Manufacturing’s soft side

How hardware makers are winning in the software world

Rebecca Lambert
14 January 2019

4 min read

From cars to kitchen appliances, advanced computer software is no longer just the territory of sophisticated computers; it’s everywhere. A typical high-end automobile, for example, contains at least 50 million lines of code. For many manufacturers, the growing importance of code requires them to become software companies too. 

Amazon has just made life a bit easier for culinary-challenged people everywhere. Its new smart microwave will cook meals with a simple voice command, no expertise required. For example, put a potato in and say “Alexa, microwave my potato,” and the appliance chooses the right settings for that dish.

The microwave works using Amazon’s Alexa Connect Kit, a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth low-energy module packed with software that automatically and securely connects to Amazon-managed cloud services – including the settings for microwaving hundreds of common dishes.

Spicing up low-tech devices with software is a common strategy these days, one that is dramatically changing what consumers expect from manufacturers. Today, mastering mechanical, electrical and form-factor design is not enough; manufacturers must understand software as well.

“We’re putting silicon into pretty much everything these days,” said Steve Koenig, vice president of Market Research at the US-based Consumer Technology Association (CTA). “We’re using software to enable a whole load of different features and functions in devices. It’s good news for consumers as these systems can be updated over the internet, so they’re getting access to new capabilities and improvements all the time.”


For many manufacturers, this means fundamentally changing what products they make and how they build them. In the automotive sector, for example, manufacturers are now creating what is, essentially, a robot with four wheels.

“Many models on the market are drive-by-wire – there is no mechanical linkage between the steering and wheels themselves,” CTA’s Koenig said. “And the engine is software defined, providing the instruction set telling the computer [car] how to operate.” 

By 2030, research firm McKinsey estimates that software will account for almost a third of vehicle content in a typical family car. Today, it makes up roughly 10 percent.

“Over the past 10 years, the level of complexity in the software that we’re managing has increased by a factor of at least five,” said Jean-François Salessy, R&D senior vice president and head of the Electrical & Electronic Systems Division at French automotive manufacturer PSA Group. “When I began my career 30 years ago, the airborne computer that was managing the aircraft mission of Dassault Rafale had about 1 million lines of application code. Nowadays, our cars have around 50-60 million lines of code. More than 80 percent of the features in the car are fed by software.”


Like PSA’s Electrical & Electronic Systems Division, many manufacturers have created dedicated departments to focus on software innovation.

“The software team needs to take the lead in driving a product’s functional development,” Adam MacBeth, an engineering manager working on Google’s new operating system, Fuchsia, said in an interview with First Round Review. “Software is the aspect most responsible for creating the behavior exposed to the user.”

Ensuring that software and mechanical design complement one another, however, is a complex new challenge to manage.

“We must anticipate the software impact on the hardware,” PSA’s Salessy said. “We evaluate the architecture footprint of the software – space required for memory banks, accessible responsiveness and so forth.”

But the hardware and software disciplines tend to make assumptions about the other’s field that don’t pan out, requiring expensive change orders to resolve the errors, MacBeth said. “The hardware engineering team might assume something about software response time,” he said. “The software team might assume something about how the device will feel in someone’s hand. I’ve seen it happen where hardware is created that physically can’t enable the software to work.”


To avoid software-hardware clashes requires complete visibility and strong collaboration between the two development teams.

Swiss appliance manufacturer V-ZUG, for example, uses a product innovation platform to help its employees work together effectively and avoid unpleasant, late-cycle surprises.

Peugeot reveals the e-Legend Concept car at the 2018 Paris Motor Show. Featuring artificial intelligence technology, it offers a voice-controlled personal assistant for autonomous driving. (Image © PSA Group)

“One of the platform’s biggest advantages is that it provides an integrated solution for the different disciplines involved in product development,” said Petra Peter, mechanical engineering technician at V-ZUG.

“All product stakeholders – mechanical, electrical, software development – can collaborate on the most up-to-date version of a product’s data, which promotes a fluid exchange of ideas,” added Blaise Metzker, head of CAD/CAM at V-ZUG. “This transparency also increases product quality.”

Product innovation platforms that also support digital simulation go a step further, helping the various disciplines test their designs in a virtual environment to ensure that they perform as intended, well before production begins.

“Our team is developing new processes and technology where traditional design rules do not apply anymore,” said Sini Rytky, vice president of Product Management at TactoTek, an electronic systems manufacturer headquartered in Finland. “Simulation was seen as a solution to both verify the operation of electrical functions before building real parts and to speed up the design and time [available] for fine-tuning.”


Increasingly, experts agree, manufacturing leaders are defined by their ability to create seamless hardware and software experiences that connect multiple aspects of the consumer’s life and, ultimately, make daily tasks easier.

“The more powerful the influence your software has over your hardware, the more you can mold your product to fit users’ needs,” MacBeth said.

V-ZUG, for one, uses its software to differentiate its products from a host of competitors.

“We provide our customers with more functionality than what is usually found in the [appliance] industry,” said Ernst Dober, head of Development and Services at V-ZUG. “At the same time, it’s our priority to make our appliances easy to use. This is why we invented the ‘press and go’ feature, which automatically starts the desired program at the touch of a single button. We also provide recipes with our ovens and steam cookers in digital format, which can be used by anyone.”

While software can differentiate products, however, it won’t compensate for poor physical design. Consumers continue to show loyalty to products that are pleasing to the eye and comfortable in the hand.

“I believe that there will long be an emotional relationship between cars and humans,” PSA’s Salessy said. “At the 2018 Paris Motor Show, the crowd’s reaction to Peugeot’s e-Legend Concept car was incredible – and that was largely to do with its appearance. The esthetic of the car remains critical. Nonetheless, the way you interact with it is critical too. This is why we spend significant time on software impact on overall ergonomics, aiming at the best of both worlds.”

For more information on software-driven user experiences, please visit:

Utilities’ talent search

Rethinking the approach to human resources to attract and retain talent

Dan Headrick

3 min read

Energy, power and utility companies face big challenges navigating regulatory, environmental and technological change. Securing the one resource they can’t do without – skilled talent to replace aging workers – might prove the most difficult hurdle yet. 

In 1968, the TV crime drama series The Mod Squad debuted a groundbreaking concept during a time of counterculture upheaval: how to convince rebellious, socially outcast young hippies to work for the police. “The times are changing,“ the tough but kindly police captain character who recruited the young people said. “They can get into places we can’t.“

Jump 50 years. Instead of police forces that need street-smart young people to get the job done, it’s mining, energy, gas and oil companies trying to attract tech-savvy young generations to an industry beset with stagnant revenues, competitive power markets, tightening regulations, bruised public relations and legions of aging workers heading for retirement.


The analogy might seem trite, but the challenges are serious. Shifting consumer behavior, heightened environmental awareness and evolving career expectations among younger generations of job seekers are forcing energy sector companies to rethink how they approach human resources.

“When it comes to recruiting and retaining talent, we’re behind the eight ball all the time,“ said Alp Malazgirt, CEO of Turkish metal and mining company Yilmaden Holding, who recently helped lead the company’s expansion of operations into six countries through a series of acquisitions. “How to attract and retain them? It’s a global problem that seems to be present all the time, which begs the question: how do you grow the business with limited talent?“

For example, the Nuclear Industry Institute reports that the world’s nuclear power industry, which produces 11 percent of the world’s electricity, is reeling from the combined pressures of alternative power suppliers, increasingly stringent regulations and persistent public concerns about safety. But what really scares nuclear energy executives, the institute reported, is that nearly 40 percent of the industry’s global workforce – as much as 50 percent for utilities generally – will retire over the next few years. To replace them, companies will need to hire 20,000 people over the next four years, and managers fear that many talented young people simply won’t want to work in the utility sector.

“Millennials consider these industries to be old, stodgy and not very creative,” an industry sales executive posted in the online industry forum Energy Central.

Many young people today view utilities cynically as indifferent to the environment, culturally rigid and bottom-line obsessed, human resource managers and industry analysts agree. For many young people, therefore, the prospect of working for a utility company is ethically repugnant.

Ken Ester, 62, worked for 24 years in IT-telecommunications at one of the world’s largest utilities, US-based Duke Energy. “When I got the job offer, I thought it was great,” he said. “I had a good salary and benefits, and I could retire after 30 years. Millennials today don’t have that mindset, no matter how great the company is.”

Instead, he said, younger employees tend to hone skills and build careers by moving from job to job, either within the same company or to different organizations. Ester, who managed a 12-member team at Duke before taking early retirement in 2016, said he learned to accommodate that mindset, but it came at a cost.


of the nuclear industry’s global workforce will retire over the next few years.

“Young workers want to implement new ideas; managers have to stay stable,” Ester said. “That can frustrate young people. My philosophy as a manager was that you need to let folks move around if they want to, but it’s always a drag on efficiency to let them do that. It takes time to get up to speed.“

Malazgirt, the mining company CEO agrees. For example, teams of skilled finance experts that managed his company’s complex acquisitions had the highest turnover rate. “These people are motivated, but once the project is over they want to move on to the next exciting project.”


In its seventh annual Deloitte Millennial Survey, the global consulting firm found that companies seeking to hire bright young talent must understand that, despite being tech-savvy, the entire generation is nervous about the future in the face of Industry 4.0, robotics, artificial intelligence, environmental degradation, social inequities and political instability.

That said, companies are looking at novel ways to approach a new generation of talent. Many utility companies emphasize cultural diversity, said Lloyd Adams, vice president of SAP for Utilities. Some companies are exploring reverse mentoring, an idea former GE CEO Jack Welch popularized in the late 1990s, when he required that top executives partner with junior employees to learn about the internet. And because technology advances so quickly, new knowledge must be gained constantly, which creates an opportunity to tap employees’ curiosity and creativity.

