Mining lithium

Miners seek sustainable technologies to fuel renewable energy transformation

Dan Headrick
29 July 2020

4 min read

Automakers plan to dramatically increase electric vehicle production in coming decades, increasing the demand for lithium, the key component of lithium-ion batteries. To ensure supply of the critical mineral, mining companies are using multiscale modeling and simulation to develop environmentally sustainable processes.

To support automakers’ plans for increased electric vehicle (EV) production, battery production must increase as well. As a result, demand for lithium – a critical raw material needed to make those batteries – is projected to increase 15% to 25% annually.

"By 2025, some estimates project that global demand for lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) will hit 600,000 tons, triple 2018’s volume."

S&P Global

Lithium-ion batteries are the current default energy storage technology powering smart phones, tablets, laptop computers, digital cameras, and even cordless home appliances like robotic vacuum cleaners. As the lightest metal in the periodic table, lithium has the highest electrochemical potential, which makes it perfect for batteries. Mining for lithium, however, has high financial and environmental costs. The challenge for mining companies, therefore, is to produce more lithium at lower cost with lower impacts and the highest safety.

Miners also face technical challenges as well, because not all lithium is equal. Miners produce lithium with specific chemical properties, catered to the needs of each buyer. “As the EV industry evolves, battery requirements are changing to address greater safety needs, range specifications, and energy density,” Morgan Stanley analyst Martinez de Olcoz wrote in a report. The difference, he said, "has raised questions about the ability of lithium producers to keep up with the fast-changing demand profile.”

THE LITHIUM CONUNDRUM

Most commercial lithium comes from two major sources: underground liquid brine deposits known as salars, and mineral ore deposits. Most salars are located in southwestern South America, China and Tibet. These lithium brine deposits represent about 66% of global lithium carbonate resources.

Miners drill underground to pump the brine to the surface, creating vast lakes of brine that are allowed to evaporate in the sun over a period of months or years. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind a concentration of silvery lithium and other minerals, including potassium and sodium. This residue is then pumped to a lithium recovery facility for extraction.

At the lithium recovery stage, a series of steps pre-treat and purify the lithium to battery-grade quality. Once complete, the remaining brine solution is returned to the underground reservoir.

Attempts to increase production volumes using this process have prompted concern from regulatory officials and environmental groups, however. The Chilean government, for example, recently pressured mining giants Albemarle and SQM to shelve expansion plans because of the method’s environmental impact.

"The concern lies with the use of large amounts of water," said Daniel Saxton, a London-based energy and chemicals industry analyst for Nexant. When that water evaporates, Saxton said, it is no longer available to local wildlife and residents. "More focus has thus been on technologies that reduce the usage of water by removing the solar evaporation step in a process known as 'direct extraction.'"

NEW ENTRANTS APPLY SCIENTIFIC APPROACHES

While long-term demand for lithium appears certain, fluctuating demand cycles make it difficult to sustain research programs. In 2018, for example, news of increased EV production sparked market speculation. Miners overproduced, quickly outpacing EV production demand, which caused prices to plunge. As a result, investments in new extraction technologies slowed or were abandoned, and mining companies returned to proven methods until prices improve.

"The technology wild card is always going to be a factor" in applying new technologies on a global scale, said Chris Berry, a mining industry analyst with New York City-based House Mountain Partners. "In a lab it works. The challenge is, of course, none of these processes have been scaled up."

Meanwhile, however, all kinds of companies and startups continue to move the science forward. These companies include Eramet, Rosatom, Adionics, Lilac Solutions, Bacanora, POSCO, Tenova Bateman and K-UTEC, all of which are developing novel extraction and process technologies for lithium.

The common thread? Saxton highlights the companies’ use of digitalization, automation and computer simulation to develop, test, optimize and implement new extraction processes.

Mining and metallurgy company Eramet, for example, in 2019 launched the commercial development phase of its novel processing facility at the Centenario-Ratones salar in the Andes of northwestern Argentina; construction of the commercial plant is expected to be complete by mid-2021.

"3D modeling is intensively used for the resource assessment of the deposit and for the industrial plant design during the engineering studies," said Hervé Montegu, Eramet's senior vice president of Lithium Activities. "A process simulation tool has been developed for the direct lithium extraction step that enables us to quickly find the best set of parameters to optimize process efficiency."

Early results are impressive. Eramet's two-phase direct extraction process, for example, achieves an 85% yield with just a few days of processing, compared with standard evaporation methods, which yield 50% over 18 months. The process, developed in collaboration with IFP Énergies Nouvelles (the French Institute of Petroleum) and industrial process engineering consultant Seprosys, also reduces water consumption by recycling 60% more water than traditional methods.

"A process simulation tool has been developed for the direct lithium extraction step that enables us to quickly find the best set of parameters to optimize process efficiency."

Hervé Montegu, senior vice president of Lithium Activities, Eramet

"Companies operating today are facing big challenges from regulation authorities all over the world to be more technically efficient and more environmentally friendly," Montegu said. "Our process is one of the most environmentally friendly and resource-management efficient, and we have long ago established close and transparent relationships with all stakeholders in [Argentina’s] Salta province and around the area of our activity."

EVOLVING BATTERY TECHNOLOGY

Along with improved extraction processes, researchers are working to develop more sustainable alternatives to lithium carbonate. "Development has focused on lithium hydroxide production over lithium carbonate production as the preferred battery chemistry for automotive applications," Nexant analyst Saxton said. Lithium hydroxide is favored for newer cathode batteries being developed because of higher nickel chemistries. However, lithium hydroxide requires an extra conversion step from brine sourced carbonate, and that carries a price premium.

Eramet, as well as Lepidico, Nemaska and Rosatom, are working on lithium hydroxide production for new battery designs, Montegu said. "The battery industry is a pillar of the energy transition," he said, adding that increased lithium-ion battery recycling also will be a key component of lithium supply strategies in the future.

Eramet says it intends to secure enough lithium supply for the next 50 years to ensure the company's position with future EV production as other companies, governments and communities around the world re-align for an energy transformation. How that shift will play out over the next several years is hard to predict. 

“No one, whether you’re an investor, a policy maker or an automotive manufacturer, has ever seen this much interest, this much stress along the lithium-ion supply chain,” analyst Berry said. That stress comes from a great paradox in lithium mining today, Berry said. On one hand, projected lithium demand is expected to grow ten-fold by 2031, which reflects profound transformations reshaping global energy and manufacturing sectors, including sustainable processes and 3D technologies. On the other hand, market volatility tends to choke short-term capital investments in mining technologies. Consequently, patience and strategic thinking will become more important than ever, Berry said, because "societal, economic, and national security implications are simply too significant to ignore."

Virtual design

Error-free construction is possible with digital collaboration, top innovators agree

Nick Lerner

4 min read

While most of the world’s major construction projects continue to be delivered late and over budget, a few industry pioneers are breaking that pattern. Compass spoke with three that are leading the trend and discovered how they use project-wide innovation platforms to deliver the insights and collaboration that ensure both efficiency and quality.

When you’re helping to deliver on an iconic corporate headquarters in California, failure is not an option. So architect and construction industry consultant James Kotronis knew he had to ensure that the project’s entire value chain, down to the last carpenter, welder and mason, worked in perfect synch.

But how to do that in an industry infamous for delivering such massive projects, on average, 80% over budget and 20% late, as estimated by global management consulting firm McKinsey? That’s where Kotronis Consulting’s secret weapon comes into play: its business innovation platform, which allows Kotronis to identify and resolve issues in 3D virtual space – not on the job site.

James Kotronis, Kotronis Consulting (Image © Kotronis Consulting)

How good is the technology? It even adjusted for widely fluctuating temperatures in California, which affect everything from deflection of metal structures to concrete drying times, and highlighted materials that were less-than-ideal for the area’s weather so that they could be reconsidered.

“A living, breathing digital model that represented the building was constantly updated throughout the project,” Kotronis said. “This was instrumental to develop and learn from whole-team thinking during and in advance of construction. The model demonstrated the problems, which were solved digitally rather than on the Jobsite.”

Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science under construction in Miami, waterfront Museum Park by  Kotronis Consulting (Image © Kotronis Consulting)

This is just one example of how digitalization – especially in the form of 3D digital models that connect and coordinate the entire value chain – are helping a few pioneers break the industry’s reputation for inefficiency.

Unfortunately, their innovations remain the exception, rather than the rule. “In this disrupted industry,” Kotronis warned, “there will be no room for those that do not evolve. They will, like the dinosaurs, become extinct.”

A synchronized supply chain

One reason the industry remains disjointed is that, even where architects, engineers and builders use digital technologies, they usually work with specialized, incompatible software packages that make it difficult – even impossible – to anticipate and resolve the inevitable clashes in approach, scheduling and materials where their disciplines intersect. In fact, such silos may be doing the opposite of what they’re intended to accomplish; they may be making the disconnects worse.  

