated for various roles in semiconductor device technology.”

Identifying alternatives is important to developing the next generation of semiconductors, said Raman Chitkara, Global Technology Industry leader at professional services network PwC.

“Emerging disruptions coming from digitalization and the Internet of Things will include smart manufacturing, autonomous cars, drones, augmented and virtual reality, robots and other new forms of artificial intelligence – and semiconductors will be an essential element of these and other major technological innovations,” Chitkara said.


Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) – hollow cylindrical tubes composed of carbon atoms that have a 1 nanometer diameter and are stronger than steel – are a promising semiconductor alternative. Although CNTs are 10,000 times thinner than a human hair, their unique structure – a large surface area relative to their ultra-small dimension – allows them to carry a current at higher speeds and detect electrical changes more precisely than silicon transistors.

“CNTs are currently in high demand,” said Andrew McWilliams, research analyst at market research firm BCC Research, based in Wellesley, Massachusetts. “The most interesting property of carbon nanotubes from a semiconductor standpoint is their extremely high electrical conductivity. Meanwhile, nanotubes’ extremely high thermal conductance helps to avoid the excessive thermal buildup associated with semiconductors.”

For example, in 2016, a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced it had developed a CNT transistor that could conduct current 1.9 times higher than a comparable silicon transistor. The team predicted that CNT transistors eventually will be five times faster, or use five times less energy, than silicon transistors.



“This breakthrough in CNT transistor performance is a critical advance toward exploiting CNTs in logic, high-speed communications and other semiconductor electronics technologies,” said Michael Arnold, professor of materials science and engineering at the university, in a paper published in Science Advances.

Another promising material: multiferroics, which are both magnetic and ferroelectric, with reversible electric polarization. They have the potential to enhance device functionality, thanks to the special nature of “spin waves” associated with polarization in these materials.

“We will see a lot more integration of functional materials – magnetic, ferroelectric, multiferroic, 2D materials – because they can bring sufficient new capabilities to devices to make it worthwhile to deal with the manufacturing challenges of bringing in a new material,” said Caroline Ross, associate head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ross specializes in magnetic materials and nanotechnology.


Identifying which nanomaterials could potentially be used as semiconductors takes a significant amount of research time, resources and money. However, virtual simulation and design software can provide a cost-effective tool for helping researchers to quickly model and predict the behavior of different materials at a nanoscale, pinpoint feasible options and create new design rules for engineering them into semiconductors.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois, for example, used a computer model to simulate the growth and electrical conductivity properties of 2D silicone, and quickly discounted it as a contender. The model has advanced since then, enabling researchers to quickly explore the semiconducting properties of other 2D materials.

“Essentially, we did virtual ‘experiments’ to optimize different variables, all at a much lower cost than in the lab,” said Badri Narayanan, Argonne materials scientist and joint lead author, when the research became public. “Now, others can avoid much of the trial and error within the lab. Instead, they can experiment using the optimized set of conditions our model predicts to best yield the structures and properties they desire.”


Additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing, holds promise for engineering the complex structures of nanomaterials. However, progress has been slow because the beneficial performance and structural properties of nanomaterials are difficult to maintain when scaling them to a workable level for use in semiconductors.

But a breakthrough in July 2016 by a team at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, produced flexible, lightweight metallic nanostructures with good electrical conductivity. Digital light processing enabled the team to scale up its designs to usable size.

Industry observers have suggested that this process could, in the future, be applied to single-atom 2D materials like graphene – the thinnest and strongest known material – making it easy to mass produce. Although graphene is pliable, transparent, inexpensive to produce and has high thermal and electrical conductivity, researchers must find ways to introduce a band-gap (the distance between the valence band of electrons and the conduction band) to the material to transform it into a semiconductor.

“Graphene is not a traditional semiconductor so it won’t directly replace silicon, but new tunneling transistors that combine graphene with other 2D materials could potentially replace silicon devices,” the University of Manchester’s Vijayaraghavan said. “Other graphene-like 2D materials that have a band-gap could also be used to fabricate electronic devices. The €1 billion European Graphene Flagship – the European Union’s academic-industrial consortium for graphene research – is the biggest concerted effort on this topic. Looking beyond conventional computer chips, graphene could be used in quantum computing, but this research is still in its infancy.”

Graphene may be a relatively new material, but researchers have been quick to exploit its qualities. For example, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has grown semiconductor nanowires on graphene to create 1 micrometer-thick hybrid material that could act as a semiconductor in solar cells, LED components, sensors and batteries.

According to MIT’s Ross, a major barrier to progress in engineering semiconductors with new nanomaterials like graphene is the difficulty of integrating them into current manufacturing processes. “Even materials with obviously good properties have to be produced in a way that is compatible with the underlying silicon, which dominates the industry,” she said.


Now, graphene is being used to produce conductive inks that can be 3D printed, enabling manufacturers to integrate semiconductors and electrical circuits for use in IoT devices. In August 2017, for example, the University of Manchester unveiled a flexible, battery-like device that can be screen-printed directly onto washable textiles with conductive graphene-oxide ink.

“The development of a graphene-based, flexible textile supercapacitor using a simple and scalable printing technique is a significant step toward realizing multifunctional, next-generation wearable e-textiles,” Nazmul Karim, who is Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the UK’s National Graphene Institute and co-author of the research, said when the technology was announced. “It will open up possibilities of making an environmental-friendly and cost-effective smart e-textile that can store energy and monitor human activity and physiological condition at the same time.”

Using graphene-based ink in radio-frequency identification (RFID) antennas is another promising area of activity for IoT applications. “If we can commercialize graphene inks that are suitable for printing the entire RFID tag, they may occupy a sweet spot of cost, conductivity and other properties that will enable them to carve out a growing share of the market for conductive inks,” BCC’s McWilliams said.


Despite early signs of success and rapid nanotechnology development, the adoption of nanomaterial semiconductors in mainstream devices may be at least a decade away.

“The most significant barrier to innovation in semiconductor materials is the cost for the integrated circuit industry to introduce new semiconductor materials and the corresponding new equipment and technology,” said Luo Jun, professor of the Integrated Circuit Advanced Process Center at the Institute of Microelectronics of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Those challenges must be solved, PwC’s Chitkara said. “We can’t march toward a hyperconnected planet where people and devices can communicate with each other at increasingly higher speeds, with greater reliability and at rapidly declining costs, without the continuing innovation in the semiconductor industry.”

Learn how to create the core of next-generation electronics through virtual design

Working well

To boost well-being, employers focus on the workplace experience

Jacqui Griffiths

6 min read

Increasingly, more organizations are recognizing that employee health and happiness contribute to business success. As a result, many businesses are proactively weaving well-being into the workplace.

Many of the world’s most successful businesses have a reputation of caring about their workers’ well-being. Look at the Coca-Cola Company, whose workers enjoy free fruit, gym passes and flexible hours to help them stay healthy and achieve a work-life balance. Or Unilever, which recently launched a “Wellbeing Zone” with four sections for conversation; refreshment, with free, healthy snacks; movement, including yoga, massage and stretching classes, as well as a work-station treadmill and quiet. 

“The purpose of the Zone is to provide our people with a space for mindfulness, meditation, rest and recovery,” said Mike Clementi, vice president of human resources at Unilever, in an interview with Thrive Global website.

These companies’ efforts are more than recruiting tools. The correlation between happy, healthy employees and business success was underlined in 2016, when three studies published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that publicly traded organizations with outstanding well-being programs significantly outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

While it is difficult to prove direct causality between a well-being program and business performance, employers increasingly are linking the two. The UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for example, found in its 2016 “Absence Management Survey” that organizations most commonly increase their focus on well-being because they want to be a great place to work – an important factor in attracting and retaining talent. Nearly half of the companies surveyed for the report said they believe employee well-being is linked to business performance.

Employer focus on employee well-being is more the exception than the rule, however. According to US-based think tank Global Wellness Institute (GWI) in its 2016 report ”The Future of Wellness at Work,” 76% of the world’s workers are “struggling” or “suffering” with their physical well-being and 38% suffer work-related stress. Although many employers are putting well-being programs in place, their success is mixed. In the US, for example, GWI found that only 40% of employees with well-being programs say that the programs actually improve their health and wellness.


Ophelia Yeung, senior research fellow at GWI and co-author of the report, advises that to address employee well-being successfully, businesses need to look at the causes of employee stress and illness.

“Many employers are stuck in a ‘workplace program’ mode with separate measures to help employees lose weight, stop smoking or manage stress,” Yeung said. “But when stress is caused by work, it’s not enough simply to deal with the result. You need to take a proactive approach to prevent it. The way people interact, the way they arrange their work, the way leadership and management manifest – all of that drives the stress level. This is not simply a health issue; it’s fundamental to the workplace experience.”