“How to attract and retain the next generation?” Malazgirt asks rhetorically. “It’s not easy, but my turnover is the lowest in the company because I spend time training and what I call ‘digital upskilling.’ I think recruiting people to come to work for us was a lot more difficult in the past than it is now.”

For information on how energy, power and utility companies can create an engaging work environment, please visit:

Supply chain scrutiny

Aerospace OEMs press suppliers for more visibility into potential disruptions

Tony Velocci

5 min read

With massive order backlogs and growing demand for new airplanes, aerospace OEMs are on the hunt for ways to increase productivity. Improved visibility into their suppliers’ processes should help, but suppliers are concerned about the cost – and the risk of being micromanaged.

Since the financial crisis in 2009, air traffic has been growing at more than twice the rate of the global economy, with demand for air travel through 2030 forecast to double again. Small wonder that Airbus and Boeing, the two major commercial airframe builders, are on track this year to deliver more than twice as many passenger jets as they built in 2000.

That bodes well for commercial aerospace. But John Leahy, who recently retired as chief operating officer for Airbus, said that the rate of expansion is generating major challenges in meeting market demand. As of September 2018, Airbus was sitting on a backlog of nearly 7,400 commercial aircraft, representing about nine years of production at current rates, while Boeing’s backlog was nearly 5,900 aircraft, equivalent to about seven years of production.

No one has a greater appreciation for just how challenging this backlog is than the hundreds of suppliers who provide the components and subsystems needed to assemble modern passenger jets. Many are struggling to keep up, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are likely to increase production rates in 2019, meaning even more pressure on their suppliers.


“A very slow, measured increase in output is probably fine, but if you see big jumps, that is going to be a problem,” said Gregory Hayes, chairman and CEO of United Technologies, a tier one supplier that provides engines and other aircraft parts and systems to both Airbus and Boeing.

Kevin Michaels, managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, a US-based consulting firm, also expressed concerns.

“There are many worries as the commercial aerospace supply chain ramps up to unprecedented production rates,” he said. “For example, will there be enough forging and casting capacity? Can interior suppliers step up?”

Industry observers expect commercial aerospace OEMs to increase production, in part, by demanding more visibility into their suppliers’ production and sourcing plans, hoping to gain more advance warning of possible supply chain disruptions.

While Boeing and Airbus both have made significant progress over the past decade in reducing risk and bringing new products to market faster through closer collaboration with suppliers, many members of the aerospace industry’s supply chains simply aren’t equipped to deliver the insights the OEMs need.

How will suppliers step up to the OEMs’ challenge? Not with legacy computer systems and incremental improvements, said Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice president of engineering at Airbus Commercial Aircraft.

“We have a very strong market, and the whole supply chain needs to be much more digital to work together to reduce lead times and speed up the entire process of building airplanes,” he said.


After examining the challenges ahead, Airbus is pursuing an Industry 4.0 strategy for digitalizing its factory floors and linking them to the factories of its suppliers. Big data and analytics, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous robots and simulation capabilities, among other digital technologies, power this approach to manufacturing. Boeing and Bombardier are on similar paths.

“Our customers are demanding greater value at a lower cost, and that is going to be provided by a digitalization strategy,” Boeing Enterprise Architect Josh Schlager said.

It’s easy to understand why the OEMs consider factory-focused digital transformation a business imperative.

The strategy involves embedding smart sensors in factory-floor machines in the OEMs’ factories and those of their suppliers, then linking them into a multi-enterprise network, allowing the OEMs to extract valuable insights into upstream and downstream supply chain processes and issues.

The OEMs hope that adjusting to and learning from near-real-time data on tier one, two and three suppliers will support faster decision-making, provide advance warning of supply chain disruptions and drive greater overall supplier network efficiency. Ultimately, of course, the goal is to do a better job of serving end-use customers with higher quality products at less cost – and, of course, gains against those stubborn backlogs.

For the OEMs to exploit digital transformation’s full potential, however, they will need for their suppliers to share more operational information than ever before, and that could present a challenge. Lower-tier suppliers, already under tremendous pressure from OEMs to reduce their prices, fear those pressures could intensify if their operations become an open book for the OEMs. They also worry about the cost of updated systems and networking, a difficult investment to make when their margins are being squeezed.

“The aerospace industry is not as transparent as we need to be,” said Ivan Madera, CEO of Morf3D, a project-based services company for additive manufacturing. “When that changes, that will be transformative. How do you get to a highly collaborative environment across the supply chain? It has to start with the OEMs.”


Airbus recognizes that the transformation won’t be an easy one.

“We have a very clear vision of where we must go, and it will be a radical transformation,” Dumont said.

Airbus envisions every step of the manufacturing process seamlessly connected, with vendors sharing all of the data needed to eliminate unwelcomed surprises on everything from capacity to quality. “Our goal will be continuous improvement throughout,” he said.

To realize this vision, OEMs expect their suppliers to invest in the digital technologies and highly skilled talent required to build an Industry 4.0 environment.

Airframe builders are pressing for greater visibility into suppliers’ production and sourcing plans to gain more advance warning of possible supply chain disruptions. At Boeing, after years of steady product-rate increases for its 737, the company plans to accelerate the line to even higher production numbers in 2019. (Image © The Boeing Company)

Airbus is conducting workshops for vendors to ensure they understand their responsibilities.

“Moving from where we are today to where we need to be will require the participation of every one of our suppliers,” Dumont said. “Think of it as an ecosystem involving all participants, unencumbered, who can interface with each other and derive tangible benefits from working together – and it must go hand-in-hand with maintaining the current operational tempo.”

Dumont believes the transformation can be completed within five years.

After validating the power of a fully operational Industry 4.0 strategy on legacy aircraft programs, he said, Airbus expects to reduce the time required to take a new airplane program from launch to the first delivery by as much as 40 percent. As for recurring development costs, Chief Procurement Officer Klaus Richter envisions dramatic gains there too, with savings as great as 50 percent.

Both airframe manufacturers have aggressive digital transformation initiatives. For example, Airbus has implemented an intelligent supply chain and quality “watch tower,” a system of engagement that Airbus is using to improve transparency across functional areas, Richter said.


The OEMs recognize that digitalizing their factory operations and supply chains are just one piece in a much larger puzzle. Beyond the factory floor, they face the prospect of tackling a complete digital transformation of the entire aerospace ecosystem, linking both upstream and downstream processes to the Industry 4.0 environment.

For now, however, OEMs and their supply chains are focused on how best to capitalize on digitalization’s potential for delivering production-rate increases in 2019 and beyond, as airlines modernize their fleets and people fly in ever greater numbers.

“We are in the early stages of a revolution across our industry, which will look very different in five years,” Dumont said. “It will be a challenging process, but it’s a journey on which aerospace must embark.”

For more information about creating supply chain visibility, please visit:

Future-ready workers

Six steps for finding the skills companies need in fast-changing markets

Richard Humphreys

6 min read

The rapid pace of technological change is demanding new skills from today’s workers – skills that employers have difficulty finding due to low supply and intense competition. To survive, business and education leaders recommend companies employ these six strategies for filling short-term gaps and ensuring long-term success.

The way we work and learn is transforming at an accelerating pace, and that means major changes for both employers and workers.

“Machines are doing jobs no one expected they’d be capable of performing,” said Parminder Jassal,group director for Work + Learn Futures at the Institute for the Future in California. “Meanwhile, full-time employment gains are shrinking, and more people are working on a temporary, part-time basis.”

Although an increase in automation usually means higher unemployment, millions of high-skill jobs worldwide are going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. As a result, employers are more likely to retrain existing employees to fill new roles, rather than replace them with younger workers already trained in modern skills. “Companies need to support employee development of skills continuously, facilitating the broader development of skills beyond a technical specialty,” Jassal said.

To help employers keep their firms well-staffed, employment experts recommend a six-step approach.


The Institute of the Future projects that 65 percent of the jobs today’s students will do in their careers haven’t been invented yet. To succeed in hiring and training, therefore, companies must anticipate the jobs and skills they will need in the future and work with schools to create programs that will prepare students to fill them.

“The rise of artificial intelligence and robotics means that more roles will become automated,” said Craig Sweeney, senior vice president of Global Strategic Talent Solutions at WilsonHCG in Tampa, Florida. “With this increase of automation, demand for high-level skills and competencies based around leadership, innovation, problem solving and creativity will become heightened.

“Employers will have a responsibility in that process to upskill their workforce. It is, therefore, in the interest of employers to support and drive change in helping to develop new skills.”


To develop the skill sets they need, companies also should customize their learning and development (L&D) programs to meet their specific needs today, as well as their strategic direction for the future.

“Employers should consider key roles within the organization and what training is required to help employees develop up into those roles,” Sweeney said.

L&D should be considered from multiple angles, including role, industry sector and geography, Sweeney said.

“Segmentation allows companies to cater education to groups of employees for a personalized and effective approach.”

In a 2017 study by the World Economic Forum, 72 percent of responding companies said they will reskill existing employees to address the shifting skill needs created by advancing technologies. Two-thirds of companies said that they expect workers to acquire skills in the course of their changing jobs. Companies also expect to provide additional training to a small percentage of employees for specialized roles.


Partnering with universities through internships and other specialized programs will help employers ensure that students graduate with the specific skills they will need in the work world.