Lionel Lambourn, Syntegrate, Hong Kong (Image © Syntegrate)

“A common scenario is that each participant, from designer to builder to operator, utilizes BIM [building information modeling] in a self-serving and, therefore, sub-optimal manner,” said Lionel Lambourn, architect and founding director of Syntegrate, a BIM consultancy based in Hong Kong. “And when data goes solo, it causes work to go off-grid.”

Syntegrate utilizes a business innovation platform for BIM to assist in planning, design, project management, construction and operations of built environments across the entire value chain. It has been involved with major infrastructure, museum and leisure construction projects across four continents.

When each department uses a siloed, disconnected dataset, collaboration and innovation suffer, just as they did in the days of paper blueprints, Lambourn said. Time gets wasted through repetition of tasks, and so do materials.

“A number of studies have found that as much as 30% of construction materials end up as waste,” Lambourn said. “The good news is that technologies exist today that, if properly applied, can easily bring this percentage into single digits.”

But materials aren’t the only waste that can be eliminated by enabling every discipline and trade to see what the others are planning and doing.

“Process, contractual and physical worksite clashes can be wholly avoided when BIM is federated into a single enterprise-wide digital platform,” Lambourn said. “Working this way leads to efficiency and, therefore, lower costs. Complexity is better understood through visualization and simulation and is simplified in advance to remove risk at the building stage.”

Kotronis agrees.

“Clarity, cohesion and certainty can be achieved, together with enhanced creativity throughout project value chains,” he said. “When knowledge is not shared in real time and people work offline from each other, project processes go out of synch. But by modeling in a cohesive way that incorporates processes of design, manufacture, fabrication, installation and operation, a solution space can be generated that brings people together. And that sparks creativity.”

Capturing knowledge

Hiromu Matsui is managing director of Japan-based Pacific Consultants. Founded in 1951 to support the nation's post-war reconstruction, the company has been involved in urban development, including roads, ports and railways, as well as urban infrastructure in Japan and overseas, that responds to the kind of natural disasters that have occurred frequently in recent years.

Hiromu Matsui, Managing Director, Pacific Consultants (Image © Pacific Consultants)

“I manage the technology department,” Matsui said, “and promote technological innovation that fits our company's corporate culture of always taking things one step further.”

Since civil engineering must respond to different conditions, such as terrain, geology and environment depending on the construction site, the design of structures can become inconsistent. When designs are done in 2D, not only are a huge number of drawings created, but the inconsistency between the original drawing and the derived drawing may cause construction errors and rework. The challenges are how to improve the efficiency of design work with many manual elements and how to ensure consistency of drawings.

Pacific Consultants believes that to achieve improvement, it must enhance efficiency and productivity through work style reform. Deploying a unified enterprise-wide platform is very effective for smooth communication in each process of design, manufacturing and construction. “If we collaborate with a consistent 3D-based digital flow,” said Matsui, “many inefficient processes can be removed.”

Pacific Consultants is currently working on bridges and disaster countermeasure sand control dams. Efficiency and speed of design are greatly improved using 3D design templates. Since these can be used as stock designs for the next project, processes can be continuously improved.

 “The civil engineering industry in Japan possesses world-class technical capabilities of earthquake seismic technology and flood control technology against tsunami and heavy rain,” said Matsui. “The professionalism of engineers involved in the projects is very high. However, because competent technology often depends on personal skills, there are problems that skills are not handed down if engineers retire. Therefore, I think it is necessary to digitize processes and retain and share knowledge using 3D simulation technology.”

Tama Ohashi Bridge – by Pacific Consultants (Image © Pacific Consultants)

These three industry innovators prove that the route to truly smart construction is via centralized project management using accredited and highly visual 3D models complete with all associated data. This presents so many practical, commercial and technical advantages that many more leading industry players are set to follow its best innovators in this excitingly disruptive movement

Learn more about digital collaboration in design and construction here.

Flawless coordination

Model-based systems engineering tames the complexity of 5G networks

Tony Velocci
22 July 2020

4 min read

Designing and integrating 5G mobile networking is a massively complex challenge, but model-based systems engineering (MBSE) makes it manageable. Compass talked to Daniel Krob, President of the Paris-based Center of Excellence on Systems Architecture, Management, Economy and Strategy (CESAMES), about how MBSE can accelerate and optimize the design of 5G systems.

CompassHow does 5G differ from previous generations of wireless technology—its bandwidth, range, varied use cases, or is it something else?

Daniel Krob: The first thing you need to understand is that 5G represents not just the next stage of mobile telecommunications, but the cumulative result of 40 years of technological progress, with every generation building on what came before it. Each one has been 100 times more efficient than the previous generation, and this trend continues with 5G. Most people [working in telecommunications] think 5G is a super technology, which will enable a raft of new and varied use cases that were not possible before. These range from autonomous control of cars to mobile cloud computing.  

Productivity leaps of that magnitude seem astounding. Do you have any sense of the upper reaches of what 5G may enable as it evolves?

DK: Technologically, many engineers think 5G is limited only by our ability to continue miniaturizing antennas. At this point, all we know is there’s room for growth. The first step is to deploy it, and then we’ll begin to learn the true extent of 5G’s potential performance.

Help us understand the nature of systems engineering challenges in 5G. What makes the design, integration and rollout so difficult?

DK:  This is a complex technology whose deployment will deeply depend on how it’s used. 5G is just emerging, and so many of its actual end-use applications that take advantage of what’s possible will be developed in the next decade, after it’s fully deployed.

As an expert in model-based systems engineering, how would you describe the difference between classical engineering and MBSE? And how could those differences help resolve some of the challenges of making 5G as good as it can be?

DK: Classical engineering is perfect for systems with a manageable complexity. It’s based on an approach in which development is managed from top to bottom through a sequential process – capturing the need, designing the system, designing the components, integration, testing, qualification and maintenance. In such an approach, key technical knowledge is the purview of only a limited number of people, with modest modeling and cross-functional collaboration.

Unfortunately, such an approach doesn’t work with highly complex projects; making sense of all of the complexity becomes impossible. Seamless collaboration across the engineering team becomes key and modeling individual systems becomes mandatory – at which point you’ve entered into the world of model-based systems engineering (MBSE).

MBSE proposes a shared-systems model on which people representing multiple disciplines can collaborate and determine where these different disciplines – mechanical, electrical, electronics, software – intersect. Without this capability, you will have mismatches and gaps that remain undiscovered until a project reaches the physical prototype stage.

5G standards are still evolving, so the equipment that companies design today may need to evolve. How could MBSE help in this process?

DK: There are two ways in which MBSE can help. The first is its ability to efficiently connect the business needs to the technical solution and maintain a digital traceability between the two. This allows engineers to easily correlate evolutionary functional and technical requirements with the business implications, saving time and money. The second way MBSE can help is by supporting trade-off decisions based on evaluating the optimum solution.

To what extent does MBSE‘s ability to illuminate the intersections between different engineering disciplines influence innovation at the systems level?

DK: MBSE allows you to model and validate not just system-level innovation, whether it’s providing a new level of services or improved functionality, but also the business perspective behind the technology – in this case, 5G.

What advantages are early movers who are exploiting MBSE likely to gain in the marketplace?

DK: MBSE itself is a technology that requires mastering a new engineering methodology, as well as new problem-solving tools, and integrating these tools with diverse development processes in order to simplify the totality. This can be a long journey. The quicker one starts, the quicker one derives the benefits of the digital transformation enabled by MBSE.

“MBSE allows you to model and validate not just system-level innovation, whether it’s providing a new level of services or improved functionality, but also the business perspective behind the technology – in this case, 5G.”

Daniel Krob
President, CESAMES

Given the power of MBSE, why isn’t it used more extensively? What are the challenges to its wider adoption?

DK: It’s cultural. MBSE is one of the most advanced engineering languages in use [but] the number of people who have rich experience with MBSE is limited, and we all have a tendency to feel more comfortable with the methods we’ve used for years. The benefits of MBSE are worth making the transition because it avoids design gaps that can go undiscovered with the V-System engineering method until the physical prototype stage.

By avoiding those late-cycle issues, you eliminate endless rounds of physical prototyping, so getting to market on time with MBSE becomes a lot easier. Updating designs as standards evolve also is easier; you just update the model. Both of those factors will be huge advantages for early movers to MBSE.

(Image © Daniel Krob)

PROFILE: Daniel Krob is president of the Center of Excellence in Architecture, Management and Economics of Systems (CESAMES), headquartered in France, and a computer science professor of the Ecole Polytechnique. He is the author or more than 100 scientific publications and four books. His specialty is the field of architecture, modeling and design methods of complex systems, and he is a Fellow of INCOSE, the highest level of recognition by the International Council of Systems Engineering. Krob was chosen to join this small, highly accomplished group based on his contributions to the theory and practice of complex systems engineering on a globally significant level.