Changes in the expectations of employers and employees also make it increasingly important to extend well-being efforts throughout the workplace experience, experts say.

“Automation is changing the nature of people’s work,” said Andy Swann, a consultant on people-focused change at BDG, a UK-based architecture and design company that helps organizations create people-friendly workplaces. “For the past 200 years or so, we’ve needed people to work like robots, doing repetitive tasks. But now that we have robots to do those jobs we need people to think, create, collaborate and care. We need people to be people now, and that’s causing organizations to focus on nurturing them through the experience they give them.”

As the nature of work changes, so do employee expectations.

“Millennials don’t expect to advance in the same company (for their entire careers), so they’re looking for something else to make it worthwhile for them,” Yeung said. “Boomers are also aware of a finite timeline as they approach retirement, so they’re not going to put up with a bad experience. It’s not just about money or advancement for these people; the experience needs to be meaningful to them and help them to grow. Employers are looking at how they can get that intrinsic motivation, and caring for their employees’ well-being, offering flexibility and making sure they’re happy is the key.”


Pioneers in this area are embracing well-being as an area of convergence among departments, Swann said.

“For a long time, departments such as human resources (HR) and facilities management have been fighting the same agenda,” Swann said. “Ultimately, they want to find out how the company can unleash its people to work at their best – and they’re starting to realize that entails a convergence of all these areas, from recruiting and retaining people to designing the workplace to help them work better. We’ve seen traditional HR give way to ‘director of people’ roles focused on how to nurture a great culture within the organization – and what’s really interesting right now is the emergence of the employee experience.”

Online hospitality marketplace Airbnb, for example, appointed Mark Levy as its “Director of People.” Levy brought together separate HR functions that had reported to different parts of the organization. The functions included talent, recruiting and “ground control,” a group that focused on the workplace culture. The combined functions became the Employee Experience department, with Levy as global head of Employee Experience. The department focuses on the health and happiness of Airbnb employees with programs that range from rewards to talent programs, food and facilities and safety and security.

Meanwhile, the UK operations of marketing communications organization Ogilvy Group worked with BDG to create an environment that fosters well-being balance at its London offices.

“A number of the group’s companies are co-located in the same building,” Swann said. “Each company has its own branded workplace, but the building is 40% shared space so people can flow into communal areas to encourage cross-collaboration between the companies. There are outdoor areas, a roof terrace, bars, restaurants and coffee shops, and places to sit over at the River Thames. There’s a lot of natural light and a curated series of events for employees. All these things come together to make a complete experience around the people.”

While Ogilvy’s approach is not yet widespread, more companies are moving in similar directions.

“Other companies are beginning to converge their well-being approaches around the employee experience,” Swann said. “For example Sky, a UK-based entertainment and telecoms company, is doing some really progressive things in building a workplace and creating a brand experience for its people. And LEGO is rolling out its ‘new ways of working’ philosophy around flexible and agile working across its global sites.”

LEGO’s philosophy is proving a hit with workers. In its May 2016 survey, 88% of staff of the family-owned Swedish-based company said they liked being able to work in a variety of settings to suit their mood. In 2017, the approach has been rolled out to new offices in Shanghai and Singapore.

“New ways of working will further help facilitate our collaborative spirit in the company and reflects our value of caring and respecting our people,” said Stephen Joseph Burke, vice president of HR for LEGO China, at the Shanghai hub’s opening. “An old Chinese proverb says that if you are harmonious in the family you will be prosperous, and we believe that a harmonious work environment is necessary to achieve excellent results and sustainable growth.”

Providing free and healthy snacks, as Google’s head office in Gurgaon, India, does, is an immediate and low-cost way to encourage better eating habits for employees. (Image © Hindustan Times / Getty Images)


Putting well-being at the heart of the workplace experience also has the potential to help businesses recruit and retain the talent and skills they need. In the “Global Recruiting Trends 2017” report from professional social network LinkedIn, 83% of recruiters said that talent is the top priority at their company. Employee referrals are the leading source of quality hires for 48%.

A workplace experience with well-being at its core helps to generate employee referrals and reviews, Swann said. “If you give someone an amazing employee experience they’re going to tell people, just as they will if you give them an amazing customer experience.”

The more competitive the industry, the more likely a company is to use employee well-being as a recruiting tool.

“Proactive approaches to well-being are becoming the norm in competitive sectors where businesses need to attract people who can choose where they work,” Yeung said. “They’re using these measures to attract the most desirable employees, and they’re setting the trends.”

Smart technology also plays a key role in meeting workers’ expectations and encouraging them to spread the word, said Jeanne Meister, co-author of The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules for Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees.

“Millennials are digital natives, and they expect intelligent digital experiences,” Meister said. “The next step is to use intelligent technology to reinforce an individual commitment to well-being through work. Virgin Pulse and Fitbit are leading the way by providing fitness monitoring technology that employers can use to encourage healthy habits. These companies enable easy integration with an employer’s other benefits programs. Employees have a personalized interface to connect with the options most relevant to them, and employers can measure and analyze engagement with those programs to see how effective they are.”

Meister noted that the technology links health and fitness to productivity and helps to nurture employees as advocates for the brand. “Fitness apps and wearables add a new dimension to brand advocacy because they have a social media capability that lets employees share how great the company is and how they’ve met their well-being goals with friends and members of their team.”

The benefits of well-being programs are often intangible, and it can be difficult to prove definitive links between a certain measure and trends such as a reduction in employees taking sick leave. But aspects such as business performance, employee referrals and brand advocacy are persuasive indicators of the value people place on an employer that cares about employees’ well-being. 

A home on Mars

What would it take to establish a sustainable, habitable base on Mars?

Sean Dudley

5 min read

In 2019, NASA will launch two new missions to look for life on Mars. Though the challenges are great, the possibility of a sustainable, habitable base on Mars is edging closer.

Since the first close-up picture of the planet was taken in 1965, one question has driven NASA’s Mars Exploration Program – is there life on the red planet? 

Fifty years on, Mars missions, including new evidence gathered by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which began orbiting the planet in 2006, continue to indicate that water was present on Mars, strengthening the prospect that Martian life forms could exist now or might have existed in the past. 

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” John Grunsfeld, astronaut and former associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC, said when announcing the MRO’s findings in 2015.

To investigate further, NASA is now making plans that could lead to a sustainable human presence on Mars.

“In 2019, we will begin launching the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft on missions thousands of miles beyond the moon,” said Jim Wilson, public affairs officer for Mars Exploration in the Office of Communications at NASA in Washington, DC. “The plan is to build up a deep-space infrastructure in the area of the moon, starting with a sort of ‘spaceport’ known as a deep-space gateway. This would allow astronauts to dock Orion, and could also potentially support international and commercial exploration efforts. Eventually, we would build a deep-space transport network for journeys deeper into the solar system, and ultimately to Mars.”

NASA wants to “establish an area on Mars with good scientific interest and resources for crew that we can return to multiple times,” Wilson said. The US space agency envisions a base with a “radius of about 60 miles for astronauts and rovers to explore,” and recently announced that it will collaborate with Russia to build the first lunar space station as part of a multi-phase effort toward this vision.

A 3D virtual model of a structure on Mars, designed by Mars City Design and viewed on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. (Image © Dassault Systèmes)

Sydney Do, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said the US space agency’s goal is to land humans on the surface of Mars by the late 2030s.

“I’d envisage that after we spend some time in Martian orbit, we’d test our landing technologies in an unmanned manner and test our launch systems with no crew, but monitored from Martian orbit,” Do said. “Eventually, when we get that technology right, we’d look to establish a research station with six to eight people on the surface, focusing on studying the geological history of Mars, examining its planetary science and answering the question of if there ever was or is currently life on Mars.”


Before humans touch down on the red planet, however, researchers must overcome some serious obstacles.

“The logistical problems associated with Mars stem from the ‘tyranny of the rocket equation,’” said Charles Polk, general manager of the Martian Trust – a transnational charitable trust aiming to raise the money and fund the projects that result in a self-sustaining research settlement on Mars. “Namely, having to carry all the mass and energy needed to take one kilogram from Earth to Mars requires propelling thousands of kilograms of propellant. Approaches to Mars either accept the tyranny, such as one-way missions and bootstrap self-sufficiency, or accommodate the tyranny, such as in-orbit refueling and production of propellants on Mars.”

This image taken on May 21, 2017, by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows how snow and ice have inexorably covered the dunes. Unlike on Earth, this snow and ice is carbon dioxide, better known to us as dry ice. (Image © NASA)

Wilson also highlights the human challenges.