“We work with business leaders as we develop programs,” said William Watson, general manager of Husson University’s Southern Maine campus in Bangor. “They help us identify the knowledge and skills employees and new hires need. Once courses are developed, we provide educational resources to organizations through our Partners Program in ways that foster workforce development.”

Gregory Washington, dean of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California Irvine (UC Irvine), also highlights the importance of partnerships. To date, he said, UC Irvine has partnered with 52 companies, creating valuable symbiotic relationships.

“We need companies and companies need us,” Washington said. “We need them to keep our research and the problems that we work on grounded in reality. We produce talent, and companies can have an influence on what that talent looks like.”


A diverse workforce can be an effective recruiting tool and innovation booster.

“When you have a diverse team, you get a diverse set of solutions because people come from different perspectives,” Washington said. “Those perspectives are a part of how individuals live their everyday lives and how they solveproblems. That problem-solving mechanism is important for companies, so having that diversity of thought leads to a broader range of answers – and that leads to better alternate solutions.”

Diversity also has helped Washington achieve his hiring goals at UC Irvine, in part because diversity attracts more diversity by making all prospects feel welcome.

“Where we’ve made our biggest growth has been on the faculty side,” Washington said. “We’ve hired 53 faculty members in the last five years, and 19 of those have been women, multiple times the national average. One third of my department chairs are women. Next year, half of my department chairs will be women, and that’s unheard of.”


Lifelong learning has been an afterthought for decades in many companies, but that is changing. “If it [lifelong learning] is built into every single job profile, where it is incentivized and encouraged in the right way, we will see more employees taking advantage,” said Till Leopold, project lead for the Center for the New Economy and Society at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland.

International defense and cybersecurity company Raytheon, for example, has introduced its own educational module – The Inclusive Leader – which is designed to help leaders better understand the scope and challenge of managing and leading in a diverse workplace. In its “2017 Corporate Responsibility Custom Report,” Raytheon reports that more than 90 percent of its leaders completed the course, which participants rated as “overwhelmingly positive” in their course feedback.

Like many employers, Raytheon also reimburses full-time employees as much as US$10,000 (8,767 euros) per year for university tuition for approved courses. The Raytheon Education Assistance program aims to help employees improve their job performance by encouraging and incentivizing them to engage in ongoing education.


The World Economic Forum estimates that one-third of the skills companies will need in 2020, just a year from now, are not being routinely taught in schools today. Until schools and universities catch up with employers’ needs, that means many companies won’t be able to hire the workers they need on a full-time basis.

Contract workers – people who have skills an organization needs but who may prefer to work on a wide variety of projects for a wide variety of companies – can help employers fill immediate skill gaps, expand a company’s capacity for special projects or help with short-term staffing crunches.

And now, finding such workers is easier than ever, thanks to the rise of online hiring platforms that help to match contract workers with employers who need their services, workforce solutions firm Catalant points out in its 2018 “Reimagining Work 20/20” report.

Once hired, digital innovation platforms help contract workers operate with the effectiveness of a full-time employee, facilitating collaboration and providing access to authorized corporate information and processes via a simple web browser connection.

In addition to filling short-term and specialized needs, hiring contract workers can be an effective way to identify candidates for full-time positions. Many contract workers, in fact, use their contract work to “shop” companies they might like to work for, enabling them to observe their cultures firsthand. “The potential upside is enormous in terms of opening up opportunities for people,” Leopold said.


Employers face a difficult challenge in finding and developing the talent they need, but these six strategies will help them meet existing needs while nurturing future skills. Workers, meanwhile, will benefit from the stability of long-term employment with employers committed to upskilling them rather than replacing them.

With this new security, however, comes new responsibility – the responsibility for employees, not just employers, to make lifelong learning an integral part of every workday. 

For information on training and certification through Dassault Systèmes:

Agritecture takes root

Agriculture and architecture team up to feed a growing population

Dan Headrick

3 min read

From skyscraper gardens in the 1930s to the plants aboard the Soviet Salyut space station in 1982, scientists have spent decades experimenting with the next agricultural revolution. Today, the emerging field of agritecture blends crop science, architecture and agriculture to grow foods indoors, but the trend’s long-term viability remains an open question.

In February 2012, dignitaries in the frozen city of Linköping, Sweden, jammed shovels into the ice for a ground-breaking photo-op marking a new concept: a 17-story, south-facing, glass-sheathed “plantscraper” designed by Swedish architectural firm Plantagon. The building receives excess heat and carbon dioxide from nearby industrial plants, creating a closed-loop process for indoor growing. Food grows on the building’s south side, while people work in offices facing the sunless north. The US$40 million (35.5 million euros) building is set to open by 2021.

Also in 2012, San Francisco Bay-area startup Crop One Holdings was founded. Today, through a joint venture with Emirates Flight Catering, Crop One plans to build the world’s largest vertical farming facility in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The US$40 million (35.5 million euros), 130,000 square feet (12,077 square meters) controlled-environment facility is expected to produce 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) of fresh produce daily. The food will supply in-flight meals for more than 100 airlines and 25 airport lounges.

As both of these examples illustrate, environmental concerns and global population growth are fueling bold designs that blend nature with architecture – a growing field known as agritecture. One of the most prominent examples is the 20-story Tao Zhu Yin Yuan carbon absorbing, double-helix residential tower in Taipei, Taiwan, which incorporates nearly the same number of trees and shrubs in its design as New York’s Central Park.

US$5.8 billion

The projected value of the vertical farming market by 2022, a 24.8% compound growth rate since 2016. MARKETSANDMARKETS, INDIA-BASED MARKETING AND RESEARCH CONSULTING FIRM

India-based global research and consulting firm MarketsandMarkets estimates that the worldwide agritecture market – also known as vertical farming – will be worth US$5.8 billion (5.16 billion euros) by 2022, growing at almost 25 percent annually since 2016. In short, entrepreneurs, crop scientists and data analysts are reinventing how food is being produced, people fed, land used and supply chains managed.


Growing crops indoors under red/blue-spectrum LED lights, without soil, using vertical space where climate can be controlled year round is an attractive proposition. Certain foods can be grown free of pests, using very little water, with nutrients applied in stingy, precise quantities to produce specialty foods packed with flavor. A vertical farm can grow more produce per acre than traditional dirt farming. And by growing food near urban centers, agritecture shortens long distribution chains, so food arrives on tables faster and fresher, reducing food waste and carbon emissions produced by transportation.

“Start with a crop with the highest demand in your market,“ is the advice that Jon Friedman, who co-founded indoor farming company Freight Farms in 2010, gives to aspiring agritecture operators. “The modular footprint allows you to change with the market.“


In theory, indoor farming sounds wonderful. In practice, it’s filled with challenges. Many promising indoor farming startups have failed in recent years. Energy and labor costs can be high. So are urban land values, which make converting inner city warehouses into high-tech farms a difficult economic proposition. One of the biggest challenges is finding the right scale for indoor operations. 

Some companies are scaling up, including Plantagon, Crop One and Silicon Valley startup Plenty, which plans to build a 30,446-square-foot (2,829-square-meter) vertical farming warehouse near Seattle, which surpasses New Jersey-based AeroFarms’ 21,300-square-foot (1,979-square-meter) farm, the world’s largest agritecture operation just two years ago.

 Freight Farms designs, builds and delivers a fully assembled, vertical hydroponic farming system inside a 40-foot shipping container capable of growing lettuces, herbs and hearty greens at commercial scale in any climate or location. (Image © Freight Farms)

Others are keeping it small. Boston-headquartered Freight Farms converts 40-by-8-foot (12.2-by-2.4-meter) shipping containers into fully equipped, self-contained, automated growing units that can be located on any patch of level ground measuring at least 138 square feet (12.8 square meters). The company has growing units in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Robert Colangelo, owner and founder of Green Sense Farms, which is based in Portage, Indiana, thinks he has hit on the “Goldilocks” design: 6,100-square-foot (567-square-meter) buildings for growing lettuces, leafy greens and herbs, each with an adjacent greenhouse for other crops that require more energy and growing time, including tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

Green Sense Farms locates its paired indoor growing facilities on the fringes of urban areas, near existing food distribution centers that serve hundreds of grocery stores, along with corporate campuses and institutions that serve large volumes of meals. To Colangelo, this combined operation is practical, at least until agritecture’s future becomes clear.


Indoor farming has captured the imaginations of architects, engineers, scientists, urban planners and entrepreneurs. But whether agritecture can make a substantial contribution to the world’s food supply remains an open question.

While they wait for an answer, operators are experimenting with production scale and cultivation methods, looking for the perfect formula. For now, what grows indoors is limited; protein-rich foods are conspicuously absent, although researchers continue to work on new food types.

Their hope is that agritecture could usher in the next agricultural revolution. For now progress appears to be incremental: inch-by-inch, row-by-row and floor-by-floor. 

Workforce partners

Industry and academia team up to close the skills gap

Rebecca Lambert

4 min read

Demand for technological skills in the workplace is rising, but workers who have them are in short supply. To fill the gap, businesses are collaborating with academic institutions to help their workers upskill and adapt to fast-changing job requirements through practical, hands-on training.

In Bondoufle, France, eight miles outside of Paris, construction is underway on CampusFab – a new professional training facility created by a consortium of French manufacturers, including Safran, Fives and GIFAS, along with the ASTech Paris Region aerospace competitiveness cluster. When it opens in September 2019, it will be a place for students, apprentices and workers to acquire and develop the skills they need to work in high-tech “factory of the future” facilities.

“Today, the aviation industry has many challenges,” said Caroline Laizeau, leader of the CampusFab project and general manager of Essonne Faculty of Trades, an apprentice teaching center near the new facility. “The market is experiencing strong growth and, in parallel, many people are retiring. There is a shortage of skills for the factory of the future, which is why we need this training center.”