Discover 3DS solutions for MBSE in High-Tech

Cutting CO2 by 2021

The road to zero emissions requires cost-effective innovation

Jacqui Griffiths

5 min read

By 2021, every car manufacturer that sells vehicles in Europe must ensure that 95% of its fleet emits less than 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer – or face fines that could amount to billions of euros. As companies look for ways to meet that target, they’re also finding opportunities to innovate and thrive as part of a greener transportation and mobility industry.

Cutting an entire fleet’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20% in a single year is an ambitious undertaking – but it’s one that Oliver Zipse, CEO of German car manufacturer BMW, is confident his company can achieve.

“This year alone, we will achieve an improvement of around 20% in Europe,” Zipse said at an industry conference early in 2020.

A major driver behind this commitment is the European Union’s looming 2021 emissions reduction deadline and the promise of even stricter regulations to follow. The regulation presents carmakers with a stark choice among three options:

  • They can miss the 2021 target and pay a potentially crippling fine of €95 per additional gram of CO2 per car sold.
  • Or, to avoid fines, they can pool their CO2 credits with other companies to meet the target– a short-term measure at best.
  • Finally, they can innovate to develop economical, low-emission cars that meet the regulatory requirement. For companies like BMW, innovation is the obvious path.

MEETING THE MARKET

BMW’s growing portfolio of electrified vehicles (EVs) will play a major part in meeting its emissions reduction target. In the coming years it plans to drive its EV sales to new levels, Zipse said: from 8.6% of EU sales in 2019 to 25% by 2021, 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030.

“A product can only be purposeful if a customer wants it, desires it, and uses it. Hence, we are focusing on: what will our customers – who are all citizens of this planet – want in the future?”

Oliver Zipse, CEO, BMW

The company is not alone in its focus on boosting the appeal of EV technology in today’s markets. Toyota, for instance, is extending its hybrid car strategy into almost every market segment. Meanwhile the Renault-Nissan Alliance is investing heavily in R&D for affordable mass market EVs.

But demand for large, powerful vehicles hasn’t disappeared, so it’s essential to make room for the internal combustion engine in each company’s emission reduction strategies. BMW, for example, aims to achieve one third of its target over the next year with more efficient internal combustion engines, and the other two thirds with electric motors.

This pragmatic approach, Zipse has suggested, is the only way to ensure the widespread adoption – and therefore the effectiveness – of low-emission vehicles.

“We are focusing on the question: which technologies have the greatest leverage to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions?” Zipse said at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2019. “For us, it’s about having a real effect… A product can only be purposeful if a customer wants it, desires it, and uses it. Hence, we are focusing on: what will our customers – who are all citizens of this planet – want in the future? What kind of drivetrains, technologies and services? And how do we achieve, at the same time, the best result for climate protection?”

RIGHTING THE BALANCE

While innovating for more efficient vehicles might satisfy many markets now, where a company chooses to build its cars can offset any gains.

“There are really two ways to achieve the EU’s CO2 emissions targets: electrifying cars, and reducing their size and weight,” said Nicolas Meilhan, senior advisor with the EV consultancy EV-Volumes.com. “Neither of these come cheap. Batteries for electric cars have high production costs and low margins, which are driving some manufacturers to move production to cheaper locations, which use high-emission, coal-powered electricity. This can massively reduce the environmental gains over the vehicle’s lifetime.”

SUVs are the second-highest contributor to increasing global CO2 emissions since 2010, after the power sector and ahead of heavy industry, trucks and aviation.


International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2019

Lighter, smaller cars could hold the answer, but the market’s preferences for large, heavy sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are working against this option.

“Most of the work done to develop lightweight materials and components in the past has been aimed at maintaining the vehicle’s weight while increasing its size,” Meilhan said. “All the efficiency gains achieved in the last 20 years – on the powertrain, through lighter components and better aerodynamics – have been nullified by the fact that cars have gained an average 10 kilograms in weight every year.”

Which means that the challenge for manufacturers is not just to engineer lighter cars, but to convince consumers that small is beautiful. “To reap the environmental rewards of those efficiency gains and substantially reduce CO2 emissions from passenger cars, it’s crucial to reorient the market towards smaller, lighter cars,” Meilhan said.

DRIVING NEW VALUE

Meilhan points to French car manufacturer Gazelle Tech as a model to emulate. “Gazelle Tech has almost halved the weight – and the fuel consumption – of its cars by making them entirely from composite materials while meeting all safety standards,” he said.

By partnering with a virtual prototyping software company, Gazelle Tech eliminated the cost of creating multiple physical prototypes. The result is a 10-piece composite frame that can easily be assembled by hand.

Accessibility is central to Gazelle Tech’s vision. While electric motors are targeted for European markets, the company is making an internal combustion engine version available for emerging economies. It also is building connectivity into its cars to support car-pooling.

To make manufacturing more efficient, the company has developed modular micro-factories that can be quickly installed close to customers, further reducing energy consumption and enabling Gazelle Tech to tailor its cars to local markets.

“They are particularly suited to emerging countries wishing to develop an automotive industry,” the company says of the factories on its website. “The deployment of these production units is accompanied by a transfer of technology to adapt our vehicles to local specificities.”

US based startup electric vehicle manufacturer Canoo design exterior (Image © Canoo)

Another example comes from the US, where startup Canoo is drawing on talent from the technology and automotive industries to position itself as “the Netflix of cars,” with a model that allows customers to sign up for monthly subscriptions to EVs for private and commercial use. Described as “an urban loft on wheels,” Canoo’s first vehicle has room for seven people, combining the interior space of a large SUV with the footprint of a compact car.

THE ROAD AHEAD

In the race toward the EU emissions deadline, new technologies, skills and partnerships are proving essential to overcoming innovation roadblocks and engaging customers.

“Manufacturers will have to innovate across everything they do,” London-based consultant PA Consulting observed in a 2018 report. “That starts with getting the product right by focusing on R&D, leveraging partnerships and using agile approaches.”

As the industry rises to the challenge, some inspiring and innovative collaborations could emerge.

“The automotive industry has always been deeply pragmatic, and it will continue to be so,” said Peter Wells, professor of business and sustainability and director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff Business School in Wales. “Important collaborations for its future will be across traditional industry boundaries: with the technology sector, energy suppliers, car sharing groups and the diverse array of new entrants around electrification, such as those from consumer electronics.”

Transparency also will be essential as companies encounter increased scrutiny from regulators and consumers.

“Car manufacturers need to retain public, political, investor and regulatory trust,” Wells said. “Along with the accumulating pressure on climate change and carbon emissions, and the nascent interest in the circular economy, the basic legitimacy of the industry and the products or services it supplies is under the spotlight.”

Transport and energy consultant Meilhan believes that far-reaching regulatory support is a crucial next step to support manufacturers’ efforts.

“One way to reorient the market would be to penalize manufacturers that sell heavier cars and use the funds to incentivize and subsidize the production and sale of lighter cars,” he said. “This could extend to electrification, with a carbon footprint standard so manufacturers who use high-emission electricity to produce their vehicles are penalized to subsidize those who build cars in low-carbon areas.”

A long road remains to be traveled before zero-emission transport becomes a reality. But as the industry works towards the EU targets, its collaborative efforts could transform not only the car and its relation to the environment, but also the networks, business models and experiences that extend through its lifecycle.

A cycle of wellness

Virtual prototyping accelerates the race to meet health-conscious consumer trends

Elly Yates-Roberts
15 July 2020

4 min read


Buoyed by the growing wellness industry, sport manufacturers and suppliers are racing to create innovative products to support people in their pursuit to improve their health. This is giving rise to new types of sporting goods, and simulation tools play a critical role in quickly launching new products – before consumers move on to the next trend.

Wellness is fast becoming big business. The Global Wellness Institute, for example, reports that the “wellness economy” was worth US$4.5 trillion in 2018 and has been growing nearly twice as fast as the general global economy.

Looking to capitalize on this booming market, sport equipment companies are searching for new and exciting ways to fulfill people’s desire for wellness and well-being activities.

“We have definitely noticed the sharp increase in sport spending,” said Cesar Rojo, founder of Barcelona-based engineering firm CERO, which specializes in bicycle and motorcycle projects. “We are receiving more and more projects every year, particularly in the electric bicycle (e-bike) sector.”

But manufacturers and suppliers need to be able to move quickly – sports equipment spending is highly seasonal, so a missed window comes at a great cost. OakStone Partners estimates that any delay can cost a company between 15% and 35% of a product’s net value. For electronic products, this rises to up to 50% of the anticipated revenues.

THE RISE OF THE E-BIKE


E-bikes are a good example of how sport and wellness companies are responding to market trends. These specially designed bicycles are fitted with a motor and battery to assist the rider, and are surging in popularity.

Statista.com reports that 31.7 million e-bikes were sold worldwide in 2014 and projects that sales will grow to 40.3 million by 2023. Why? Because the product seamlessly integrates with users’ daily routines.