“How do we keep crew healthy and safe during a journey of six to nine months?” he said. “How do we protect them against radiation? We’ve learned a lot about this already from the experience of having crew on the International Space Station. We’ve had an astronaut, Scott Kelly, live on the station for a year, and we’ve done many experiments on all aspects of astronaut health, such as the effects of microgravity on muscles, bones and vision. We’ve had astronauts grow and eat their own vegetables on the Space Station, which is something else they’ll need to do on the long trip to Mars.”

A human mission also means landing much more mass than required for an unmanned mission. “As much as 20 times more, according to some estimates,” Wilson said. “The atmosphere on Mars is extremely thin, so we can’t really use that to slow down very much. The challenge is developing techniques to slow down enough to land safety.”


NASA’s Do is one of many scientists researching how to overcome each hurdle.

“In terms of sustaining human programs on Mars over a long period of time, one technology that has been recognized as being critical is something called ‘in situ resource utilization,’ which is essentially technologies that enable you to live off the land,” Do said. “If, as we believe, there’s water on Mars and we can extract it, we can break it down into oxygen and hydrogen. Oxygen is breathing gas, as we know, and hydrogen is one form of rocket fuel.”

A city design concept inspired by neurosynthesis was entered into an annual competition sponsored by Mars City Design, which aims to inspire architects and artists to create a sustainable home on Mars. (Image © Mars City Design)

Researchers’ ultimate hope, however, is to combine some of that hydrogen with carbon dioxide extracted from the Martian atmosphere to create methane fuel, Do said. “Through this, there’s a possible space resource network.”

In 2020, NASA will send MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) to the red planet, along with the Mars 2020 Rover, to test the potential of manufacturing oxygen and fuel after humans arrive on Mars.

“This will be attempting to extract oxygen from the atmosphere at about 1% of the level you would need for a human exploration mission,” Do said. “That’s essentially going to break carbon dioxide down into oxygen and discard the remaining carbon and carbon monoxide. This is an attractive technology because you can send a spacecraft there and refuel it by processing local materials. You can leave Earth knowing your ride home is all ready to go.”

3D printing could help with other challenges of Mars.

“In space, the cost of transportation is very high and would make sustaining a team of researchers on Mars very expensive,” Do said. “3D printing is one way of reducing these costs. Instead of sending a spare part from Earth, for example, if you could 3D print on Mars using either feedstock sent from Earth, or ultimately feedstock produced on Mars by mining local resources, that would be a key cost reducer.”


Others focused on overcoming the challenges of establishing human colonies on Mars include Mars City Design, which provides an outlet for innovators, dreamers, visionaries and sci-fi enthusiasts to showcase their ideas.

The crowdsourced design movement sponsors annual competitions aimed at inspiring architects and artists to create what founder Vera Mulyani calls “a new blueprint for sustainable life on Mars.” Each year’s competition includes categories in urban design, architecture, health and infrastructure, all aimed at helping to turn ideas into reality.

“The goal of Mars City Design is to go outside the box in terms of innovation that can create a better technology for sustainability for Earth,” Mulyani said. “Mars is becoming this motivation to go beyond what we know already.”

Elder design

Simplifying life for an aging population

Dan Headrick

4 min read

Working to reshape the world for a rapidly aging global population, designers and engineers are learning to apply the concepts and technologies of their fields to address the clouding eyes, aching bodies and broad life experiences of the elderly.

Modern design reflects the fact that today’s designers and engineers are being asked to do something remarkable: retool the world for a rapidly aging global population, and do it on a tender and personal level.

From easy-open pickle jars for arthritic hands to accessible parks and cities that promote social interaction, bright young designers are learning to look at products, buildings, transportation networks, communication grids, open spaces and community structures from an older person’s perspective.

The need is great and growing. Due to falling birth rates and longer life expectancies, the world’s percentage of elderly people – defined by most demographers as those 65 and older – is rising dramatically. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people over the age of 65 is expected to triple from 524 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion by 2050. For the first time ever, people over 65 outnumber children under five. The elderly also represent the fastest growing demographic segment worldwide.


Technologists and policy planners have started to act. For example, to help guide design for the aged, engineers at Nissan, Ford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed old age “suits” that simulate the physical infirmities of an 85-year-old, complete with cloudy vision, stiff joints and wobbly balance. Experiencing the physical effects of age helps engineers better understand the needs of the elderly.

1.5 billion

The World Health Organization expects the number of people over the age of 65 to triple from 524 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion by 2050.

Even new technology is getting the elder-design treatment. While the elderly have tended to adopt new technologies at a lower rate than the general population, that trend might be changing. A report on technology use among seniors from global think tank Pew Research Center found that some segments of this group – especially among the more affluent and educated – are using digital technologies at a higher rate than typical for past generations.

For example, smartphone ownership among people 65 and older has doubled since 2013 in the United States. In the Netherlands, at least five insurers reimburse users of smart home sensors, which monitor indicators such as changes in gait that could give advance warning of a fall. Amazon’s voice-controlled digital assistant Echo answers questions, calls relatives, controls appliances and even reads the news. On-demand online services deliver groceries, medicines and rides to the doorstep of otherwise home-bound people.


“Over the years, I have learned to put myself in place of the user I design for,” said Sahar Madanat Haddad, founder and chief designer of Sahar Madanat Design Studio in Amman, Jordan. “This comes from first understanding the user, being attentive to their needs, spoken and unspoken, and studying their day-to-day life. It’s simply designing with empathy. When it came to designing for the elderly in particular, the first thing that we noticed is that most elderly do not want to use products that look assistive.”
Her latest product, a household emergency response kit to perform CPR and defibrillation, looks like a stylish, rolled pad that is, according to the product concept, “As simple as a pillow and a blanket, and as familiar as tucking someone in!”

Similar efforts are popping up worldwide. Sha Yao, an industrial designer who graduated from Soochow University in Taiwan with a degree in Japanese language and culture, created a spill-proof tableware set for Alzheimer’s patients. Students at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan, have developed a cloud-linked, wearable Tremor Acquisition and Minimization (TAME) glove, which suppresses wrist tremors that can hinder the performance of daily activities.


Products are not the only items getting a makeover – living environments are, too. In 2016 in the UK, for example, government and National Health Service officials announced plans to build 10 completely new towns with 76,000 senior-friendly homes throughout England. In the Netherlands, residents at the revolutionary Hogeweyk dementia care facility live in a village with shopping and parks designed with architectural features that replicate diverse, yet familiar, cultural references to experiences common to its residents.

That same concept is being tested in the United States at an Alzheimer’s facility in San Diego, which replicates a 1950s-era town square. The facility was designed to stimulate memories and conversations among its residents, who are reminded of their youth by the carefully curated surroundings.

Inspired by her experience as a caregiver for her grandmother, Sha Yao created a spill-proof tableware set for Alzheimer’s patients. (Image © Sha Yao)

Singapore, which has one of the world’s fastest aging populations, has embarked on an ambitious program that is becoming a model for other cities. The multi-pronged, comprehensive plan features more than 70 initiatives across a dozen segments, including health, education, employment, volunteerism, financial security, housing, transportation, public spaces and social inclusion. Moreover, the initiative addresses a multi-cultural population with four different official languages, whose citizens observe a wide array of holidays and traditions from different cultures.

“An interesting thing about designers is that they are encouraged to think outside the box and be creative,” said Ellen Do, a professor of Architectural and Industrial Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Do also is co-director of the Keio-National University of Singapore’s CUTE Center (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments), and has worked for the Singapore Active Aging Council.

“They (designers) would learn all the techniques and tools – materials, geometry, perspective such as bio-inspired design, sustainability, efficiency, high-tech, low-tech, 3D printing, parametric modeling, human-centered and ergonomic centric.”

But, the challenge for young designers today, she said, is developing empathy for the elderly so that they can create tools that help older citizens navigate the world in innovative ways. “You can teach people techniques, and how to use the tools, but the important thing is about generating insights, being able to evaluate, to reflect, to understand the users and be in their shoes.”

Construction disruption

Reinventing construction with manufacturing techniques

Maryann Dennehy & Rachel Callery

2 min read

Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) applies processes developed by manufacturing companies to the challenges of construction. Compass spoke with Javier Glatt, co-founder and CEO of the integrated construction and manufacturing technology company CadMakers, about building the world’s largest mass-timber building with DfMA techniques.

COMPASS: What makes CadMakers’ approach to construction unique?

JAVIER GLATT: We’re technology driven. We want to manufacture buildings at scale. To do that, we need to apply manufacturing principles that often start far before you get to the site, so that the time onsite is minimal, because that’s where most of the money gets spent.

Can you give us an example of a recent construction project that involved manufacturing principles?