Already, the facility has captured the attention of a wide range of companies – and not just those in aerospace.

“Initially, it was the aviation industry in the region that expressed this need, but it turns out that many other industrial companies are in the same situation,” Laizeau said.

Industry’s growing need for training support is becoming apparent worldwide, a reaction to the rapidly evolving skills companies need for their workers to master. By 2030, analyst firm McKinsey reports, the time workers will spend using advanced technological skills will increase by 50 percent in the U.S. and by 41 percent in Europe.

“We expect the fastest rise in the need for advanced IT and programming skills, which could grow as much as 90 percent between 2016 and 2030,” McKinsey reported in its May 2018 paper, “Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce.” “People with these skills will inevitably be a minority. However, there is also a significant need for everyone to develop basic digital skills for the new age of automation.”


Workers recognize that the outlook for those who fail to update their skills is bleak.

“Workers with skills in demand will prosper; those with outdated skills will be abandoned,” one respondent said in the 2018 “Workforce of the Future” survey by London-based professional services firm PwC.

Companies that traditionally have laid off workers with out-of-date skills, replacing them with recent graduates, no longer have that option, however. Unemployment in many developed nations worldwide is at record lows, and competition for the latest skills is driving up the cost of hiring them. Today, it is in companies’ best interests to retrain their workers.

“We don’t leave our employees on the side of the road,” said Bertrand Delahaye, deputy human resources director at French aerospace manufacturer Safran. Instead, Safran invests 4.5 percent of its payroll in professional training and ensures that 80 percent of its employees receive some form of training at least once a year.

To provide such training, industry leaders and academic organizations are teaming up to launch collaborative initiatives aimed at tackling skill shortages head on. Programs like CampusFab are the result.

Next year, CampusFab will welcome hundreds of apprentices and employees for ongoing training in a practical setting that replicates highly automated factories, including a digital room, additive manufacturing hub and an assembly line equipped with robots and automated carts. The center will give workers the opportunity to learn by doing, sometimes referred to as know-how.

“It’s important when you are an apprentice to have the theory but also a practical, hands-on understanding,” Delahaye said. “For our workers, we will teach them the principles of the factory of the future using real production lines and digital tools.” The program will support training for critical roles, including data engineers and data scientists.

“Many workers must now be capable of mastering data; their professions are constantly evolving,” Delahaye said. “For example, we need people who can work with data as we move towards a model of predictive maintenance. Our training will help people work in a digital environment.”


Experts agree that practical learning is the most effective kind and should begin at the university level.

“We’re a lab-intensive school,” said Joseph Hartman, dean of the Francis College of Engineering at UMass Lowell. “We give our students plenty of hands-on experience; learning shouldn’t just be about reading what stress and strain is from a textbook.” The university-sponsored senior design project is a prime example of hands-on learning.

“We run projects with around 25 companies each year,” Hartman said. “They provide a real industry problem, and our students work on the solution. They must maintain constant communication with the industrial sponsor, providing regular progress updates and so forth. It’s a great way of preparing our students for work.”


Technology skills are only half of what employers seek, however. In Sweden, Otto Ruijs is head of Business Transformation Europe at digital learning specialist Hyper Island, which focuses on the human capabilities needed to work effectively alongside technology. Human capabilities include social and emotional skills that machines are a long way from mastering.

Hyper Island teaches about real business problems through communication among students, avoiding lectures. These methods are designed to provoke discussion and action. (Image © Hyper Island)

“We will continue to need people that have the more ‘soft skills’ to help businesses manage the changes they’re going through,” Ruijs said. “We’re talking about empathy, curiosity and resilience – the things that make us human.”

The ability to communicate effectively and problem-solve is important too. “Today, everyone needs to be able to write a report, send succinct e-mails, stand up and give a presentation,” Hartman said. “They must be culturally savvy and capable of working with globally distributed teams. And they need to be creative. It used to be, ‘I have a problem; what data do I get?’ Now it’s ‘I have all this data; what can I do with it?’”


Many workers are open to change. PwC’s 2018 “Workforce of the Future” study, for example, found that 74 percent say they are ready to learn new skills or retrain to remain employable.

“A continuous learning culture is necessary because society is evolving so rapidly,” CampusFab’s Laizeau said. “We cannot be content with having a skill and not seeking to evolve it.“

Before they leave UMass Lowell, Francis College of Engineering students are encouraged to embrace the idea of lifelong learning.

“It’s something we try to instill in our students,” Hartman said. “It could be as informal as reading your trade articles, all the way through to studying for new qualifications. My comment to business leaders is we sometimes separate industry and academia. But if you want your people to be at the forefront of what they do, we should work together.”

As businesses seek to attract and retain talent, they must be willing to help workers upskill by offering continuous learning options.

“The battleground for companies is going to be talent,” Ruijs said. “People will see the learning facilities in a company as one of the key reasons to join – or not.” Delahaye agreed. “If we really want to attract the best talent, we must offer all stakeholders the most advanced tools to help them train and evolve.” 

Upstream thinking

Customer-centered process optimizes design results by involving every discipline

William J. Holstein

5 min read

Traditionally, companies with an idea for a new product have designed and engineered it, then organized focus groups of target consumers to gather feedback. With design and engineering set, however, making changes often is too expensive. Upstream Thinking involves customers from the beginning, creating radically inventive and disruptive concepts.

Imagine designing an automobile with no preconceived notion of what it should be. Would you design a car that gets driven only 9 percent of the time, then sits useless for hours or days on end ?

The team working on a new family car concept for Renault asked themselves that question. Their answer is Symbioz, an innovative concept for a mobile living space. Symbioz takes you where you need to go, but its all-electric design means that it can be parked in the living room as a separate area for reading or movie-watching, or on a home’s roof as a mosquito-free room for socializing or viewing the night sky through a large glass panel.

“We had the idea that in the future, the car will become an integral part of your ecosystem, designed not in isolation but as part of your life,” said Laurens van den Acker, Renault’s senior vice president of Corporate Design. “It is electric, so it can go inside because it has no fumes and no oil leaks. It can be driven or it can be autonomous, so it can park itself on the roof. It can share energy, charging the house or the house charging the car. And so we named it Symbioz, the idea of connecting two objects that profit from each other.”


Renault calls the process that yielded Symbioz “Passion for Life,” consistent with the company’s brand values. Outside Renault, the process is known as “Upstream Thinking” and involves three steps absent from traditional design. Upstream Thinking:

• begins with a cross-functional team, not just designers or engineers. By involving every corporate function, it becomes easier to break away from industry conventions while benefiting from specialist knowledge traditionally left untapped until too late in the development process.

• involves target customers before detailed design begins. Most design projects test a prototype on focus groups only after months or years of development has frozen the design and engineering.

• builds the learnings from its research into a conceptual design that potential customers can experience, either on a computer or in virtual reality, allowing them to give more informed feedback before detailed design begins.

The most important facets of Upstream Thinking are its laser focus on the customer’s needs and wants and on breaking design paradigms by involving people with no preconceived notions of how design is done or what the outcome should be.“It is unusual for a car design team to also get our hands into architecture, but with Symbioz we designed the house as well, together with Marchi Architects,” van den Acker said. “We worked with Philips Lighting for the lighting of the house, so that when the car arrives it can start to communicate with the house or the house can start to signal its intentions. It shows, I think, that in the future we [designers] won’t be isolated anymore, but we will do many more collaborations with people who think differently than we do.” Patrick Lecharpy, director of Design Synergies Alliance for Renault’s Laboratoire Collaboratif d’Innovation, adds: “This is our process to imagine what people will dream about within a few years, but cannot imagine today.”


Michel Serafin, an electrical engineer in the aerospace industry, wishes he had known about Upstream Thinking when he and Sébastien Mahut, an electronic engineer and electric propulsion expert, founded Newron Motors. Their aim: invent a high-performance, all-electric motorcycle with top speeds of 220 km/h (140 mph) and acceleration to 100 km/h (60 mph) in less than three seconds.

“We are bike enthusiasts but our job is not to create bikes, and the mechanical part of it we knew we could not do,” Serafin said. “So we went to a mechanical engineering expert, gave him the specs and asked him to create it.”  The result, Serafin said, was a boxy, heavy machine far too ugly to succeed in a market dominated by sleek, streamlined designs. So Newron hired a designer, who gave them a beautiful sketch – but no idea how to build it.

After the traditional design process failed them, Newron’s founders finally received the bike concept they had dreamed of thanks to Upstream Thinking, in which every discipline collaborates on a concept with input from customers. (Image © Newron)

When their project was chosen to join an accelerator program, they were introduced to Upstream Thinking and given access to a digital platform optimized for creating superb customer experiences.

“Even those members of the team who were not technical people became involved in the designing,” Serafin said. “From the moment we linked to the platform, an entire constellation of people was connected and working with us. They taught us how to not just design a product, but to imagine usage scenarios and design an experience. They had us thinking about the customer from the beginning to the very end.”Typically, Serafin said, a bike company tests the ergonomics of its design by building a wooden prototype and asking people to sit on it. On an experience platform, “in one hour, with no money, you can design it and test it virtually,” he said. “At the end of five days, you can ‘ride’ the entire bike virtually. You can test all of the options, all of the possibilities.”


The benefits of Upstream Thinking aren’t limited to concept cars and startup companies, however.

“It’s about being ahead of the game,” said Dave Marek, global creative director for Acura automobiles, based in Los Angeles. As a result, Marek has expanded his research, working with researchers at Ohio State University and at California’s Stanford University, among other institutions. The research includes interviews with students about what young drivers expect in the fit and finish of a car.