“2019 has seen the rise of micromobility,” Rojo said. “Commuters can more easily integrate fitness, well-being and exercise into their daily lives, if they can fit it around their work schedule.”

As well as being convenient, more environmentally friendly and cheaper to run, e-bikes present a more accessible path to wellness for those who need some help starting out.

“E-bikes are a fantastic route into cycling for beginners or for those returning to cycling, as [they] provide a helping hand when it comes to conquering physical fitness challenges that would have remained a barrier with a normal bike,” Victoria Pendleton, a British Olympic gold medalist in cycling, said in a recent interview with UK-based bicycle retailer Halfords. “They really are a game-changer.”

FITNESS AT HOME

In 2020 sports equipment like bicycles and e-bikes showed themselves to be an integral part of an individual’s fitness journey during the COVID-19 global pandemic. With lockdown measures in place worldwide, gyms and leisure areas were shut down, forcing people to take their well-being into their own spaces. Home fitness equipment became critical for individuals wanting to continue their regimes.

CONNECTING WITH CONSUMERS

While e-bikes help those beginning their wellness journeys to transition into exercise, both e-bikes and other wellness products focus on helping them maintain progress, particularly through connectivity.

“Connected devices are no longer a trend – they are a reality,” Rojo said. “Everything needs to be connected because the user demands that; they want to be able to easily share the distance they have covered and how many calories they have burned.”

CERO specializes in designing bicycles, including e-bikes, a market that is expected to grow to 40.3 million units by 2023.

German brand Bosch eBike Systems is just one of the many companies making connectivity an integral part of its fitness solutions. Its smartphone-based solution transforms e-bikes into smart bikes and allows cyclists to augment their exercise with digital technology. Users can attach their smartphones to the bike via Bosch’s handlebar-mounted ‘SmartphoneHub’. When linked to an app from Frankfurt-based COBI.Bike, the neatly-mounted smartphone provides cyclists with information such as navigation and weather while collecting fitness metrics, facilitating a new, smart-riding experience that can help users stick to their regimes.  

“Consumer trends change all the time, but one thing that is fairly constant in our digital world is connectivity,” said Tamara Winograd, director of marketing and communications at Bosch eBike Systems. “With the SmartphoneHub, Bosch offers eBikers a connected biking experience and a lot of useful features. Fitness enthusiasts, for example, can set targets and keep track of data such as performance, cadence and calorie consumption, in real time throughout the ride via the COBI.Bike app on the smartphone. It even connects with heart rate monitors via Bluetooth, and fitness and health services like Apple Health, Google Fit or Strava to empower users to reach their training goals.”

RACING TO MARKET

In the consumer-driven wellness industry, timing is essential. The industry is driven by fast-changing trends and by seasons, making it essential to bring new products to market on time and ahead of the competition. Being even a month late with a new product can ruin an entire season’s revenues. Korean firm INNO Design, which developed a foldable e-bike with an innovative wheel and integrated battery from Korean startup Hycore, knew that time to market would be vital to the product’s success. To ensure that the product could be delivered quickly without sacrificing quality, INNO Design CEO Youngse Kim focused on improving the way his team shared design ideas and carried out design processes.

Computer-aided design, engineering and manufacturing technology simplify things so much. A big part of the design and testing can now be done by a computer. This has already reduced process times a lot and it continues to speed up product development.

CESAR ROJO

CERO Design

His solution? A virtual design and simulation platform. “Virtual design is a very important process before real production,” Kim said.

The platform enables Kim’s designers to quickly transform manually sketched ideas into 3D geometry for virtual testing. This digital approach allows the team to quickly see if the shapes and forms they envisioned can translate into elegant and operational equipment – before creating the designs in the real world. Such virtual prototyping can speed up time to market by as much as 40%, thanks to eliminating the need to troubleshoot physical prototypes. This is something that CERO Design’s Rojo has also noticed. 

“Computer-aided design, engineering and manufacturing technology simplify things so much,” he said. “A big part of the design and testing can now be done by a computer. This has already reduced process times a lot and it continues to speed up product development.”

The platform’s cloud-native capabilities are among its biggest benefits, said Youngmin Kang, INNO Design’s product design team manager. “We can entertain ideas from many people, and then share and collaborate; having many people collaborate is an essential part of successful design,” he said.

THE VIRTUAL ADVANTAGE

As the wellness trend gains traction, sporting goods companies are scrambling to meet their needs and stay ahead of trends with innovative products that help keep consumers motivated to reach their fitness goals. E-bikes are just one such product, but 2020 will surely see the introduction of many new entrants to the wellness products race. Like INNO Design, companies that wish to clock strong results may find virtual prototyping to be an invaluable addition to their training regimen.   

Discover more about the value of virtual prototyping  

Ocean sustainability

As seas struggle ecologically, 3D technologies accelerate the search for remedies

Dan Headrick

6 min read

Oceans cover 75% of Earth’s surface, but how they do what they do – generating food, driving weather patterns, fueling complex currents that cool the planet – remains largely a mystery. As climate change, pollution and population growth add stresses to these systems, the race is on to get smart fast about Earth's oceans. Increasingly, researchers are applying 3D modeling and simulation to help accelerate their progress.

Growing in the calm centers of Earth's five great circulating ocean gyres are enormous zones of buoyant junk – plastic bottles, abandoned fishing gear and tiny microplastic particles that hang like smog several feet below the surface. Nearly 2 trillion pieces of plastic drift across millions of square kilometers of ocean in all directions, and more pours in every day.

But researchers may finally have the means to eliminate these garbage pools. In October 2019, after years of research, Netherlands-based nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup announced that its prototype floating trash collection device was succeeding in its mission in the largest zone, the Great Pacific Garbage patch.

Nearly 2 trillion pieces of plastic hang like smog below the ocean’s surface, drifting across millions of square kilometers in the Earth’s five great circulating ocean gyres. To capture it effectively, The Ocean Cleanup applied 4D simulation and modeling technology as one important asset in its extensive arsenal of design and testing efforts. (Image © The Ocean Cleanup)

The Ocean Cleanup's self-contained, U-shaped, solar-powered barrier features a net-like skirt that hangs below the surface, moving with the current and collecting plastics while fish and marine mammals swim safely under the net.  Though simple in concept, the catch system proved difficult to build. It took seven years, 273 scale-model tests, six at-sea prototypes, a first-ever comprehensive mapping of the target trash zone, 30 vessels, an airplane, and a four-month study of the invention's impact on marine life.

Early 3D modeling experiments of the collection system were crude, using perfect spheres to predict how the trash and boom would interact. But researchers quickly realized that real floating junk is eclectic in shape, composition and size, and that the boom and the trash moved at two different rates – contrary to the assumption made in building the simulation.

As the researchers learned more about their target trash and ocean hydrology in the region, more accurate 4D modeling (the 4th dimension being time) of those tiny data points helped to accelerate development of the successful System 001/B. That system not only collects visible trash; it is also more effective than hoped, collecting even microplastics.

The Ocean Cleanup’s long journey to its announcement also demonstrates the evolving relationship between 3D virtual modeling and ocean conservation efforts. Each new trial adds to available ocean data, while each new bit of data improves the simulation software used to advance discovery, lower the cost of research and accelerate testing of new technologies in hopes of outrunning the rapid degradation of ocean environments.

"Intensive modelization, simulation and visualization of the oceans will be more and more used because of the urgencies and the complexities," said Vincent Rigaud, former director of the underwater systems department and director of the Mediterranean Center of the French Institute for Ocean Science (Ifremer). "Tests and qualifications at sea are very expensive, and the use of 4D models is a factor of competitiveness and a key issue to optimize costs and efficiencies."

A Sea of Solutions

The Ocean Cleanup isn’t alone in applying 3D and 4D modeling and simulation to the challenge of understanding the oceans. Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore commercial wind farm in the United States, lies 6 kilometers (about 4 miles) off the coast of Rhode Island. The five-turbine, 30-megawatt power system, which began operations in December 2016, spurred plans for similar offshore projects that could generate 12 gigawatts of power over the next decade.

"All that [development] needs data prior to the start of construction," said Jerry Sgobbo, chief executive officer of Boston-based Dive Technologies, a startup that develops autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and robotic submarines with support from SeaAhead, a benefit corporation for startups focused on innovative solutions to ocean sustainability challenges. "Hopefully, people want to use fleets of our vehicles for scientific exploration for deeper regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Once you can get there you can be more efficient collecting data."

Dive Technologies’ business model is innovative and new. Most AUVs are massively expensive, one-off vehicles hand-built in university research labs for specific projects and then never used again. Dive Technologies hopes to change that wasteful pattern by applying 3D modeling to the challenge of creating reusable AUVs that can be configured and reconfigured many times for different research needs. The company plans to rent its vehicles to researchers, then reconfigure them for the next project.