JG: We recently completed work on Brock Commons, also known as the Tallwood House project, an 18-story, hybrid mass-timber building. It’s the tallest of its sort in the world. Most of the building was manufactured and then installed onsite, as opposed to stick built.

Most architectural, engineering and construction projects in 2017 involve a lot of interoperability requirements. You have an architect and structural, mechanical and geotechnical engineers, along with construction contractors, such as fabricators who focus on windows, and installers of plumbing systems, and almost everyone’s using their own software. No one can see what the other trades are doing, so there’s a lot of negotiation onsite.



With Tallwood House, we created a single, fully integrated 3D model. It has all the information from various trades, which is then disseminated to the different teams. That process is more prevalent in the manufacturing world for a car or a plane, but we were trying to apply this to construction on a design-bid-build procurement project. From a risk perspective, and from a structural engineering perspective, the science was pretty strong. We knew it was possible, but we weren’t sure if it’s been done with wood construction.

How does technology improve the process?

JG: The Tallwood House project is a positive case for what it means to truly collaborate in the process of planning and designing not just the building, but also the process to build the building. If you can connect design and construction by having a fully integrated 3D model at an extreme level of definition, you can get the people who are going to build the building involved much earlier. It’s a good way to communicate because everyone can visualize the project. You can ask questions like: ‘If we can build this way, can we go much faster? Can we save a lot of money that can be invested in other areas?’

Javier Glatt, Co-Founder and CEO, CadMakers

How did “Design for Manufacturing” pay off on the Tallwood House project?

JG: It was incredibly fast, because we had everything integrated in one spot and everyone speaking the same language and then getting the feedback from people who were going to build it. We also digitalized the entire process within the simulation software. The building went up in nine weeks – 17 stories of structure built. This is pretty quick in the construction of tall buildings, and I think that’s the major takeaway. If we can build this way we can go much faster. We can save a lot of money that can then be invested in other areas to drive down costs and build even better, more innovative practices.

What’s next for manufacturing practices within the construction industry?

JG: When you start decreasing costs by 4%, 5% or even 10% on a construction project through speed and better processes for designing, manufacturing and then installing a building, it actually can help drive down the cost of living. This can affect industries far beyond construction and manufacturing with compelling opportunities for further innovation.

Discover how CadMakers is influencing change in the construction industry


Aerospace’s future promise

With proliferation of innovation centers, is the aerospace industry poised for a renewal?

Tony Velocci

6 min read

While segments of the aerospace industry are still growing, its rate of innovation has slowed as risk-averse companies invest less in breakthrough technology. The spread of innovation centers may help reverse this trend, however, providing companies with relatively low-risk environments in which to test proof-of-concept ideas before committing their own resources.

For all the new technologies created by the aerospace industry over the past 100 years — commercial aircraft, jet engines, global positioning systems (GPS), and weather and communication satellites, among others — most advances have been incremental, even slow. Even today, the vast majority of innovations are more accretive than transformative.

But with the rapid spread of aerospace-focused innovation centers, the pace of game-changing advances may be poised to accelerate. These disruptive knowledge ecosystems allow researchers from industry and academia to further the state of the art in digital product design and manufacturing, create totally new technologies and processes and hasten the rate at which they develop.

Such capabilities are critical to the future of aerospace companies, which face unprecedented challenges, said Tom Captain, former vice chairman and also former head of the aerospace and defense practice of Deloitte Consulting.

“Aerospace continues to create successful innovations, yet there are troubling indicators that all is not well,” Captain said. “For example, most cutting-edge innovation in aerospace is coming out of startup companies, and that is a strong signal to big companies they should not take their incumbency for granted. They know their future will depend on their ability to keep up.”


The industry has a long track record of delivering products late and over budget, and customers ranging from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to end users of aviation platforms and spacecraft have started holding equipment suppliers more accountable. Airlines and military customers are hammering suppliers to innovate more, bring products to market faster and lower costs, even as air vehicles of all types grow more complex.

Suppliers to OEMs, in turn, are under mounting pressure to steer their operations toward Industry 4.0 — smart, digitally connected factories that leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) to accelerate throughput, improve quality, eliminate inventories and reduce waste.

Brian Christensen of Dassault Systèmes points out design features on a digital mockup of the Unmanned Aerial System, a joint project with Wichita State University's National Institute for Aviation Research. (Image © Dassault Systèmes)

Non-traditional players such as Blue Origin and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX, have demonstrated a remarkable ability to upend mature markets, leapfrogging long-time industry leaders in developing reusable booster rockets, for example.

“If you can disrupt the space launch market, there is no other market that cannot be disrupted,” said Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow in the International Security program and director of the Defense Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit policy research organization.

Aerospace suppliers of all sizes also face the challenge of attracting the next generation of innovators.

“With the exception of highly agile organizations such as SpaceX that have avoided the risk-avoidance culture of traditional aerospace companies, it’s getting increasingly tough for the industry to compete with the pay scales and the excitement of entrepreneurial enterprises in other fields,” Captain said.

None of these challenges existed or were as severe a decade ago, according to Tom Milon, principal of The Boston Consulting Group, an international management-consulting firm based in Boston.

Innovation centers, however, represent a new opportunity for companies to think differently about how they create value for their customers, and can provide the proving grounds for companies to rethink their approaches to manufacturing and product design. “Innovation centers will allow R&D professionals to transform their ideas into fully functioning, high-fidelity models and systems prior to committing actual resources,” Milon said.


The newest such facility is in Wichita, Kansas, at the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University (WSU). The center focuses on enabling advanced product development and manufacturing using immersive and robotic applications, plus the institutes’ expertise in materials and simulation.

“Aerospace companies that have investigated what the center offers are amazed at what they can achieve, which is what this place is all about – thinking out of the box and proving the feasibility of a concept,” said John S. Tomblin, executive director of NIAR and WSU vice president for Research and Technology Transfer. “What you can do is limited only by your imagination, and this is where you can prove it.”

When the center opened in April 2017, R&D executives from more than 50 suppliers toured the facility. Soon afterward, some of those companies began formulating feasibility projects to develop and test at the center.

One early leader is Airbus, which leverages the center’s world-class laboratories for proofs of concept, as well as helping Airbus establish a pipeline of future engineering talent.

Aerospace & Defense executives tour the Multi-Robotic Advanced Manufacturing Lab at Wichita State University’s new Aerospace & Defense innovation center. (Image © Dassault Systèmes)

For example, a multifunctional team from the airframe manufacturer wanted to validate the design criteria for a primary aircraft subassembly and develop answers to technical and business questions, all in less than 90 days. In addition to Airbus researchers in Wichita, engineers in Toulouse, France, where the company assembles all of its commercial jets, participated in the fast-track initiative, dubbed “Sprint.”

The team met its goal in just 84 days, in part by using cloud-based collaborative simulation tools to optimize the integration of components and refine the design in near-real time.

“We considered the project highly successful,” said John O’Leary, vice president of engineering for Airbus Americas. “It showed that the center on the Innovation Campus has a unique capability, and it is the only place where we can co-locate a research team and perform this kind of collaborative, rapid innovation.”


 Innovation centers are increasingly common across the industry landscape, but they are relatively new to aerospace — and their numbers are growing.

Centers similar to Wichita’s are being set up around the world, with support from local, regional and national governments intent upon establishing or expanding their aerospace industries to be more competitive globally.

Asia-Pacific countries, for example, have long considered development of an indigenous aerospace industry a prime opportunity to stimulate technology renewal, job creation and overall economic growth. Some of those countries, including China and Japan, have been working at it for decades, just as Brazil and Canada did before Embraer and Bombardier, respectively, emerged as major players in the 1990s. With demand for air travel projected to rise at a rate of 4.5% annually over the next 20 years, the opportunity to claim some of the growth is ripe.

Advanced engineering skills, such as those required to manufacture aircraft, also is a source of great national pride.

In India, for example, the Karnataka state government has announced plans to establish an aerospace center of excellence focused on providing high-end training for nearly 1,600 engineers annually. In Beijing, the government-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is establishing a Sino-French Industry Joint Innovation Center with the aim of creating a centerpiece for the two countries’ “Made in China 2025” and “Industrie du Futur” initiatives.

“The complexity of aviation systems is growing exponentially, and traditional document-based systems engineering and model-based continuous development will be a key driver in the transformation of the development model used in China’s aviation industry,” Zhang Xinguo, deputy general manager of AVIC, said when the center was announced.

Unwilling to let emerging economies grab all the advantages, however, Germany’s Hamburg-based Center for Applied Aviation Research, known as ZAL, is helping to support more than 32 industrial, scientific and academic partners who are exploring innovative solutions to aviation and aerospace technology challenges.