(Image © Renault)

That Upstream Thinking engagement with future customers helped Marek persuade Acura executives to equip the brand’s 2019 RDX crossover sport utility vehicle with an all-new infotainment system. The device, called True Touchpad Interface, features a 10.2-inch (26 cm) HD Dual-Content center display that is within the driver’s line of sight, and an intuitive 1:1 touchpad control just inches from the driver’s hand.

“Everyone who has gotten into the vehicle quickly understands how to use it,” Marek said. “They have an ‘Aha!’ moment. That came from us having people get in and try it over and over,” until the design was fully intuitive on the first try.

Digital collaborative tools on a common platform improve not only Acura’s customer understanding, but understanding among different disciplines at Honda R&D Americas, as well.

To solve an issue with the Engineering department before the company had a collaborative platform, for example, Marek had to make a trip to their offices or place a phone call.

“Part of the problem about calling was, I can’t see what you are talking about,” he said. “That caused delays. Now, with the collaborative tools [for viewing virtual models], you can do it in real time and all the time, asthe quality of that interaction gets better and better. Collaborative methods have changed everything.”

By iterating early and often, involving every discipline from the start and keeping a firm focus on the wants and needs of the target customer, these companies are achieving designs that are right the first time. The result: faster development at less cost and happier customers. And who wouldn’t want that? 

For more information on Upstream Thinking, please visit:

The origins of planets

German students’ space station experiment seeks to prove planet-formation theory

William J. Holstein

3 min read

Scientists have long sought to understand the origins of the planets. One theory suggests that lightning strikes cause dust particles in space to become ‘sticky’ and cling to each other. In the gravity-free environment of the International Space Station, the theory is being put to the test.

In the beginning there was gas, and the gas was everywhere. No planets. Nothing solid.

So what force caused that gas to begin forming into planets?

Scientists speculate that more than 4.5 billion years ago, intense lightning strikes hitting clouds of dust and gas caused dust particles to become ‘sticky’ and cling to each other. These clumps then clung to other clumps, growing until they formed asteroids and, eventually, planets. These submillimeter to millimeter spherical bits of dust, called chondrules, have been found in meteorites, lending weight to the theory.

Earth’s strong gravity makes it impossible to perfectly replicate the near-weightless conditions required for chondrule formation. Therefore, Frank Brenker and Björn Winkler, professors at Goethe University Frankfurt, assembled a team of students and technicians, as well as programmers from Hackerspace, to develop an experiment for the weightless conditions available on the International Space Station (ISS).


Competition for space and research time on the ISS, as well as weight in the payloads of rockets that deliver materials to the station, is intense. The students discovered a national competition administered by Johannes Weppler, Überflieger Program Manager at German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt e.V, or DLR). Of the 24 entries into the Überflieger competition, the Goethe University Frankfurt experiment – named EXCISS, for Experimental Chondrule Formation at the ISS – was among three chosen to make the trip.

“I am very optimistic that the experiment will work as planned,” Weppler said, explaining why he selected EXCISS to receive a coveted spot.

The experiment took place in late 2018, conducted by German astronaut and ISS Commander Alexander Gerst.


Constructing a device small enough to meet the ISS size and weight restrictions while replicating the conditions that existed before planets formed was an enormous challenge. The experiment had to fit in a Nanolab, a 10 by 10 by 15 centimeter (about 4 by 4 by 6 inch) receptacle specifically made to fit into the experimental bays on the ISS.

Scientists speculate that more than 4.5 billion years ago, intense lightning strikes hitting clouds of dust and gas caused dust particles to fuse, growing until they formed asteroids and then planets. (Image © Stocktrek / Getty Images)

The experiment is designed to bombard the gassy dust inside the Nanolab with a variety of energy levels.

“We can adjust the energy of the lightning strikes anywhere from 3 to 30 joules by changing the charging voltage of our capacitors,” said Dominik Spahr, one of the doctoral students who developed the experiment and build the equipment for it.


Finding a way to capture data from the experiment for analysis requires some fancy footwork. A high-powered video camera with a microscope optic records the behavior of the dust particles during and between the lightning events. But the camera itself had to be protected from the energy surges, accomplished with protective shields that include ferrite beads.

The video camera, which also takes still pictures, is connected to an electronic lab notebook, which automatically captures the data. Because the ISS is connected wirelessly to Earth, daily results are communicated to the Science Cloud, a cloud computing-based platform. Team members can access each day’s results on the platform and make needed adjustments before the next day’s tests.

An experiment in the weightless conditions on the International Space Station will test the theory of how chondrules were formed. (Image © 3DSculptor / Getty Images)

Detecting changes in the dust particles and identifying chondrules, if any, can only be done after the Nanolab returns to Earth. “We will analyze the dust particles using different techniques, including electron microscopes,” said Tamara Koch, the lead doctoral student on the EXCISS project. “We will compare our dust particles with the results of experiments conducted on Earth and with natural chondrules found in meteorites. This will take at least a few months.”


The project represents a coming of age for Germany and the overall European space effort.

“Of course, the U.S. and Russia are the two dominant and most visible powers in space,” Weppler said. “Nevertheless, Germany aims at playing a major role as well.”

Therefore, he said, Germany is the second biggest financial contributor to the European Space Agency, and the DLR is conducting many projects with international partners. Weppler, an avid Star Trek fan, welcomes the chance to encourage young people to think big about space.

The American television series’ tagline was “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” That philosophy clearly had an impact on Weppler.

“My love for Star Trek has been and continues to be a big inspiration for me,” he said. “This experiment is about one of the core ideas of Star Trek: the exploration of space. These are the first European students to have their own experiment on the ISS. What could be more fitting than ‘boldly going where no European student has gone before?’” ◆

Hear the Goethe University team talk about the project:

Composites in demand

As applications increase, researchers seek faster methods for producing composite parts

Tony Velocci

5 min read

In the 60 years since composites were introduced, their remarkable strength-to-weight ratio and resistance to heat and corrosion have made them the go-to material for many high-performance applications. As both aerospace and automotive OEMs focus on high-volume production challenges, however, researchers are working to accelerate the pace for producing and certifying advanced composite parts.

For decades, the aerospace industry has valued composite materials for their high strength and low weight, which have helped to make commercial aircraft increasingly fuel efficient. To make progress against its massive backlog of orders, however, aerospace now must ramp up its production speeds – a challenge shared by the high volume automotive industry, which needs composites to lower the weight and extend the range of electric-powered cars.

Both industries, however, face a major hurdle in achieving their goals: Compared to other materials, composites take a relatively long time to manufacture – and they take an even longer time for regulators to certify in new applications.

In high-volume car manufacturing, for example, even two to three minutes per part is too long to meet the industry’s high production rates. Meanwhile, certification of Boeing’s 787 aircraft, with its carbon-fiber wing and fuselage, required tens of thousands of hours of tests on physical prototypes, adding significant development time and cost.
All of this translates into pressure on composites researchers to find solutions.

“We must turn the technology development time faster if we are going to meet the needs of our population for products with a high percentage of composites content,” said Byron Pipes, executive director of the Composites Manufacturing Simulation Center at the Indiana Manufacturing Institute (CMSC).

To achieve that goal, Pipes said, researchers must reduce the complexity of designing, analyzing, manufacturing and gaining regulatory approval for new uses of advanced composites.


Part of the solution to accelerating the manufacture of composites and reducing their cost will come from industries building on each other’s progress, Pipes said.

Structural composites, for example, got their start in aerospace, when scientists began pioneering processes, procedures and engineering disciplines for building composite airplane parts. Decades later, manufacturers began applying the material to flight-critical primary structures, including the fuselage and wings.

Meanwhile, makers of leisure products – and then carmakers – slowly embraced composites to replace metal in applications where light weight and unique styling are important but can’t be achieved with aluminum. These industries adapted aerospace technologies to differentiate their product designs while using composites to reduce noise and vibration.

Since 2012, the automotive industry has slashed production cycle times for each composite car and truck part from about eight hours to just a few minutes and has trimmed production costs by nearly 25 percent, said Peter Chivers, chief executive officer of the National Composites Center in Bristol, England. However, the industry needs to shave at least another 25 percent off the 2012 levels to achieve the economies of scale that automotive profitability requires, Chivers said.

In the meantime, the cycle of cross-industry learning is coming full circle. Faced with a combined back order of more than 12,000 passenger and cargo airplanes, most of which include substantial volumes of composite parts, Boeing and Airbus are adapting automotive processes to increase their rates of making and certifying advanced composite structures.

“Can aerospace use the rates and methods developed in the automotive and leisure products industries with the same level of confidence?” Pipes asked rhetorically, explaining the challenge. “I think the answer is ‘yes.’”

Chivers agrees. “In the next five years, you will see a major increase in composites’ use across multiple industries, especially in automotive,” he said.

This computer analysis of an automotive B-Pillar indicates the part’s producibility; blue indicates good manufacturability, yellow indicates questionable sections and red indicates areas for redesign. The yellow shape is a pattern for cutting the flat composite material so that it will fit the part’s mold. (Image © Dassault Systèmes)


As industry innovates, Pipes said, regulators, too, must do their part, by accepting the proven accuracy of powerful computerized simulation and analysis methods to certify composites for new applications.

At Purdue University, where Pipes is the John L. Bray Distinguished Professor of Engineering, researchers are developing Work Flow Apps, a virtual factory hub for composites. The apps allow engineers to simulate whether a specific composite for a specific application will perform precisely as product designers intended.