"We use the 3D software tools to adapt for large payloads, transform the outer skin or compute hydrodynamics and computational fluid dynamics. But it all needs to be manufacturable and we've cut down to weeks the time it takes to get a model manufacturable. Time is critical."

Jerry Sgobbo
Chief Executive Officer, Dive Technologies

Dive Technologies uses 3D modeling to design base-model AUVs, then quickly outfit them for different applications by virtually predicting the performance of sensors, power and buoyancy profiles. The 3D software helps designers to quickly optimize the design of each UAV (or redesign an existing one) to match its planned task.

"We're not manufacturing in traditional ways," Sgobbo said. "We use the 3D software tools to adapt for large payloads, transform the outer skin or compute hydrodynamics and computational fluid dynamics. But it all needs to be manufacturable, and we've cut down to weeks the time it takes to get a model manufacturable. Time is critical."

EDUCATION DRIVES URGENCY

While time is critical, so is education, and 3D plays an important role there, too. To get the funding and clearances needed to study the oceans’ role in planetary processes, researchers know, politicians and the public need to understand what is at stake.

In 2019, parliamentarians from the G7 countries gathered near the Bay of Brest and dove along a hydrothermal chimney and deep ocean abyss – in virtual reality (VR). The virtual experience, organized by Ifremer, was designed to raise awareness of pressing ocean issues. (Image © Ifremer/O Dugornay)

In August 2019, parliamentarians from Germany, Canada, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Japan (the G7 countries) gathered near the Bay of Brest and dove along a hydrothermal chimney and deep ocean abyss – not in wetsuits, but in virtual reality (VR). The virtual experience, which occurred during a meeting at Ifremer, helped them learn about research, new discoveries for medicines derived from marine organisms, the fight against pollution and updates on laws and regulations governing fishing, shipping and offshore development.

“Only a few percent of ocean seafloor and their biodiversities are known, and the ecosystem is changing. The efforts needed on the scientific side are therefore urgent and important.”

Vincent Rigaud
Director, Mediterranean Center of the French Institute for Ocean Science (Ifremer)

On their virtual dive, the G7 ministers visited areas accessible in real life only via a submersible capable of resisting intense deep-ocean pressures. There, they might have seen something like a sea star, photographed by the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer in the deep ocean in Hohonu Moana marine sanctuary, using a remote-operated deep-sea submersible.

The 26-site Ifremer Institute is among dozens of oceanographic centers around the world that manage fleets of data-gathering surface vessels and submarines, gliders and aircraft, satellites and networks of autonomous observatories at sea that monitor coastlines, oceans and the seafloor. The institute’s researchers are racing not only to collect data, but also to interpret and translate it into action that protects the seas, maps and manages mineral and energy resources, and sustains fisheries and aquaculture.

Time has become a precious resource. To accelerate progress, Rigaud is building on the G7 experience, leading development of an immersive 3D environment that can be used for telepresence, telemaintenance, augmented reality, design and education. The environment should be ready by 2022 and will be linked by satellite to ships and sea-based observatories for real-time telescience.

What might the G7 ministers have seen on their virtual dive? The NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer photographed this sea star in the deep ocean in Hohonu Moana marine sanctuary with a remote-operated deep-sea submersible. (Image by National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana 2016, via Wiki Commons)

This “global digital ocean,” as Rigaud describes it, coupled with IoT-enabled data collection “will increase our capacity to monitor the ocean, for example by bio-logging marine animals,” he said. “Coupling 3D virtual models with real situations within immersive environments is very important to qualify and optimize designs and operations.”

Discovery and speed are equally important as stresses on the world’s oceans multiply, Rigaud said. “Only a few percent of ocean seafloor and their biodiversities are known, and the ecosystem is changing,” he said. “The efforts needed on the scientific side are therefore urgent and important.”

Mission Ocean Project

La Fondation Dassault Systèmes has teamed up with the French Ministry of National Education, ONISEP, the Canopè Network and Ifremer, the French Center for scientific ocean research, to launch the Mission Ocean project, enabling middle school and college students to learn differently through “virtual worlds”: 3D modeling, virtual reality experiments and numerical simulations.

Mission Ocean was conceived to help students discover the oceans, explore new research paths, benefit from industry and research professionals’ expertise and develop projects to help preserve the blue world. For the next three years, 10 teachers will collaborate to develop 3D educational content and experiential modules for these students around major ocean issues, as well as occupations that support ocean preservation and knowledge.

Discover more about how companies are finding ways to develop more sustainable marine solutions

Improving lives with simulation

Modeling and simulation accelerate the design of improved medical devices

Charles Wallace

5 min read

  Medical technology companies are applying 3D modeling and simulation technology – which has proven itself in decades of use in other manufacturing industries – to their own design challenges, from quickly testing and optimizing designs to projecting how the devices will perform in the unique physiology of individual patients.

When Edwards Lifesciences set out to design the first generation of its transcatheter implantable heart valve to skip open-heart surgery for valve replacement, the process took nine years from initial steps to acceptance by regulators. Eleven years later, using the latest modeling and simulation technology early in the design process, the third-generation valve took less than half the time from the drawing board to regulatory approval.

“The structure was almost completely redesigned, but we are able to do it faster by making design modifications more efficient, leading to significant improvements in clinical performance and dramatic procedure simplification,” said Hengchu Cao, senior director of engineering at Irvine, California-based Edwards Lifesciences. “More importantly, we were able to make a lot of improvements, help more patients and  create a greater community for combating heart disease.”

The key to the time savings? Scientifically accurate 3D simulation of the heart valve, to understand and manage opportunities and challenges. Simulation began in the early concept stage, where engineers were able to virtually model what happens to blood flow in the human body when there is stenosis, an obstruction in the aorta, and regurgitation, which is leakage from the aortic valve. Then they were able to simulate what changes occurred when the artificial valve was implanted, revealing how blood flow would be affected and predicting how the heart would respond.

“The simulation enabled us to know what was going to happen when we intervened with a device, what changes would take place in the body and how they will affect the overall anatomic structure and physiology,” Cao said.

Growing adoption of modeling and simulation (M&S) in health care creates the potential to bring more medical devices to market more quickly, with improved designs and improved understanding of how the devices will affect the body. After studying the potential of M&S in 2018, in fact, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) found that the technique “promises to revolutionize the medical device industry.”

ASME cited three main benefits: reducing costs, increasing confidence in devices by increasing the number of tests that can be performed, and making it “possible to conduct tests that would not be feasible in the physical world because of practical limits on testing in humans or because of the difficulties presented in testing sophisticated equipment.”

Edwards Lifesciences Sapien 3 transcatheter heart valve (Image © Edwards Life Sciences)

REGULATORY ACCEPTANCE

In the medical device field, simulation offers so much promise that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sponsored a Medical Device Innovation Consortium to promote the use of simulation to better assess devices involving the heart and blood vessels, orthopedics, blood damage, and even of brain stimulation and MRIs, which can heat the body.

The technology “can give us higher confidence in medical products, especially if they’re thoroughly evaluated on the computer, because we can perform an infinite number of simulations,” said Tina M. Morrison, regulatory advisor for the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “It can reduce our reliance on animal models and human data, and reduce costs and speed innovation. These benefits will enable M&S to revolutionize medicine the way it has other fields.” She noted that the FDA has issued guidance on how companies can use modeling and simulation studies in regulatory submissions and is developing standards for verifying and validating if the results are accurate.

The consortium also is working to develop a “virtual patient,” a simulation of the entire human body that can be adapted to reflect different health conditions. The virtual patient would permit researchers to simulate what happens when a particular device is implanted in thousands of different people, reducing the need for large human clinical trials. Among the devices being developed is an artificial pancreas with built-in simulation technology that can measure a patient’s glucose levels and decide what therapy should be delivered to the patient, Morrison said.

THE JOURNEY FROM MANUFACTURING TO MEDICINE

While computer modeling to create and test all types of product designs has been available for several decades, it generally produced only a geometrical design or shape of an object. The real breakthrough has been the addition of simulation capabilities, which creates a mathematical model of the geometrical design. This scientifically accurate mathematical model can then be used to test the design virtually – and operate it in a simulation of the actual environment where it will be used. This allows researchers to try and perfect many variations of a design before building a physical prototype.

The aircraft industry has used simulation software for decades to test the endurance, flexibility and stress on parts of aircraft.  Now, life sciences simulation software adds chemical and biological elements to the mathematical models for simulation of medical devices. The software uses real-world data to calibrate the mathematical models.

For example, in designing a stent to open a blocked artery, the engineer must simulate not only the stent, but also how it interacts with the blood vessel, a process known as boundary conditions. Unlike cars and airplanes, which are virtually identical when manufactured, each human is physically and physiologically different. Which means that a simulation must be able to adapt to the biology of an individual blood vessel – reproducing how elastic and durable it is – along with the elaborate chemical processes that make a heart beat.