ZAL’s long-range mission is to accelerate the demand for more rapid product development, including the ability to upgrade existing products quickly and seamlessly.

“Imagine this technology center as a sandbox where all of the partners can play together,” said Roland Gerhards, ZAL’s managing director and CEO. “We’re all about collaboration, and the center is a key partner, really unique in what they do, enabling others to accelerate innovation by providing the front-end software development, connecting the different digital tools and digitally linking design and manufacturing.”


In Wichita, the innovation center comprises approximately 120,000 square feet (approximately 11,000 square meters) of labs and workspace where startups and entrepreneurs can experiment, often with advice and expertise from NIAR and industry. The center also serves as an applied learning environment for WSU engineering students, who work alongside NIAR and industry partners.

In addition to collaboration rooms for as many as eight people, the center offers a complete suite of solutions to accelerate innovation from initial concept through certification, from a newly designed part or subassembly up to an entire air vehicle. These solutions include virtual and augmented reality technologies for viewing a design in immersive 3D, multi-robotics for flexible and scalable manufacturing, reverse-engineering technologies and many more.

Nathan Shipley, assistant director of CADCAM at Wichita State University, 3D scans a complex object for reverse-engineering in the university’s new Aerospace & Defense innovation center. (Image © Dassault Systèmes)

Most teams flocking to the center, however, are attracted by its digital, cloud-based platform, which links all phases of work to a common, consistent data pool and to one another. Among other benefits, this platform enables team members to collaborate seamlessly in different parts of the world, as Airbus demonstrated.

The platform also allows researchers to see the art of the possible — and not just for aviation suppliers, BCG’s Milon noted. In fact, BCG has created seven of its own “Innovation Centers for Operation” around the world. Those centers, designed to demonstrate how companies can leverage Industry 4.0 technologies, also are built around a holistic digital platform.

The platform at the innovation center in Wichita “transcends the aerospace industry and can be just as effective for any other manufacturer,” Milon said. “It’s a whole different ball game. Inspiring. I haven’t seen this linked together the way it is at these centers anywhere else.”


Aerospace pessimists see an industry dominated by increasingly risk-averse corporations focused on incremental improvements that fail to keep pace with disruptive advances in other industries. These pessimists anticipate a failure to sustain the socio-economic benefits that have helped fuel the global aerospace industry’s growth for nearly a century.

Optimists, on the other hand, see a responsive industry that can support growing global demand for air travel, environmental improvements that curb costs and emissions, and technology that opens the airspace to new uses of airborne systems. It is a future in which innovation centers play a central role in an industrial renewal that propels aerospace to new heights.

Fab labs

Access to software, 3D printers and expert advice put inventors on the fast track

Rebecca Gibson

5 min read

Gone are the days when only large companies had the skills, resources, financial backing and manufacturing capabilities to turn their product ideas into reality. Today, digital fabrication technologies and a global network of “fab labs” are enabling innovative people to create prototypes of almost anything.

Almost overnight and everywhere, people with big ideas and small resources are changing the world:
• In Barcelona, Spain, a consortium of architects and scientists has built an award-winning, self-sufficient house that produces twice as much energy as it consumes.
• In Afghanistan, innovators are creating customized prosthetic limbs.
• At Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Minnesota, inventors are using 3D printers to develop specialized  children’s eyewear and a device that helps disabled people open doors.
• In the UK, a student has designed an aquaponics system that enables people to grow their own vegetables at home and improve sustainability.

How is this revolution happening? Through the magic of fabrication laboratories, where entrepreneurs and inventors with good ideas gain free or low-cost access to facilities packed with digital fabrication tools, software and networks of advisers skilled in everything from 3D design to manufacturing and marketing, all eager to help bring the ideas to fruition.


Fab labs, as they’re commonly known, first emerged in 2001 as an educational outreach component of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA). The center, led by director Neil Gershenfeld, focuses on finding practical applications for its research into digital fabrication and

Inspired by Gershenfeld’s concept, a global network of about 1,200 independent fab labs has popped up in 100 countries, providing access to the digital fabrication tools and expertise people need to rapidly make a prototype of almost anything and then pitch it to investors.

“MIT’s CBA saw personal digital fabrication tools – including laser cutters, computer-controlled milling machines and 3D printers – were becoming cheaper and more accessible, so we put a subset into small-scale workshops,” said Sherry Lassiter, president of the Fab Foundation, which coordinates the global fab lab network.

“We’re giving people the technology, showing them how to use it and challenging them to use their newfound skills to make something innovative that benefits their local communities,” she said. “Now we have a global community of educators, researchers and makers, and a worldwide program for empowering local invention and entrepreneurship, which doubles in size every 18 months.”


Finding innovators to use the fab labs is easy, thanks to the parallel rise of the Maker Movement. The movement was pioneered by Dale Dougherty, who in 2005 founded Maker Media and began publication of MAKE magazine.

The magazine provided the catalyst for a technology-influenced, do-it-yourself community, which has grown beyond its hobbyist roots into a market ecosystem powered by the internet and more affordable and user-friendly fabrication technologies. Today, thousands of makerspaces, online maker communities and annual local and international Maker Faires exist worldwide. In September 2017, for example, more than 90,000 people attended the World Maker Faire New York – and 45% were first-time visitors.

“Our goal is to encourage people to recognize how making can be meaningful for society and see themselves as makers,” Dougherty said. “Making is a mindset and provides a skill set that bridges the worlds of academia and work – what people learn from making can prepare them for the jobs of the future, or perhaps help them create their own job. Our makerspaces are almost the same as fab labs because they share a common mission of growing a community of makers who can work together to change the world. Several fab labs have even organized their own Maker Faires.”


At many fab labs, innovators work alongside peers and experts, allowing them opportunities to brainstorm and access to technical support and business advice as they test and refine their prototypes.

When Laurent Bernadac, an Institut National des Sciences Appliquées de Toulouse-trained engineer and award-winning virtuoso musician, wanted to 3D-print a lightweight, ergonomic electric violin, for example, Bernadac found a fab lab that helped him locate the industrial stereolithography 3D-printing partner he needed for his project and created his investment campaign for crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

“The fab lab’s approach is wonderful; it opens doors for individuals and small companies, introducing them to subcontractors or valuable contacts at big organizations,” said Bernadac, who is now selling his violins commercially. “Many companies helped me, and sometimes I still use the fab lab for less technical tasks, such as laser cutting.”

A young girl tries her hand at soldering during the World Maker Faire 2017. (Image © Patricio Jijon)

Daniel Heltzel, managing director of Germany’s FabLab Berlin, agrees that fab labs are an efficient place for
matching innovators with experts.

“Entrepreneurs can benefit from advanced troubleshooting and business advice so they can iterate fast and get timely, honest feedback from peers about their chances of success,” he said. “Meanwhile, established companies can meet new innovators and see how interdisciplinary teams take an unconventional approach to product development. They’re often inspired to change their own internal product development processes.”


By making it quick, easy and affordable to design and create prototypes, fab labs are giving rise to a range of modern cottage industries, particularly beneficial in less economically developed countries.

In East Africa, for example, FabLab Rwanda is using digital fabrication to boost the country’s competitiveness in design, engineering, electronics, fabrication and high-tech. So far, the lab has helped about 30 entrepreneurs with projects that include building prototype solar vehicles, a drone and a facial-recognition robot.

“Rwanda is rebuilding its economy by investing in its people, and our fab lab plays a key role in empowering students and entrepreneurs with the hardware skills and software knowledge they need to turn innovative ideas into products,” said Miriam Dusabe, the fab lab’s general manager. “Not only do we give people the skills to start their own businesses, but we also help to generate more creative and productive engineers who will bring Rwanda closer to the Internet of Things era, thereby spurring the country’s economic development.” 


Fab labs also are popping up at schools and universities as platforms for project-based, hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. FabLab Singapore Polytechnic, for example, helps students from Singapore Polytechnic explore potential applications for digital fabrication and learn technical skills that can be transferred to the workplace.

“We want our students and staff to become a community of inspired makers who can confidently use digital fabrication to bring ideas to life and tackle future challenges,” said Steven Chew, the fab lab’s manager and a senior lecturer at the polytechnic.

“We also train secondary school students, provide further education courses for external adult learners and work with industry players. We’ve helped innovators to make dental prosthetics, an internet-based solution for optimizing growing conditions for mushrooms in Indonesia and a low-cost, underwater and automatic-guided vehicle, which won a regional competition.”


Characters in the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” used a replicator to dematerialize matter and then rematerialize it as whatever object they needed, from meals to clothes and machine parts. While real-life scientists are still a long way from matching that ability, personal digital fabrication technologies that allow individuals to design and produce tangible objects on demand are already here, MIT’s Gershenfeld said.