Work Flow Apps is almost ready for beta testing. It will be delivered via a secure cloud-services platform, ensuring that an industry’s entire value network of OEMs, suppliers and partners has access via a simple web browser. This is an essential feature, Pipes said, because ease of interaction among all suppliers is imperative in collaborative design and in the certification of composite structures.

Purdue and CMSC are working with several composite simulation software vendors to develop the high-rate simulation methods. The goal is to enable engineers to simulate 12 discrete manufacturing processes and accurately predict how specific composites would perform in the real world – including full simulation of crash tests.

Proven simulation accuracy could provide the confidence manufacturers and regulatory agencies need to ensure safety and address liability issues for products made from high-performance composites, without physical testing, Pipes said.

The starboard wing of the clean-sheet A220 (previously designated the C Series) family of commercial jets, which are produced in partnership between Airbus and Bombardier, undergoes final assembly in a Belfast, Ireland factory. More than 30 percent of the body of the single-aisle aircraft, including the wings, is made from advances composite materials. (Image © C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership)


Dale Brosius, chief commercialization officer of the US-funded Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), said the auto industry faces a steep learning curve as consumer demand shifts from gasoline-powered to electric-powered vehicles.

“We have to simultaneously work material development, manufacturing processes, and modeling and simulation tools,” Brosius said. But he also believes that researchers are approaching an inflection point.

“It’s not a question of whether we can [speed up cycle times], but how we do it cost effectively,” he said. “We’re getting closer to accurate high-speed crash prediction for composites, and we are nearing the magical one-partper-minute [rate for] producing continuous fiber components through fast robotics and fast-processing resins.”

In addition, researchers are learning how to produce stronger 3D-printed structures, he said, including the ability to make prototype tooling for high-pressure molding processes with high-temperature carbon-filled thermoplastic materials.


Research and development trends, these experts agree, strongly suggest that high-performance composites will be technically and economically feasible well beyond their current state by the early 2020s.
“The opportunities are huge,” Chivers said, “because more and more people believe the use of composites is the solution to meeting the world’s demand for more innovative products.”

To meet the high production demands of automotive and aerospace companies, engineers as the Institute of Advances Composites Manufacturing Innovation are working on a new methods for accelerating composite-parts manufacturing. (Image © Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center, Purdue University)

Those products likely will come not only from automotive and aerospace companies, but from leisure goods and sustainable energy applications as well. While advanced composites have proven their value in light-weight applications in auto and aerospace, they also apply to products with complex shapes and advanced styling – including bicycles, golf clubs and lacrosse sticks – that can’t be achieved by bending metal. Advanced composites also reduce noise and vibration, a characteristic important to automobiles, airplanes and wind turbines.

To achieve all of these applications, Pipes said, simulation will be critical to advancing composites, and other technologies too.

“Simulation will become the language of innovation, with the collective knowledge base of engineering communities residing in simulation tools,” Pipes said. “This is where the future is going.”

For more information on advanced simulation solutions for composites, please visit:

In with the new

Technology helps shipyards capture retirees' expertise and attract digitally savvy workers

John Martin

4 min read

Experienced engineering and manufacturing workers are retiring in droves in the Marine & Offshore (M&O) industry, taking their knowledge and skill sets with them. increasingly, M&O companies are focused on capturing and transmitting that knowledge and know-how to a new generation of recruits – and attracting them to the field – through technology.

Knowledge is forever. That certainly is true in books. So why not in companies?

Shipbuilding, for example, is both science and art, and it takes many years for a worker to master both. Increasingly, however, shipyards are finding that technology can simultaneously help them capture, retain and pass along knowledge and know-how developed by their Baby Boomer employees and attract a new, digital-native generation of workers to replace those reaching retirement age.

To understand the knowledge replication challenge, consider naval architects, the engineers who oversee ship design, construction and repair.

“Experienced people have a holistic view of the matter, which is difficult to have as a young naval architect,” said Roberto Prever, president and senior designer of NAOS Ship and Boat Design, a Trieste, Italy-based leader in the design of marine vehicles. Developing a holistic view requires years of experience in balancing the competing needs and priorities of dozens of different disciplines, including electrical, mechanical, structural, safety and human factors.

Passing that “holistic view“ to future generations is critical to what Dan Jacob, practice director and principal analyst at LNS Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, calls “business longevity” – allowing a company to thrive across many generations. Achieving business longevity, he said, requires a big dose of knowledge management, which he describes as a “structured approach to identify, prioritize, collect and transfer data and insights across the value chain, management and support functions to increase value.”

The trick, Jacob said, is to grab hold of not just know-how, but what he calls “know-better”: the know-how gained by workers through decades of experience. NAOS approaches the challenge by co-locating experienced and novice workers. “The ‘old foxes’ stay seated with the young workers across the development of new projects,” Prever said.


But what if the old foxes have already left the den? Some of their knowledge can be rediscovered by analyzing data in a company’s information and operational technology systems, to capture proven design and manufacturing practices, along with their built-in rules and templates, for reuse.

Knowledge capture is only the beginning, however; knowledge still must be transferred to and used by the next generation. And that, experts in the field agree, requires a unified, digital innovation platform to give every employee visibility into the knowledge they need across many disciplines.

Traditionally, each discipline has used its own specialized computer system to do its work, effectively locking knowledge into silos. NAOS Ship and Boat Design, and shipyards that include Damen Shipyards Group (the Netherlands), Naval Group (France) and Meyer Werft (Germany), are breaking these silos with digital innovation platforms that manage and capture every detail from ideation through design, manufacturing and support processes, as shared digital data.

A platform enables services such as mobile apps for accessing proficiency methods and software for identifying and collaborating with experts throughout the enterprise. New workers can train and certify themselves in new skills on e learning portals. Lessons-learned systems impart know-better knowledge from one generation to the next. The result is a social knowledge network equally accessible to all authorized employees, and to authorized members of a company’s external value network.

“We’ve established communities of practice with an inwardly facing social media approach,” Jacob said, describing how LNS Research works with its clients. “Local resources get to collaborate with ‘scarce resources’ and, as a significant benefit, the responses are captured.”

At CSSC Huangpu Wenchong Shipbuilding in Guangzhou, China, for example, new hires can access knowledge germane to their work from user guidance and standards housed on the company’s digital innovation platform – which the shipbuilder also leverages to host lectures, training and webinars.


Developing a platform-based social knowledge network helps companies capture experiential knowledge from their most experienced workers. It also energizes their replacements – the 140 million Millennial and Gen Z workers who live and breathe social networks.

Huangpu Wenchong shipbuilders, for example, amplifies engagement through annual technology innovation contests for young employees to encourage their talents; it also created an online venture to provide extra opportunities for interested recruits.

Other technologies that excite these workers – and that also are essential to shipbuilding productivity and innovation – include 3D modeling, digital simulation, wearables, robotics, mobile, AI/machine learning, virtual and augmented reality and gamification. Digital product innovation platforms integrate all of these capabilities. Ship owners, too, can use these platforms to capture knowledge from retiring crews, then use it to train new, tech-savvy shipmates via simulation and virtual operations.

The tech-driven cohort that will replace retirees will help safeguard business continuity through their acceptance of – indeed, their preference for – such technology.

“They are, and they will be, more and more important,” Prever said. Recruiting tech-savvy newcomers to the industry is critical, he said, because ship design “becomes always more complex, because the technologies are more complex, and the bouquet of possibilities more wide.”

It’s all part of Industry Renaissance, a societal transformation being driven by the use of virtual worlds to capture, grow and leverage companies’ knowledge and know-how. By breaking down functional silos and creating end-to-end visibility, businesses can quickly sense and respond to fast-changing market demands, and even to implement and test entirely new business models.

Millennial and Gen Z workers are already energized by manufacturing real things; witness the maker movement. Offering them modern, digital capabilities, these digital shipyard pioneers believe, will attract an innovative new workforce of the future empowered by access to all of their predecessors’ knowledge and know-how – and the means to build on it.

For more information on how marine and offshore companies are addressing the scarcity of qualified workers, please visit:

Merging drugs and devices

New combination products put the power in patients’ hands

Rebecca Gibson

3 min read

Thanks to their ability to deliver drugs in safer, more effective and comfortable ways, new combination products are giving patients more opportunities to medicate themselves, rather than having to visit clinics or hospitals. The combination products sector is still in its infancy, however, so regulators have it under the microscope, prompting pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers to develop new strategies for securing approvals.

When a young boy in the United States was diagnosed with diabetes in the 1990s, his father sought a therapeutic solution that would enable him to live uninhibited by his condition. The device he invented transformed his son’s life, and those of more than 140,000 diabetics worldwide.

Small, lightweight and waterproof, the OmniPod Insulin Management System from the Insulet Corporation of Billerica, Massachusetts, was the world’s first tubeless, wirelessly controlled insulin pump. Worn on a patient’s skin, the OmniPod automatically and continuously delivers insulin for up to three days.

“Previously, I used injections to administer two different types of insulin, but this gave me limited blood sugar control,” said Emma Taylor, a UK patient who has used an Omnipod since 2017. “The Omnipod has quickly and significantly increased my health and quality of life because it allows me to fine-tune my body’s insulin requirements throughout the day in response to variables like exercise or stress.”

The Omnipod is just one example in the rapidly growing field of combination products, which provide novel methods of administering drugs that once required more cumbersome methods, including frequent clinical visits.

While the surge in combination products is partly driven by pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers seeking to differentiate their drug products in an increasingly competitive marketplace, their ability to improve patient experiences is a major factor in their rapid growth.

“Patients want more flexible options for delivering their medications safely and efficiently at home, so manufacturers are developing combination products to facilitate this,” said Bill Rich, vice president of Device Technologies at multinational biotechnology company Amgen.