“The combination of high-performance computing with all the large data sets available is really turbo-charging innovation and accelerating the process of bringing a product to market,” Edwards’ Cao said.

AN INSIDE VIEW

Ashley Peterson, who heads the life sciences division of Thornton Tomasetti, a US-based consulting firm, says that one advantage of simulation is its ability to complement the physical bench-testing companies are required to perform as part of the regulatory approval process.

“You can do things in modeling and simulation that you can’t do in a bench-top test,” Peterson said. “You can look internally into a structure, which might be hidden from view on a benchtop test. When you’re using the tools, you’re actually solving the underlying physical equations so you can look at what’s happening with different elements of the design.”

When using simulations to provide device design information, one has to make sure the simulation output is correct. To do this, simulation validation is used. Validation is the process of assessing the how well the computational model represents of the reality of the physical situation said Peterson.

“One of the biggest benefits of using modeling and simulation has proved to be the ability to adapt and test designs to make sure they are compatible with all the variations that arise in human anatomy.”

Ashley Peterson, Life Sciences Division Head, Thornton Tomasetti

While modeling and simulation accelerate the design process, saving time and money, Peterson said that another big advantage of performing simulation early in the design process is that it can provide previously unknown information. For example, if a proposed design is not producing the desired results, he said, simulations allow the researcher to probe deeper, changing certain aspects of the design to see how the results change.

“You get a greater understanding; and therefore, the time it takes to final product delivery is actually faster,” Peterson said.

One of the biggest benefits of using simulation is its ability to adapt and test designs to all the variations that arise in human anatomy. “For example, you can say you want a design to work for 60% of people who have a particular need” Peterson said. “You can try it on all of the possible variations you might expect in the human body.”

What’s more, the future for expanding the use of modeling and simulation in life sciences seems especially bright. As the software gains wider adoption, it will be able to move upstream and downstream from the development stage. For example, instead of looking just at the design of a device, Peterson expects M&S can help researchers identify previously unexpressed requirements that doctors and others who use a device might have for it. It also will be able to simulate how the device is used in a range of different patients and get a clear sense how the patients would respond to the device, even before a physical model is built and tested.

“Instead of tweaking just one aspect, you’ll be able to say right from the get-go that you can add value, right up to the end when the device is actually being used by people,” Peterson said.

Learn more about modeling and simulation solutions in Life Sciences

Lessons from the pandemic

How COVID-19 is triggering companies to rethink how they run their businesses

Jacqui Griffiths
7 July 2020

6 min read

Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have challenged businesses everywhere, but some responded more nimbly than others. The difference? A growing number of analysts agree that these companies’ advanced digital capabilities allowed them to take disruption in stride—and they’re now urging all companies to follow their example in the days ahead.

When countries around the world went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, critical supply chains experienced massive disruption, just as demand for life-saving medical and safety equipment skyrocketed.

In response, global medical technology provider Medtronic pledged to double its production capacity for ventilators. But it also looked beyond traditional business boundaries and announced plans to openly share the design for its PB 560 portable ventilator so academics, startups and other manufacturers could quickly start producing them, too.

“We know this global crisis needs a global response,” said Bob White, executive vice president at Medtronic. “By openly sharing the PB 560 design information, we hope to increase global production of ventilator solutions for the fight against COVID-19.”

Like Medtronic, dozens of businesses and individuals worldwide stepped up to help during the pandemic. In the UK, automotive and aerospace organizations including McLaren Group, Airbus and Rolls- Royce joined forces to design and produce ventilators. So did Ford Motor Company in the US. Meanwhile, Japan’s Fast Retailing, the parent of fashion brand Uniqlo, enlisted its manufacturing partners in China to produce 10 million surgical masks for medical facilities across Italy, the United States and Japan.

While that’s just a small sample of how companies responded, the ones named above share one crucial commonality: the ability to digitally collaborate, adapt and respond swiftly with scientifically accurate 3D models that could be widely shared via the internet. Now, experts agree that those same capabilities will be the foundation for accelerated resilience beyond COVID-19— and the ability to weather other forms of unanticipated global disruptions.

A supple supply network

As factories around the world shut down to help contain the spread of the virus, it became clear that businesses could no longer afford to rely on the monolithic, global supply chains that have grown up in recent decades.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed just how vulnerable far-flung supply chains have become,” the three partners at US management consultancy Bain & Company wrote in an article on the consultancy’s website, called “Supply Chain Lessons from Covid-19: Time to Refocus on Resilience.” “What long passed for adequate flexibility is now subpar.”

Instead, authors Olaf Schatteman, Drew Woodhouse and Joe Terino recommend that companies need to develop a flexible ecosystem of suppliers and partners, deploy cloud-based platforms and collaboration tools to empower decentralized teams, enable real-time network visibility through integrated data, and ensure rapid generation of insights. “Companies that begin investing today in a resilient supply chain will be best positioned to weather the next event that obstructs the global flow of goods,” they wrote.

Digital marketplace technology brings together all the elements listed by the authors to match buyers with reliable suppliers that suit their needs—from 3D printing to CNC milled, injection molded, laser-cut or formed sheet metal parts— and provide a digital space for them to collaborate.

“It solves a problem, which is how do you find parts that are available commercially from who knows who, and get them into [your design platform] as quickly and painlessly as possible?” said Paul Parise, president of Convergent Technologies, a US engineering firm that provides equipment and new products for high-tech companies. “I can also compare various suppliers, and find out not only, ‘What if I change quantities, will this supplier give me a better price?’ but ‘What will the various suppliers quote for time, delivery and even available materials?’”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, digital marketplaces offered support to existing users and even to newly formed consortiums of companies—including automakers and ventilator manufacturers—who needed shared workspaces to enable life-saving collaborations that provide vital medical equipment. In the post-COVID world, these same marketplaces and collaborative platforms will play a vital role in ensuring business resilience.

Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly, now and over the long term.

Sandy Shen
Senior Director Analyst, Gartner

The new world of work

When businesses and educational establishments moved to  work-from- home models to help combat the spread of COVID-19, whole countries found themselves taking a crash course in remote collaboration. Experts suspect that steep learning curve may have dispelled any lingering doubts employers had about the effectiveness of remote working.

“This may be the tipping point for remote work,” said Kate Lister, president of US- based research and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics. “Once managers work from home themselves, they are far more inclined to support it. Doing it, and seeing it work, does more to reduce their fears than data ever will.”

Businesses already recognized remote work as a way to attract and retain talent, reduce real estate costs, increase employee engagement and enhance sustainability, Lister said. But as some workforces pulled together using piecemeal applications for videoconferencing, document sharing and the like, it became clear that this patchwork of applications couldn’t offer enterprise-level privacy, security and collaboration.

“While the ability to work from home is a benefit many employees value, many companies lack the technology infrastructure to offer that capability without some sacrifices to business as usual,” said Bernard Marr, a UK-based strategic business and technology advisor, writing for Forbes.com.

Organizations with a made-for-cloud digital platform in place were instantly ahead of the game. For instance, Vertical Aerospace, a British aerospace manufacturer, implemented a digital platform on the cloud before COVID-19 hit, and was able to seamlessly extend secure, remote collaboration capabilities to all its employees, suppliers and partners.

“At Vertical Aerospace, we were fortunate  to have moved onto a collaboration platform on cloud before we were remote working,” said Owen Thompson Cheel, senior aerospace engineer at Vertical Aerospace. “The team has all they need to work from home; and by using the platform on cloud, we have been able to continue working with virtually no difference in performance. It’s an excellent case for working on the cloud, and the platform has allowed us to remain agile and secure without loss of capability, effectively maintaining business continuity.”

As the world recovers from COVID-19, economic challenges and increased investor scrutiny about disaster preparedness—not to mention the environmental benefits of reduced business travel—will keep driving the remote-working trend. “Regardless of whether or not we slide into another recession as a result of COVID-19, the experience will likely cause employers to rethink the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of work,” Lister said.

Ultimately, organizations that are ready to collaborate seamlessly will recover faster and grow more, McKinsey predicts, by using their platform capabilities to take advantage of opportunities as the recovery gains momentum.

A platform for preparedness

Keeping pace with COVID-19’s effect on economies, industry sectors and businesses is an ongoing challenge, but one impact of the pandemic is undeniable: a vastly accelerated trend toward digitalization.

“From virtual meetings to automated factories, [and] online orders to drone delivery, digital services are growing in importance, permeating an increasing number of sectors and activities,” Matthew Stephenson and Nivedita Sen of the World Economic Forum wrote in their article, “How digital investment can help the COVID-19 recovery.”

“Digitally agile firms are adapting to the ongoing crisis more successfully, and others are rapidly skilling up in response to challenges to their business models,” they wrote.

A consortium led by Aden Group, one of Asia’s largest integrated facility management companies, is a case in point. The consortium is using a virtual collaborative platform with virtual twin 3D simulation capabilities to develop a turnkey infectious disease solution for hospitals that can be quickly deployed and easily maintained in countries severely impacted by COVID-19.