MIT has embarked on a research roadmap that will evolve manufacturing from “machines that make things,” to “machines that make parts of machines,” to self-reproducing machines, digital materials and, finally, to programmable materials that can turn themselves into parts. To achieve this, scientists are developing fabrication processes that can place individual atoms and molecules into any structure so people can build fully functional products in one step, rather than creating and assembling many constituent parts – for example, a full drone that can fly straight out of the printer.

“We are now living through the third digital revolution, in fabrication,” Gershenfeld wrote in his new book Designing Reality, which was published in November 2017. “The first two revolutions rapidly expanded access to communication and computation; this one will allow anyone to make (almost) anything. This time, it’s likely to be even more significant than the first two, because it’s bringing the programmability of the world of bits out into the world of atoms. The defining application emerging for digital fabrication is personal fabrication, which allows consumers to become creators, locally producing, rather than purchasing, mass-manufactured products.”

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Big data, small returns

Farmers provide oceans of data but get back few insights they can implement

Keena Lykins

3 min read

Faced with the daunting prospect of 2 billion additional people to feed within the next 30 years, agricultural companies are scrambling to produce more food per acre.Blanketing fields with sensors that tell farmers exactly what every field needs every minute of the day could achieve that goal. But the gap between vision and reality is large.

By 2050, the United Nations projects that global population will reach 9.7 billion – 2 billion more people than are alive today. One potential solution for feeding them: ongoing, real-time collection of field-specific data on seeds, soils, fertilizers, pest pressures and weather to unlock bigger crop yields per acre.

Dozens of players, from equipment and supply companies to crop and soil specialists, have stepped up to capture mountains of farming data. So far, however, because they lack the sophisticated processing and analysis needed to extract specific recommendations from the raw numbers, farmers are realizing little benefit.

“People are collecting data; equipment manufacturers are collecting huge amounts of data and they are using it,” said Graham Mullier, the Reading, UK-based head of Data Sciences, R&D Information Systems for Syngenta, a Swiss-based agrochemical and seed company. “The question is, ‘How much of it is of value to the growers?’”


“The lack of actionable steps is why the agriculture industry is lagging behind in adopting big data,” said Matt Rushing, vice president, Global Crop Care for AGCO, a US-based agriculture equipment manufacturer whose brands include Challenger and Massey Ferguson. “Farmers like to farm. They don’t want to dig through spreadsheets or reams of data looking for insights to improve their operation. They want to see this information offered as actionable recommendations by their service providers.”

A first step, Mullier said, is to open the collected data to everyone so that it can be compiled and analyzed. “Open data movements and organizations, such as GODAN (Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition), are good examples of people trying to get together and solve a problem,” he said.



But making the data widely available isn’t enough.

“We’re getting to a place where opening the data without some way to categorize or qualitatively describe the data doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Rich Wolski, professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-director of SmartFarm, a research project investigating how to design and implement an open source, hybrid-cloud approach to agriculture analytics.

“The growers that we encounter are very, very focused on their problems,” Wolski said. “They don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about data analysis. You need to throw up a map. It sounds easy, but it’s hard to distill statistical models down to a red light/green light.”


The potential of big data to change farming practices can be seen in the impact of precision agriculture (PA), which has been widely adopted because it offers a tangible benefit, AGCO’s Rushing said.

Like digitalized agriculture, PA employs information technology, GPS, sensors, soil-sampling, software and telematics to identify the best combinations of seed, water, fertilizer and agrichemicals to achieve the ‘Four Rs’—the right inputs, in the right amount, at the right time, in the right place. Unlike digitalized agriculture, however, PA recommends action steps to a specific farmer based on conditions at the time of measurement. Because PA captures data at a specific moment in time, conditions can change between snapshots.

Soil analysis consultant Jim Yager gathers electroconductivity measurements in a test orchard at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Sedgwick Reserve for use in developing a hybrid-cloud approach to digital agriculture analytics. (Image © SmartFarm)

In a current SmartFarm project, however, Wolski’s researchers permanently installed sensors throughout a citrus grove to monitor conditions around the clock. When coupled with historical weather data, they hope to provide advanced warning of where a grove will experience frost, enabling growers to concentrate frost prevention water, fans and heaters in the most at-risk areas rather than the entire grove.

“Frost prevention is very expensive, so the more focused we can be on where the frost will appear, the more money we’ll save,” Wolski said.


Outside of experimental fields, however, growers cannot yet harness always-on, real-time data-collection technology.

“The technology isn’t quite there yet, but we are looking at what the analytical models would be,” Wolski said. “One of the things we found out while working with folks in North Dakota is that many farming problems are regional or very farm-specific. You need data from California to solve California problems, and you need data from North Dakota to solve North Dakota problems.”

Agricultural technology entrepreneur David Baeza instructs University of California, Santa Barbara students and staff on fine points of drone flights to collect aerial imagery for use in precision agriculture. (Image © SmartFarm)

Bob Avant, program director of AgriLife Research at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, said many companies are looking at different ways to apply data technology to farming, but farmers are too busy tending their crops to have time to invest in growing and harvesting data, too.

“We’re really talking about artificial intelligence that can look at data trends and come up with conclusions,” Avant said. “Data is the root of the future of agriculture, but we’re not there yet.”

Construction efficiency

Architects and builders look to manufacturing for innovation

Nick Lerner

6 min read

Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), which has been common in manufacturing industries for decades, is beginning to make inroads into construction. Compass talked to three industry players – design and construction firm Laing O’Rourke, technology organization buildingSMART International and wood-construction enthusiast Woodeum – to discover how DfMA is bringing improved efficiency, standardization and environmental responsibility to the building industry.

Construction is an industry that has been slow to embrace modern working practices. But some innovators are achieving productivity gains through the adoption of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA). The concept takes several forms, including designing products while keeping manufacturing and assembly in mind and applying factory conditions to construction projects. In a recent report, consulting firm McKinsey called construction “ripe for disruption.” With DfMA, construction is starting to disrupt itself.

One company leading the industry’s DfMA revolution is Laing O’Rourke. Headquartered in Dartford, UK, the company designs, engineers and constructs some of the world’s most significant buildings and is proving that DfMA leads to better outcomes for the company, its clients, the industry and society.

After two decades spent working for prestige European automakers, Chris Millard transferred into construction, then became head of Engineering Excellence and technical director for Assets and Manufacturing at Laing O’Rourke.

“When the principles of complex automotive engineering, design and manufacture are transferred to construction, they bring about fundamental change,” he said. Central to this reformation is the growing practice of designing, engineering and manufacturing building components – from foundations to complete bathroom pods – in factories.


With the DfMA method, designers and engineers try to optimize the processes of manufacturing and assembly by beginning with the way they design products. This contrasts with traditional construction, where many components are made on-site, leading to decisions about how to make them fit that continue into the final construction stage.

“DfMA removes risk and increases quality,” Millard said. “Off-site manufacture using our own large factories means we work to structured processes.”

Instead, Laing O’Rourke fabricates as much of the building as possible offsite, in factories, and ships it to the construction site for assembly. Factory-precision parts, include the pre-cast floor and wall components, columns and beams, and complete room modules that comprise the building, are delivered from the factory. To achieve this level of DfMA, the company deploys cloud technology for collaboration and develops 3D digital models that incorporate grand architectural gestures, plus all the fine engineering details required to bring them to fruition.

“With this data, we can find value opportunities and building methodology improvements,” Millard said. “That encompasses making perfect components, adding certainty to logistics, and significantly reducing on-site labor.”


At a cost of £14.8 billion (US$19.6 billion, €13.1 billion) and having consumed 100 million working hours, Crossrail is Europe’s largest construction project. When completed in December 2018, it will revolutionize London’s rail network and support citywide renewal, adding an estimated £42 billion (US$54 billion, €46 billion) to the national economy.

Two of Crossrail’s central London stations, Liverpool Street and Tottenham Court Road, were constructed by Laing O’Rourke. The platform at Tottenham Court Road station did not benefit from DfMA, as the processes were still under development, so it was built using conventional onsite construction methods. Construction of that station platform took 57 workers 82,800 hours to complete. At Liverpool Street station, using DfMA, almost identical work took a team of seven just 2,492 hours – an improvement of approximately 97%

“Across much of construction there is a lack of consistency and transparency of data exchanges, and that means collaboration is hampered. Without collaboration, innovation suffers and that impacts the industry.”

Richard Kelly
operations director, buildingSMART International

Millard has seen the same levels of improvement on road infrastructure projects, where a rail bridge can be completed in just five days. On a 40-story apartment block, availability of pre-fabricated components allowed workers to complete each floor in six days, instead of the conventional nine, with a 60% labor reduction.