While patients, pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies all welcome the arrival of new combination products, regulators are fine-tuning their approach to approving them. Developing safe products that administer the right dose of medicine in the right way at the right time is complex, and most countries have tended to regulate medicines and medical devices separately.

“In the past you knew what was a medicine and what was a device,” said Elizabeth Baker, group manager of the Licensing Division for the UK government’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, following a conference held with the BioIndustry Association in July 2018. “Now there are drug and device kits and the regulatory pathway is challenging. Yet it’s necessary to decide if a product is a medicine or a device because there is no combination product classification, or a separate legal basis for regulating them. As a result, positioning the product for regulatory approval is becoming more complex.”

Amgen’s Rich emphasizes that every combination device on the market has been validated to prove it functions correctly, delivering the correct dose of medication. To accelerate the process, innovative new methods are helping pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers demonstrate the functionality of combination products before patient trials.

“Simulation modeling is becoming one of the most prevalent ways to test devices because it’s much easier for designers to get a larger scope of detailed information,” said John Halmen, principal development engineer at Medtronic, a global medical equipment and technology development company headquartered in Minneapolis.

In the virtual world of a computer, tests can be run and results generated in seconds, significantly faster than in physical trials, without putting any human at risk.

“Developers can change the material of the device, the disease state of the patient, boundary conditions and other factors [in the computer] to analyze what effect it has on both the patient and the device,” Halmen said. “The quick feedback allows them to fully optimize the device without building multiple prototypes.”

The ultimate goal, Halmen said, is to develop a full human model that replicates real-world testing. “Biological, cardiac and neurological modeling offer unlimited potential for new applications that better combine biological and medical devices that can be used for individualized, rather than broad-based, treatments.”


The value of the combination products market will hit US$2.9 billion (2.55 billion euros) by 2023, Market.Biz predicts in its 2018-2023 report on combination device production and sales. Rich believes it’s easy to see why.

“Combination products are empowering us to provide patients with life-changing medications and treatment options that previously may not have been possible,” he said. “Just six years ago, wearable devices were primarily used to administer insulin; now devices are used to deliver a variety of products.”

Today, combination products include asthma inhalers, auto-injectors, drug-eluting stents, transdermal patches and more. Amgen has even developed an on-body injector device that has allowed more than 450,000 cancer patients to receive its drug Neulasta, which prevents infections caused by low white blood cell counts, at home. The device automatically injects the drug 27 hours after chemotherapy treatment.

“Patients can take the medication while spending precious time at home with loved ones, rather than getting injections at the hospital or clinic,” Rich said.

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Intelligent innovation

Connecting diverse disciplines creates competitive advantage for industrial equipment makers

Jacqui Griffiths

3 min read

Connecting departments and systems is no longer enough to achieve the fast-paced innovation the industrial equipment market demands. Leading manufacturers are adopting a single digital platform so that all disciplines can collaborate in real time throughout the product lifecycle to identify and resolve issues, while involving customers and suppliers in creating the final experience.

Meeting the evolving needs of agricultural businesses around the world is an increasingly complex challenge.

Technological advances in machinery are no longer linked to size and horsepower, said Thomas Böck, member of the executive board and responsible for technology and systems at CLAAS Group, a global agricultural equipment manufacturer headquartered in Germany.

“Today, the focus is more on intelligent, energy-efficient machines that accomplish more while keeping operational costs to a minimum,” Böck said. “Agricultural equipment is increasingly equipped with smart technology to be IoT [Internet of Things] ready and manage working processes automatically, increasing efficiency through the whole production process.”

Agricultural firms are hungry for the latest technology to help them increase productivity and speed up cultivation, research and consulting firm Market Research Future noted in its “Agriculture Equipment Market Research Report, Global Forecast to 2022” study. But manufacturers face the challenge of fluctuating prices for raw materials, making it difficult to control costs, so Market Research Future recommends that manufacturers establish fast, efficient processes for bringing new technologies and business models to market.

“We have to be innovative in how we develop and manufacture our machines,” Böck said of CLAAS. “Innovative in our processes, systems and tools so that our response is up to par with the global challenges facing the agricultural industry.“

To achieve this, CLAAS has adopted a single digital product innovation platform used by all disciplines, providing rapid access to the company’s extensive knowledge and know-how and facilitating high-visibility collaboration to enable intelligent innovation.

It is a strategy being adopted not just by agricultural equipment manufacturers like CLAAS, but across the broad spectrum of industrial equipment manufacturers, said Greg Gorbach, vice president, digitization and IoT at global technology market research firm ARC Advisory Group. “Connecting multiple disciplines on a single platform has become essential for successful innovation across the industrial equipment industry,“ Gorbach said.


“Industrial equipment companies are facing new competitive differentiators as customers demand more sophisticated, highly connected machines that meet their ecosystem, data, maintenance and customer experience requirements,” Gorbach said. “These new products are increasingly sophisticated and complex, and they often need to participate in one or more intelligent ecosystems. Supporting those needs involves multiple disciplines, departments and stakeholders – including customers – at every phase of the product and service lifecycle.”

By connecting everything on a single platform, organizations position themselves to compete in markets undergoing fundamental digital transformation, which greatly accelerates the speed at which companies must act.

“Disruptive technologies will change the expectations and processes of the industrial sector in ways we cannot fully anticipate,” Gorbach said. “Connecting separate systems is not enough.”

To achieve the connected innovation they need, industrial equipment companies need a platform that enables all stakeholders – from internal departments to partners and customers – to work together toward the same goal in real time, using the same data.

“With proper attention to these areas, companies can operate efficiently in an era of dynamic change, and behave as a unified whole – an intelligent, connected enterprise,“ Gorbach said. CLAAS applied precisely this thinking when implementing its enterprise-wide platform.

“It’s our strategic platform for everything we do in engineering and digitalization – from ideation to production and service,” said Nico Michels, head of digital product engineering at CLAAS.

“We can collaborate on the same product or object from any CLAAS site at the same time,” Böck said. “Not only in the engineering departments, but all downstream departments, which are able to access a product or specific object simultaneously if required.”

Benefits include end-to-end visibility into decisions that affect multiple disciplines, so that specialists can collaborate to find solutions that balance competing requirements for the best outcome.

“Product information is the same for everyone,” said Bernhard Schuchert, CIO at CLAAS. “Everyone has access to the integrated solution with the most recent designs, which we only need to maintain once since there is no duplication of information.”


While leading manufacturers like CLAAS are implementing single-platform strategies, however, many companies still have a lot of work to do, professional services network PwC cautioned in its “Global Digital Operations Study 2018.”

“Although Industry 4.0 is transforming manufacturing rapidly, in novel ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago, only a small group of companies is in a position to gain real competitive advantages from this operations revolution,” the report says. “These companies, which we call Digital Champions, are noteworthy because they view digitization in ways that are far-reaching and aggressively innovative, well beyond mere automation and networking.”

At CLAAS, having a single digital platform enables the company to future-proof not only its products, but its entire business.

“To make our machines future-proof, we need to add new or upgrade current technology in existing machines, which will enable them to provide owners with sustainable added value for years to come,” Böck said. “Since the design data for every machine we develop is stored and managed in the same platform, it’s easy to add additional features over the machine’s lifecycle and provide this to the customer without having to develop a new machine every time a new technology comes along. Our response is faster and our customers are happy because our solution is more cost effective.”

“As for our processes, we achieved major improvements because we had the opportunity to rethink and reengineer old ways of working,” Michels said. “With the platform, we are set for the future.”

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Respectful hyperpersonalization

How companies can treat customers as individuals without becoming invasive

Rebecca Gibson

3 min read

Consumers have become accustomed to receiving personalized emails and product recommendations from retailers, as well as video suggestions. But now businesses are using intelligent technologies to deliver hyper-personalized interactions, marketing and products or services tuned to each individual’s preferences and needs, to a point that some consumers find it intrusive.

Princess Cruises, part of Carnival Corporation, set an ambitious goal: make every guest feel as if their cruise has been engineered to satisfy their personal needs and preferences.

To do this, Princess is piloting its Ocean Medallion technology with guests aboard Regal Princess. The program provides select passengers with a wearable disc, which interacts with thousands of sensors as those passengers move around the ship and selected cruise ports. The medallions capture real-time data about passengers’ behavior, which Princess uses to deliver a custom experience.

“Hyper-personalized experiences are unique, emotionally engaging and life-changing, so Ocean Medallion uses data and the xIoT (experience Internet of Things) platform to actively learn individual guests’ needs, wants and desires to build continuously evolving ‘guest genomes,’” said John Padgett, Carnival Corporation’s chief experience and innovation officer. “These genomes will provide crew with the vital insights they need to proactively invite them to participate in experiences that align with their desires.”

The Ocean Medallion program makes Carnival Corporation one of a growing list of companies exploring hyper-personalization. Approximately 80 percent of consumers are more likely to use companies that offer real-time personalized experiences, global marketing agency Epsilon found in its 2017 report, “The Power of Me: The Impact of Personalization on Marketing Performance.” But how far can companies go with personalization without infringing on consumer privacy?


“Most companies are focused on maximizing operational efficiencies to increase profits, so they deliver one-size-fits-all customer experiences,” said Blake Morgan, customer experience futurist, author and keynote speaker. “But customers want personalized interactions because they’re sick of wasting time watching irrelevant ads and reading immaterial product recommendations. Customers’ time is precious, so they’re more likely to come back to companies who respect it by offering hyper-personalized experiences that are always relevant to them.”