Simulations of a hospital’s entire lifecycle, from engineering to construction, procurement, operations and maintenance, are supported by Aden Group’s virtual collaborative platform, enabling infrastructure and city innovators to find new, more agile approaches to building.

“In a global context where decisiveness and rapid action are essential to help in the fight against COVID-19, combining quickly buildable modular architecture with a digital platform can accelerate the construction of a cutting-edge medical facility and ensure it is fully operational in record time,” said Joachim Poylo, co-founder of Aden Group. “By using the digital platform, we hope to develop a solution that would enable us to reduce engineering changes, maintain a rapid development schedule and meet delivery commitments quickly and effectively, as well as ensure long-term hospital maintenance and safety in anticipation of further pandemics.”

For less agile firms, these examples offer a clear lesson: digitalization across the organization, including partners, employees and stakeholders, will be the lynchpin of business continuity in the post-COVID world. Why? Because companies that are already using these capabilities will create a competitive environment in which everyone must join them, just to keep pace.

“This is a wake-up call for organizations that have placed too much focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience,” said Sandy Shen, senior director analyst at Gartner in the company’s report, “Coronavirus: CIO Areas of Focus During the COVID-19 Outbreak.” “Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly, now and over the long term.” ◆

Discover how Dassault Systèmes customers maintained business continuity during COVID-19

Industry Renaissance & society: two views

Perspectives from Pierre Musso and Neil Gershenfeld


6 min read

A profound societal transformation is underway enabling an Industry Renaissance that is shaking all sectors of society with new ways of inventing learning, producing and trading What does Industry Renaissance mean to society, and where is it going? Compass asked two very different observers—a leading French philosopher who specializes in the social ramifications of networks, and an MIT researcher who seeks to reconcile the digital and physical worlds—to share their perspectives.

The philosopher’s view Industry Renaissance: melding industry and society

by Pierre Musso

Over the centuries, we have somehow lost the true understanding of the word “industry.” We think of it as “manufacturing,” but the word is really a worldview.

Consider the etymology of “industry.” It is in Latin the combination of “in”—the inner breath, the inner genius, projected into the world; and “struere”—which is “to build.” So it is the alliance of the hand and the brain. It is the art of making the world and it changes not only industry, but society as well.

This is why every great technical or industrial revolution has been preceded or accompanied by a great revolution in society—in the philosophical, artistic, political and religious fields. Today, we are in a phase like that: big mutations, bifurcation, revolution.

The leading actors of this revolution are those who manage to combine art, science, technology and industry to formulate visions
of the future by the questions they ask. This is why the idea of Industry Renaissance is so important; it thinks of industry in society,
and not as a subset of society, and seeks to ask and answer the important questions.

Crafting a desirable future

Software is the engine for creating the visions of the world in virtual form so that we can see what the future could look like and say ‘yes ’to this and ‘no’ to that. So much is possible and so much is unknown that we have a dilemma: will what comes next be good or bad? Will the machine take half of the jobs, or will it make jobs better?

I believe it will be both. Yes there will be cuts, but the jobs that will be created will be more interesting, more creative. This is why a massive investment must be made in education and in a reorientation of training on re-training.

Virtual worlds inform our choices

The concept of Industry Renaissance understands this and, by putting the school in the company and the company in the school,education is suddenly everywhere and always on. Platforms help to enable this, but their most important role is to help us co-design the world.

The virtual world—a testing ground for what is possible—is the key value. It will enable us not simply to undo or redo what was done in the previous two centuries, but to collectively make worlds that offer us multiple choices. We will make choices in the virtual world to improve the real world.

PROFILE: Pierre Musso is a professor of information sciences and communication at Télécom ParisTech and Rennes II University, and serves as a scientific advisor and associate fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies (IEA) of Nantes. He is particularly interested in the philosophy of networks, and argues that engineers are too busy with the details of the technology to decide what a network should be, leaving philosophers to fill the void. "Thus the technical network becomes the end and the means to think and realize the social transformation, even the revolutions of our time,” he wrote in an article for Humanity magazine. “The triumphant ideology of the network is a way to make the economy utopias of social transformation, to make a transfer in the psychoanalytic sense of policy on technical.” He questions popular concepts of both industry and society in his book La Religion industrielle, published by Fayard, Paris, in 2017.

The fab lab innovator’s view: Digital revolutions, renaissances and empowering consumers

by Neil Gershenfeld

Depending on how you count, we’re living through a new industrial revolution, or an AI revolution, or a genomics revolution, or a
crypto revolution, or an Internet of Things revolution, or a quantum revolution, or an additive manufacturing revolution, or perhaps
all of the above. But underlying this proliferation of technological revolutions is a movement that is simultaneously simpler and has wider implications: a third digital revolution, this time in fabrication.

The first digital revolution was in communication. Analog telephone calls degraded with distance; Claude Shannon showed in 1948 that by communicating with discrete symbols rather than continuous signals, unreliable devices could communicate reliably. Digital isn’t defined by ones and zeros; it’s a scaling property. Shannon introduced what’s now called a threshold theorem, proving that the probability of decoding a symbol decreases as an exponential function of the physical resources representing the symbol, as long as the noise is below a threshold. Very few exponentials exist in engineering; this is the most important one, the one which led to globe-spanning networks.

The second digital revolution was in computation. The answers from analog computers degraded tith time. John von Neumann applied Shannon’s work to computing, showing in 1952 how unreliable devices can operate reliably. This was again through a threshold theorem and led to supercomputers that now fit in your pocket.

A third digital revolution, in fabrication, might appear to have started in the same era, when MIT developed computer-controlled machining in 1952. A state-of-the-art 3D printer today differs from the original NC [numerical control] mill by depositing rather than removing material; but that’s common to both of them is that the digital information resides in the controlling computer, not the materials. They’re fundamentally analog processes. This has many implications, including accumulating errors, the need for external quality control, limited work volumes, and the difficulty of handling dissimilar material properties and of recycling their output.

Human digital fabrication

None of those apply to the real invention of digital fabrication, which occurred 4 billion years ago. That’s the evolutionary age of the ribosome, the molecular assembler that made you. The genetic code doesn’t just describe you, it becomes you. The mapping from DNA to RNA to amino acids to proteins to molecular machines anticipates everything Shannon and von Neumann taught us. The fidelity and complexity of molecular biology arises from its ability to detect and correct errors, from global geometry coming from local constraints, and from the ability to disassemble and reuse rather than dispose of its building blocks.

The digital fabrication research roadmap that my lab is pursuing is extending this insight, digitalizing not just designs but also materials, from organic to inorganic systems. This is progressing in stages, from computers controlling machines to machines making machines, to discrete assemblers, to self assembly. While that progression will take decades to complete, like the earlier digital revolutions, it won’t take that long to see the impact.

Digital fabrication is now at the historical equivalent of the minicomputer era. Fab labs today, like a minicomputer, fill a room, weigh a ton and cost a hundred thousand dollars. These capabilities will eventually be merged into a single process, but taken together they can already be used to produce the kinds of products that today come from global supply chains.

Changing society with fab labs

The number of fab labs has been doubling for a decade, to over a thousand now. Among these, my lab has worked to deploy a series of fab labs in notable locations. One in Rwanda is
helping the economy reduce its dependence on imports; one in Bhutan is embodying the basis of their economy in gross national happiness; one in Puerto Williams, Chile, is transforming the supply chain for the southernmost city on Earth; one coming in Nepal will focus on humanitarian relief. These labs are being used for outreach, education, incubation, infrastructure and entertainment. All of those are business models that support the labs; for many of them the product is the act of making itself, rather than selling what gets made.

Reconnecting art and science

The best way to understand what’s driving this interest is to view it as correcting a mistake made in the Renaissance. That’s when the liberal arts emerged, as a pathway to personal liberation. This was the trivium and quadrivium, roughly language and science. Everything else was relegated to the illiberal arts, pursued merely for commercial gain. But the means of expression have changed since the Renaissance; 3D design and microcontroller programming are now every bit as expressive as painting a painting or writing a sonnet.

Empowering consumers to become creators offers an alternative to many of today’s most sensitive issues, including tariffs, income inequality and economic races to the bottom. Realizing this promise has led the fab lab network to create a series of new organizations to fill this void, including the Fab Foundation for operational capacity, the Fab Academy for distributed education and the Fab Cities initiative for urban self-sufficiency. Together, these are tackling the ultimate question being posed by the arrival of the third digital revolution: How will we live, learn, work and play when anyone can make almost anything, almost anywhere?