The key to success in DfMA, Millard said, is to re-sequence everything.

“Working with the factory to understand their challenges and introducing cultural change through the organization are crucial. It’s a long learning curve to move from centuries-old linear processes to concurrent collaborative operations. But, when you experience the payback in terms of productivity and profit, everybody – from stakeholders to interest groups, politicians to taxpayers – sees benefits.”


Becoming more efficient is critical as global populations grow. For example, management consulting firm McKinsey and Company estimates that the world will need to spend US$57 trillion (€48 trillion) on infrastructure by 2030 just to keep pace with global economic expansion. Professional services consulting firm PwC claims that achieving this will require an 85% industry expansion, creating jobs and wealth around the world. But skills shortages are hampering both growth and the ability to reach this capacity.

Architect: Wilmotte & Associates / Image © Thibault Voisin

A British government report describes the problem as “a ticking time bomb” and predicts that, due to an aging population and a lack of new entrants, the construction workforce will decrease by 20-25% in the next 10 years.

BuildingSMART International, a non-profit organization that brings construction enterprises together in a technological community based on commonly agreed standards, is dedicated to tackling these challenges. The group has 18 chapters around the world, comprising some of the industry’s biggest and most innovative players. Richard Kelly, the organization’s operations director, sees buildingSMART International as a key to meeting future demand.

“Our members comprise industry visionaries who are transforming the design, build and operation of buildings and infrastructure,” Kelly said. “They know that when high-value assets are created by a fragmented industry, change is required to avoid waste, quality issues, cost overruns and late delivery.”

Kelly sees communication as the missing element in the industry’s move to DfMA. “Across much of construction there is a lack of consistency and transparency of data exchanges, and that means collaboration is hampered,” he said. “Without collaboration, innovation suffers and that impacts the industry.”

BuildingSMART International is creating hundreds of “apps for building,” which define standards and best practices at all stages of design and construction. The apps work within an “openBIM™” (building information model) structure where all project data is available to every stakeholder, without silos of hidden or “dark” data. This unites all stakeholders in one collaborative space where cost, performance and risk decisions are based on accurate, timely data, shared knowledge and best practices.


The UK Green Building Council, which promotes sustainable building practices, recently issued a report on the industry’s massive environmental impact. “Buildings account for around 35% of global resources and nearly 40% of energy use and carbon emissions,” the report noted.

Companies intent on reversing this negative tide of resource consumption include Paris-based real estate developer Woodeum. The company deploys DfMA to build from the industry’s only renewable product: wood. Specifically, a manufactured wood product known as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) panels, which measure 185 millimeters (7.2 inches) thick and 16x3 meters (52x9.8 feet) long..

Comparatively light in weight, CLT panels have predictable material and strength characteristics and extremely good insulating qualities. Woodeum currently has more than 1,000 CLT housing units, a 125,000-square-meter office campus and a 17-story apartment block underway. Its use of DfMA allows the company to produce high-quality buildings while maximizing environmental sustainability.


“CLT elements are manufactured in the factory and assembled on site. It’s like building with LEGO,” said Woodeum architect Arnaud Heckly.

“These processes rely on precision,” added Guillaume Wiel, a wood construction engineer at Woodeum. “Our manufacturing partners provide us with panels, from which we cut out what we need with absolute accuracy.”

Collaborating around 3D digital designs simplifies complexity and allows factory-cut pieces to exactly replicate their digitally designed counterparts. When the parts arrive on site, Heckly said, “they fit perfectly.”

The company uses computer-driven milling machines and robots to produce components, just as manufacturing plants do. The result: predictable, perfectly fitting parts.

Visual model of the Maquette Les Lille office building, constructed using Cross-laminated timber (Visual model ©Woodeum)

“A plumber using an architect’s 2D drawing can draw a line and say, ‘the network runs here,’” Heckly said, explaining why DfMA is superior to traditional construction techniques. “But, in reality, the plumbing passes through walls and ceilings which cannot be seen until 3D simulation is deployed. That allows us to master these issues at the upstream design and manufacturing stages,” before construction begins.

DfMA also helps to reduce the waste that runs rampant on traditional construction sites. According to the European Commission, “construction waste accounts for approximately 25%-30% of all waste generated in the EU.” When Woodeum builds, however, DfMA virtually eliminates onsite waste because every component is pre-engineered to fit.

“We try to use the scraps that are generated when cutting openings or re-using a door to build the staircase of a duplex or to make the structure of a balcony,” Wiel said. “And wood is good for the environment because it stores carbon and can easily be recycled.” Woodeum construction sites are also quiet, with fewer deliveries and “screwdrivers instead of hammers.”


Waste and rework cut into the profitability of many construction-industry players.

“Low-margin businesses can work, but not by continuously starting from scratch every time they produce something,” said Mark Hansford, editor of industry publication New Civil Engineer. “The car industry does not work like that, and neither do other manufacturing industries. They employ factory thinking, and it is time that it well and truly arrived for construction.”

By adapting manufacturing’s proven DfMA methodologies to their industry, innovative construction enterprises are achieving efficiency, quality, cost and safety benefits that were not previously possible.

Millard’s vision for “a seamlessly digitalized, reconfigured, advanced and progressive industry” may have a long way to go for the industry as a whole, but some individual players are turning that dream into everyday reality.

How to achieve the progress is no secret, Millard said. “Just look at any successful car company.”

Crowdsourced curators

Technology helps museums get the public more involved

Dan Headrick

4 min read

Museums are stepping up their use of social media, immersive technology and other digital tools to attract and engage audiences of all ages. In return, visitors are sharing their knowledge and ideas, influencing future exhibits and the stories museums tell.

In 2015, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, using a free mobile app and online access to nearly 1,800 works of art, began crowdsourcing the role of curator, inviting anyone to create a distinctive narrative within the museum’s collection. In its first year, users activated 428 exhibit pieces at least once (24% of all exhibited pieces) adding personal comments and links to related pieces to create curated experiences for other visitors.

The museum organized a contest for the most creative tours. One winner curated a children’s game, “Anem de Safari!!!,” that guides young people through works that feature animals, including Ramon Casas’ 1886 painting “Bulls (Dead Horses),” and Francesc Serra i Dimas’ 1903 work, “Portrait of the Sculptor Agapit Vallmitjana Abarca in his Workshop.”

Nancy Proctor, executive director of Museums and the Web, an international organization supporting innovative ideas for museums, said she believes Barcelona’s museum represents a rare instance of leveraging technology effectively.

“Museums have struggled to be relevant to local communities,” Proctor said. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the icon used to represent many museums is a neoclassical façade taken from the Acropolis, the bank of Athens, where the treasures were kept and human beings were not allowed inside. They’re not using digital platforms to their full potential to engage people.”


In addition to changing how curators think about presenting their museums’ treasures, technology is being used to transform how museum professionals think about who they serve, how and what is culturally relevant. For example:

Museums across the world are increasingly adding technology – from virtual reality to interactive 3D exhibit walls – to engage audiences of all ages. (Image © Radist/iStock)

•  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York provides virtual reality (VR) goggles for viewing Jackson Pollock paintings. Seen through the headsets, Pollock’s intense colors appear to jump off the canvases.

• The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium collaborated with the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, inviting online visitors to virtually enter Bruegel’s “Fall of the Rebel Angel” for an immersive 3D tour of the masterpiece’s symbolic details.

• Google engineers teamed up with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to develop an interactive 3D exhibit wall that allows visitors to access and rotate digital images of historical artifacts and records far too fragile to be handled by thousands of people.

• Museums including the Louvre in Paris and the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York, offer tours that allow visitors to touch casts of famous works. Artists are showing works in Braille for the vision impaired. Some museums have partnered with 3D companies to transform famous paintings into touchable, 3D-printed works that let the blind “feel” the features of the painting.


Exhibits like these are fueling fresh debate about how digital tools affect museums’ relationships with the public. Some critics, for example, lament exhibits that emphasize entertainment, not enlightenment and education, to boost attendance. The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, for example, has worked with design firms and creative professionals, whose clients include theme parks and filmmakers, to create installations designed to thrill audiences.

“Fear of ‘Disneyfication’ tends to lie on the side of curators and scholars,” Proctor said, but that attitude assumes entertainment and education are mutually exclusive. Why shouldn’t museums be fun? “Museums could take a page out of the Disney playbook. Museums can be the agora, the public space, where strangers encounter each other. Particularly right now, that’s a powerful message.”



Patricia Ward, director of science exhibits and partnerships at The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI), agrees.