While 96 percent of marketers recognize the business and customer benefits of hyper-personalization, just 30 percent claimed to offer good personalized experiences, research consultancy Researchscape International and personalization software provider Everages reported in 2017. A common hurdle, the companies found, is not having the technology to capture and analyze multiple sources of data to form a ‘universal truth’ about each customer, one that continuously evolves in lockstep with their evolving preferences.

“Previously, companies used insights about customers’ past behavior to personalize the experience, but now they’re relying on artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), machine learning, deep learning and analytics tools,” said ShiSh Shridhar, Microsoft’s Retail Industry lead for data and analytics. “Machine learning and AI allow companies to find patterns and links between the separate bits of data they collect so they can understand what factors drive each customer to use their services or buy their products. They can then use these insights to hyper-personalize interactions in real time.”

Entertainment streaming service Netflix, for example, uses deep learning to suggest films and TV series to its subscribers based on their viewing behavior and preferences. By doing this, Netflix can increase the value of inexpensive titles and thereby save an estimated US$1 billion on content spend.

Meanwhile, music, podcast and video streaming service Spotify increased its paid subscribers from 30 million in 2016 to 71 million in 2018 by using AI and deep learning to provide each user with unique daily and weekly playlists that are hyper-personalized to reflect their preferences and listening behaviors. Spotify has even teamed up with Nike to create playlists of songs with beats that match the users’ running paces.


Following revelations that major organizations, including Facebook and Google, have sold customers’ data to third parties without their knowledge or consent, some consumers are increasingly hesitant to share personal data. Technology and media research firm Tech.pinions, for example, found that almost 10 percent of US Facebook users have deleted their accounts in 2018 alone.

However, 66 percent of consumers would share personal information if it remained secure — and if they got something in return, Accenture Strategy reported in its 2017 study “Exceed Expectations with Extraordinary Experiences.”

“Companies must be completely transparent about what information they’re collecting and how they’ll use it to drive value for customers,” Shridhar said. “For example, customers are happy to continuously share location and payment data with global peer-to-peer ridesharing company Uber because they know they’ll find a ride within minutes, whereas the whole process would be longer and more inconvenient if they didn’t.”


When customers share data, futurist Morgan said, they also should be given the choice to opt in or out of hyper-personalization. “To be relevant and provide value, brands must identify exactly what each individual does, or does not, want to receive from them,” she said.

Netflix uses deep learning to suggest films and TV series to its subscribers based on their viewing behavior and preferences. (Image © Netflix)

“For example, many people find it weird when brand advertising infiltrates their Facebook feed. So, by making it easy for them to opt out, companies can create an experience-led business that adapts to customers’ different comfort levels in real time.” Carnival Corporation, for one, is reaping the benefits of giving guests choice and control over sharing their personal data in return for hyper-personalized experiences.

“Our Ocean Medallion cruise experience revolves around guests sharing their information, but they’re incredibly enthusiastic to do so because they recognize that insights from their data are being reinvested to benefit them as unique individuals,” Padgett said. “The key is to design every element of hyper-personalization to specifically benefit the guest and allow everyone to choose their level of participation – no one on board is required to have a connected cruise.”

A healthier society

Personalized medicine makes life better for patients and their communities

Rebecca Lambert

5 min read

Technology advancements are transforming medical care from a one-size-fits-all model to one of individualized treatments, improving the quality of life for patients while reducing the burdens on society, from cost savings to reduced sick days. Compass looks at three innovative companies that are helping medical professionals deliver personalized treatments.

Traditional approaches to drug development assume that all patients with a certain condition respond similarly to a given drug. But these one-size-fits-all treatments are effective in only 30 percent to 60 percent of patients due to differences in the way each individual responds to and metabolizes medicines, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) reports.

Scientists believe personalized medicine, which delivers treatments customized to each patient’s unique biology, holds the key to improving effectiveness, helping not just patients but the societies in which they live as well.

How? By reducing the use of ineffective drugs, lowering the cost of chronic conditions and shortening hospital stays, according to a July 2018 report by two pharmaceutical trade associations, the European Biopharmaceutical Enterprises (EBE) and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

“In the Netherlands, personalized medicine has reduced chemotherapy usage and hospital stays,” the report states. “It is estimated that the mean hospital stay for targeted treatments is three to four days, whereas previously it was more than a week for chemotherapy regimens.”

Around the globe, innovative companies are using advanced technology to expand the application of personalized medicine to more health conditions, improving outcomes for patients while reducing the social impacts of illness.


Epilepsy patients, for example, face a brighter future thanks to technology being developed by BioSerenity, a team of experts headquartered in the Brain and Spine Institute of La Pitié-Salpêtrière, he largest teaching hospital in France.

Each patient wears a smart hat and vest embedded with biometric sensors and electrodes to sense abnormal activity, including seizures. The sensors relay data to medical professionals through a secure cloud platform, where machine-learning algorithms interpret its meaning to fine-tune diagnoses and analyze reactions to treatment.


“With our point-of-care diagnostics solution and companion apps, we monitor patients over a long period of time and in a real-world evidence setting,” BioSerenity CEO Pierre Frouin said. “Our telemedicine solutions use AI [artificial intelligence] to identify digital biomarkers in the signals recorded. Human experts then validate diagnosis.”

BioSerenity’s aim is to help the scientific community better understand conditions like epilepsy and improve long-term treatment.

“If we can detect early signs of deterioration, we can treat a patient before severe events take place, thus reducing hospitalization,” Frouin said. “We can also track the effect of therapy so we can optimize patient care and help them get the right treatment faster.”

It currently takes three to five years to stabilize an epileptic patient, but Frouin believes personalized medicine could cut that time significantly. “It could also lessen the burden on family members by reducing the likelihood of patients losing their job and their driving license,” he said.


Digital Orthopaedics develops 3D simulation systems to support decision-making in foot and ankle surgery.

“Our aim is to personalize surgery planning and execution and improve treatment,” said Eric Halioua, co-founder and CEO of the Belgium-based company. “We generate a digital 3D clone of the patient’s foot and ankle and simulate the surgery to assess the various options available to them.”

By creating a digital twin of a patient’s foot and ankle, surgeons can simulate the surgery to assess the best options available to the patient before any treatment begins, saving time and costs. (Image © Digital Orthopaedics)

The technology benefits patients by establishing the root cause of their condition and identifying the best treatment. But it offers other advantages, too. “We can free up and make best use of physicians’ and surgeons’ time by delegating first steps or simple cases to less specialized resources” Halioua said. “For the healthcare payer, we can ensure the best medical benefit per dollar spent, and we can help to reduce the occurrence of complications and further operations, which can be extremely costly.”

Powerful computer simulations are central to Digital Orthopaedics’ vision. “There is a great deal going on to promote the usage of advanced simulation technology,” Halioua said. “Aside from helping humans, it will help to decrease the number of animal studies taking place, too. We now have the technology to mimic the human dynamic in silico – something which wasn’t possible one or two decades ago. The issue is transforming the way the industry is delivering and developing medicine and health care. We need to integrate these tools into our profession.”

Digital Orthopaedics plans to offer its solutions commercially in 2019.


Medicines are only effective when the patient uses them properly. ExactCure, a personalized health care startup based in Nice, France, was founded to address the issue of patients who need a dosage different from what is considered standard.

“We are only just beginning to realize the potential of personalized medicine,” said Fabien Astic, who co-founded ExactCure with Frédéric Dayan and Sylvain Benito and who serves as the company’s chief business development officer. “We are entering a new era of true personalization. But part of the problem is that we’re all different, so we react to drugs differently.”

ExactCure’s technology resulted from three years of research in partnership with Inria, a public research body in France.

“We have developed an app [for smartphones] which takes patients’ individual metrics and runs them through an algorithm to simulate the impact of drugs on their body,” Astic said. “We can then tell how they’re going to respond to treatment, so we can personalize dosage.”

ExactCure’s vision is to make truly personalized medication a reality for everybody.

“By taking into account the individual characteristics of each person – such as weight, age and gender – we can accurately determine the best mode of treatment and improve outcomes,” Astic said. “There will be less need for emergency treatment, fewer visits to the hospital or doctor, fewer deaths – this is especially true for developed countries – and, ultimately, less pain.”

The company is conducting  three pilots with a syndicate of pharmacists and doctors in France and Spain. The pilots were scheduled to begin in December 2018 and continue until February 2019. Because smartphones are used globally, however, Astic believes ExactCure could help patients in the world’s least developed countries as easily as in developed ones.

“There is no reason why personalized medicine can’t be a reality for everyone,” he said. “It’s possible because pretty much everyone now has a smartphone. As long as you have access to a smartphone and the internet, you can take advantage of our solution.”


While personalized medicine offers tremendous benefits, regulators must temper enthusiasm with caution, ensuring that these novel treatments are ready for public consumption. Therefore, global health providers are formulating policies and research programs that consider the social implications of this new approach.

“We must ensure that patients and the public are confident in the use of these technologies and that we can mitigate any potential concerns, particularly in the area of data security and confidentiality,” the UK’s NHS observed in its 2016report, “Improving Outcomes Through Personalised Medicine.”

In its 2017 workshop on personalized medicine, the European Medicines Agency emphasized the need to educate patients about the confidentiality implications of sharing their data, urging the industry to do more to educate patients so that they can give truly informed consent to personalized medicine approaches. Workshop participants, however, agreed that the benefits of personalized medicine could be far reaching.

“Improving the ability to better target treatment to patients who are likely to benefit from it and avoiding patients who may be at risk of being harmed would increase success rates of treatment, improve product development times and potentially reduce health care costs overall,” the EMA reported. 

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