“Digital technology makes the walls of the museum a lot more porous, more transparent,” she said. That openness invites visitors and allows museums to better understand their audiences. “How do we learn from our audiences? What are they interested in? What do they know? Do they care? Technology can help to provide the answers.”

For example, she said, MSI’s interactive simulation lab in the Future Energy Chicago exhibit helps museum officials understand how visitors make choices about their world, through games that give visitors real-world information to use in making decisions about energy efficiency, including tradeoffs affecting homes, neighborhoods and transportation.

“Before you can even think about designing an exhibit, you have to know what people know,” Ward said. “We’re trying to find the entry points for conversations.”


For Gamynne Guillotte, director of interpretation and public engagement at the Baltimore Museum of Art, VR and AR, 3D and experiential enhancements that add smoke and wind to a battlefield exhibit, for example, are merely new storytelling techniques curators can employ to encourage interaction.

“Audience behavior has been shifting broadly over the past 20 years,” she said. “The expectation is about collaboration and involvement, across all sectors.”



For Museums and the Web’s Proctor, enhancing storytelling with digital tools offers museums a more sustainable business model by encouraging visitors to get more involved with the content museums present. By encouraging public collaboration, she said, technology is making museum content more rich, relevant and vibrant while connecting museums to the modern world.

MSI’s Ward agrees.

“If you’re talking about digital technologies in museums, it’s not the technology per se that’s important,” she said. “It’s about the story, and the technology is a tool to tell a story.” 

Stretch and flex

Electronics that bend and change shape are expanding the reach of technology

Michele Witthaus and Lindsay James

5 min read

Advances in materials and 3D-printing technologies have enabled electronic devices that can move, stretch and flex. This allows researchers to break new ground, creating innovations that have the potential to transform daily life.

Imagine a future where a doctor is alerted to a change in a patient’s vital signs and calls them with a prognosis before they even realize they are ill. Or a consumer never worries about the possibility that a smartphone’s screen might be cracked when dropped? Or a diabetic with an internal monitor, powered by their stomach acid, that detects when they eat?

All of these scenarios may seem far from reality but, thanks to advances in stretchable and flexible electronics, they are becoming increasingly plausible.

“Recent advances in materials science and mechanical engineering have enabled the realization of high-performance electronic systems in soft, flexible and stretchable formats,” said materials scientist Canan Dagdeviren, director of the Conformable Decoders research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Like many of the IoT-enabled devices that have risen in popularity today, these new flexible and stretchable electronic solutions are very affordable and have the potential to be managed via smartphone apps. Businesses are taking note. In fact, according to a 2016 report by Grand View Research, the global flexible electronics market is estimated to be worth more than US$87 million (€75 million) by 2024.

$87 million

According to a 2016 report by Grand View Research, the global flexible electronics market is estimated to be worth more than US$87 million (€75 million) by 2024.



Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Laboratory at Canada’s Queens University, believes flexible and stretchable electronics will help shape the future of screens. His team is working on a range of innovations, including a flexible smartphone that is full-color, high-resolution and wireless; a flexible holographic smartphone capable of rendering 3D images without the need for head tracking or glasses; and a gaming remote with a cylindrical user interface.

“Flexible screens offer a variety of benefits,” Vertegaal said. “They are lighter and cheaper than conventional electronics and, from a usability point of view, they allow interactions in the third dimension by bending. What’s more, they are pretty unbreakable. A cracked screen could soon be a thing of the past.”


Human applications for flexible electronics are already taking shape.

“Stretchable and flexible electronics, while maintaining the same properties as conventional electronics, can be made into any curvilinear shape to be conformal with the human body,” said Yonggang Huang, professor of Mechanical Engineering and Civil Environmental Engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Huang worked with physical chemist and materials scientist John Rogers at the University of Illinois, along with Massachusetts-based wearables company MC10, to develop a stretchable electronic device for skincare giant L’Oréal at the company’s New Jersey technology incubator. The device, which is applied to the skin and paired with an app via near-field communication (NFC), contains photosensitive dyes that change color when exposed to UV rays. L’Oreal said that 60% of people who use the app experience less sunburn and 30% are using more sunscreen.

Meanwhile, MC10 partnered with Belgium-based biopharmaceutical company UCB to investigate how data-gathering sensors could be applied to the skin to monitor Parkinson’s disease. The focus was on “improving understanding about patient experiences, and evolving these insights to improve the management of neurological conditions – providing patients with better control and allowing them to improve treatment outcomes,” said Erik Janssen, UCB’s vice president of Global New Patient Solutions in Neurology.


Despite these successes, the true potential of flexible and stretchable electronics has yet to be realized. James Hayward, senior technology analyst at market research firm IDTEchEx, headquartered in Cambridge, UK, said that while some components of this type have passed the proof-of-concept stage, many more are not yet mature.

“Several types of stretchable and conformable electronics are commercially viable today, but they are generally in separate niches and need to be collated for growth and expansion to occur,” he said.

Takao Someya, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Tokyo, Japan, also sees a need for greater attention to achieving even more elasticity.

A new flexible piezoelectric sensor is 2 by 2.5 centimeters and can be rolled up and swallowed. (Image © Researchers at MIT)

“Most of the stretchable innovations we see available today still have some sort of rigidity,” he said. “This is because they often require a rechargeable battery or wire of some description and, because of the multiple components, they are often encased in a rigid silicon casing. It’s a challenge to create a solution that is durable and soft at the same time.”

MIT’s Media Lab’s Dagdeviren agrees. “Today’s electronics are up to six orders of magnitude stiffer than soft tissue,” she said. “As a result, when we want to integrate electronics with biology, there are severe challenges related to mechanical and geometrical form mismatch.”


Heng Pan, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, believes the answer may lie in 3D printing.

“Additive manufacturing has the benefit that it can easily change from one material to the other and integrate all the different materials together in one print,” Pan said in a recent interview with R&D Magazine. “You can pretty much print any material in 3D geometry. We believe the additive technique has a very strong advantage in the creation of electronics.”

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, for example, has established the Raytheon-University of Massachusetts Lowell Research Institute (RURI) to accelerate the development of flexible printed electronics for the US Department of Defense. They hope to create bendable, stretchable devices that can be applied to medical devices, tents, backpacks, vehicles and wireless monitoring for buildings.

“Raytheon is engaging with partners across industry, government and academia to implement the use of materials and processes for printed radio frequency structures,” said Mary Herndon, senior principal engineer at Raytheon. “In platforms that are size or weight constrained, the ability to have flexible and conformal electronics is expected to yield better integration and lower profile assemblies.”


Brazilian company Sunew is using 3D-printing techniques to create a flexible solar panel solution that could be used in smart buildings, cities and vehicles. Sunew’s organic photovoltaic (OPV) technology has a high tolerance for vibration, so vehicles are considered an especially promising application environment.

“Now that we have semiconductors that are liquids, the production process is essentially printing,” Sunew CEO Tiago Alves said. “It’s a lower-temperature, continuous process at zero marginal cost. It takes a good amount of investment to reach the production level needed for a factory, but once that is achieved it is very efficient.”

Sunew’s OPVs compare favorably with traditional methods for producing photovoltaics. “Delivering efficiency approximately 20 times that of traditional technologies and a payback time of two months instead of two years, they are also 50 to 100 times lighter than conventional solar panels,” Alves said.


Flexible electronics also have implications for advances in ingestible, biodegradable semiconductors. Researchers at MIT, for example, have teamed up with Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) to develop flexible devices that can sense movement and ingestion in the stomach. The devices can reside in the stomach for at least two days, sense the ingestion of a meal and harvest energy from movement in the gastrointestinal tract. Moreover, they can harvest energy from movement in the gastrointestinal tract; such energy might be used to power novel ingestible electronic systems.

“Just as a wearable device like a FitBit can help track and quantify how many steps a person takes, we envision a device that could reside in the stomach and quantify how frequently a person is eating,” Carlo Traverso, a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at BWH, said. One possible application of this would be in monitoring patients with diabetes.

Experts at Boston’s Harvard Business School are working on a similar innovation.

“We anticipate significant development in the area of ingestible flexible electronics,” said Giovanni Traverso, an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “In the GI tract, flexible electronics could be applied for sensing movement and therefore could monitor and identify difficulties in the stomach of patients suffering from diabetes. Also, such systems could be applied for the monitoring of ingestion events.”

University of Tokyo’s Someya believes such applications are just the start of what flexible electronics might achieve in the years ahead.

“In the medium term, I see those with serious conditions using this type of sensor to monitor vital information such as heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, temperature and oxygenation levels,” Someya said. “But ultimately, it’s possible that we all have one of these devices. As a result, potential illnesses could be spotted before we’re even aware of them. This could transform the way we deliver health care across the globe.”

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