PROFILE: Neil Gershenfeld is the director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, where his laboratory is focused on breaking the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds, from pioneering quantum computing to digital fabrication to the Internet of Things. He has been named one of the “50 leaders in Science and Technology” by Scientific American magazine; as one of the Top 100 public intellectuals by Prospect/Foreign Policy; and as one of 40 Modern-Day Leonardos by the Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. He founded a global network of more than 1,000 fab labs, chairs the Fab Foundation, leads the Fab Academy, and is popularly acclaimed as the intellectual father of the maker movement.


Learn more about Industry Renaissance and Society.

A tire revolution

As cars become electric and autonomous, the humble tire gets a high-tech makeover

William J. Holstein

4 min read

The tire industry is being challenged to create tires that are optimized for the changing face of mobility including all-electric, autonomous and fleet cars. As the way people get from point A to point B evolves, digital simulation offers engineers an easy way to test and model a wide range of structures and materials to revolutionize the tire.

Pity the poor tire.

It has long been a joke among auto industry insiders that tires are the most important part of a vehicle because they’re the only parts that actually touch the road…which is humorous because auto companies traditionally have devoted so little time to improving tire design.

The joke, however, may have run its course. As the industry prepares for the arrival of all-electric and fully autonomous vehicles, high-tech design of the lowly tire is rapidly gaining traction.

“There is a realization in the industry that the tire will play a key role that will become more and more visible,” said Hans Dorfi, director of digital engineering at Bridgestone, based in Akron, Ohio.

New types of cars need new types of tires

Autonomous vehicles will not have steering wheels, so passengers will be just that—mere riders who don’t want or expect to fix a flat tire. This trend will be especially pronounced as people stop owning cars and move to renting them for set periods of time or hailing them on demand. As a result, tire makers are developing and introducing airless tires as well as tires with built-in sealants that can prevent flats for short periods, until a punctured tire can be repaired.

Preventing flats isn’t the only focus for tire makers, however. Electric vehicles are very heavy due to the weight of the batteries that power them. This weight will lead to more wear and tear on tires, as will plans to power the front and rear axles with separate motors; some designs even call for separate motors on each tire, leading to even faster wear and an even greater need for new, more durable materials.

The final factor in increased wear and tear is the fact that shared fleet vehicles could be in use 90% of each day, compared with 10% per day for single-owner vehicles.

Enter digital simulation

For help in predicting and responding to these challenges, tire makers are turning to virtual simulation software to ensure that their solutions are equal to the task.

“We can use digital tools both to design the product for a very specific use and to cut out many of the iterations that were required in the past to validate the product,” Dorfi said.


Prior to real-world testing, Bridgestone leverages virtual simulation to test their tires under a wide range of scenarios. The Bridgestone DriveGuard is engineered to provide extended mobility after a puncture. (Image ©Bridgestone)

As the capabilities of digital simulation software have advanced, tire makers have gained the ability to simulate more of the conditions that their tires may face, allowing them to test the performance of new designs digitally, but in real-world conditions, long before deciding to manufacture them.

“The tire companies overall are at a stage where they can simulate just about all the performance events that a tire has to go through,” said Ron Kennedy, managing director of the Center for Tire Research (CenTiRe) in Blacksburg, Virginia. CenTiRe conducts research for a global consortium of tire makers through two universities—Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the University of Akron—under the auspices of the National Science Foundation.

For example, the center can test handling and comfort as tires interact with rough, icy or slick surfaces, as well as how much noise they generate. Rolling resistance is another important variable, especially for tires on electric vehicles: the lower the resistance, the greater the mileage and the longer the batteries last between charges.

Given the wide variety of conditions, designs and materials that researchers must test, the speed at which simulations can be performed is increasingly important.

“How long does it take to run a model?” Kennedy said. “You want to be able to evaluate as many design variables as you can, as quickly as you can. If we can do only one a day, that’s not quick enough. You need to do three or four a day.”

Tires without air?

Simulation helped Michelin develop its puncture-proof UPTIS (Unique Puncture- proof Tire System) tire. UPTIS does not contain an inner tube; in fact, it contains no air at all, meaning that auto manufacturers who specify them will not need to include a jack or a spare tire with their vehicles, eliminating weight and cost. UPTIS is expected to be introduced on General Motors passenger vehicles as soon as 2024.

The vast majority of drivers will not notice any difference in feel or performance, Michelin said. Best of all, UPTIS improves safety because it eliminates the possibility of blowouts.

The Michelin Uptis Prototype is tested on a Chevrolet Bolt EV Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at the General Motors Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan. GM intends to develop this airless wheel assembly with Michelin and aims to introduce it on passenger vehicles as early as 2024. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)

Steve Cron, UPTIS co-inventor and a senior principal product research engineer at Michelin in Greenville, South Carolina, said simulation was important to significant aspects of the novel new design particularly by helping engineers optimize the shape of the composite rubber spoke that contained the new fiberglass monofilament material that looks like strands of spaghetti.

“We provided a little bit of intelligence to the simulation software and let it search for the types of solutions we were after,” Cron said. “It saved us enormous amounts of time, and we got much better solutions without a human in the loop.” Today, monofilament glass-fiber is used in the outer band of the tires and to reinforce wheel spokes.

The other major advantage of virtual simulation came in figuring out how the UPTIS would be structured mechanically. Engineers sought to mimic the way that all parts of a pneumatic tire—the top, bottom, sides and spokes—help carry a car’s load, not just the part of the wheel that touches the road. “Without simulation, we never would have been able to figure this out,” Cron said. “The use of these tools has been absolutely essential.” ◆

Want to learn more about the future of tires? Discover our article, Tires That Talk, about how insights from IOT-connected sensors can improve automotive safety and service.

Reimagining your business model

Jacqui Griffiths

Building a new business model is a continuous journey of learning, innovation, reinvention and iteration. Here are the six key steps for success.

Act like a startup

These five cloud-technology tips help established firms compete like digital natives

Rebecca Lambert

5 min read

Startups continue to challenge the status quo. Nimble and innovative, they share certain characteristics that can help them adapt quickly to changing markets and grasp opportunities faster than traditional businesses. Compass looks at five top areas where using the cloud can help your company act like a startup.

Digital-native companies use the latest technologies to launch new products and business models faster than their competitors and gain a wide variety of advantages.

For example, Capgemini-Sogeti’s 2018 report “The Automation Advantage,” found that 84% of digital natives have increased revenue and lowered operating costs with cloud technology, while 81% have used the cloud to achieve business model innovation.

So how can established companies that operate on legacy infrastructures keep pace? By borrowing a page from the upstarts’ playbook and moving at least some operations to the cloud.

“On-premise solutions require costly resources to deploy and don’t offer the agility or the time-to-innovation that companies need to compete in today’s market,” said David Mann, VP of Digital Innovation at US-based software consulting firm XD Innovation. “We provide cloud- based solutions because we understand our customers’ financial and operational needs and know that it will easily scale to their future requirements.”

Here are five key areas where adopting cloud technologies can help established firms act like startups:

1. Train on the latest capabilities

Parker Hannifin, a Fortune 250 global leader in motion and control technologies, is using cloud-based technologies to roll out new capabilities.

“The number one thing that a cloud platform brings us is new features and functions well in advance of when we’d be able to deliver them on premise,” said Bob Deragisch, director of engineering services and IT at Parker Hannifin. “We couldn’t dream of delivering that power as rapidly as it’s delivered on the cloud. The functionality allows our teams to work in new ways and perform better.”

Critically, the company’s cloud-based applications allow it to capture knowledge from its designers and developers, who have centuries’ worth of skill and expertise among them, and apply it to future product development.

“We believe that design reuse alone will help us to achieve a 30–60% improvement in overall development,” Deragisch said. “This is not just about applying one product from one application to another, but discovering features and functions and reusing them in ways we hadn’t previously. Before, a design was in the realm of the individual who created it; now we can use that information and integrate it across design and planning to production and assembly to create a digital thread throughout the product’s lifecycle. It’s a big part of where we’re heading and will add to our market strength."

2. Increase speed and agility

The cloud helps move products from design to manufacturing at a speed and scale previously impossible with legacy IT infrastructures.

“Our customers need technology that is scalable, agile and quick to deploy because it is becoming a core component of their business model,” Mann said. “Leveraging cloud-based implementations allows companies to say to their investors and board members: ‘Hey, we’re adopting technology that’s actually going to drive the speed of execution that you demand from us,‘” he said.

For Parker Hannifin, speed is critical. “We need to be first to market, and our cloud- based tools give us access to knowledge much earlier so we can capture requirements, define specifications and develop more rapidly than ever,” Deragisch said. “We can then use advanced tools and capabilities like artificial intelligence to improve designs and more rapidly turn them over to manufacturing and engineering to plan how we produce each product. Enhanced collaboration and feedback capabilities ensure we don’t waste time designing something we can’t produce.”

3. Improve customer-centricity

Capgemini-Sogeti’s report found that 86% of businesses have improved the customer experience as a result of cloud-based technologies. Deragisch attributes this to the cloud’s ability to embed knowledge-driven processes and quickly assimilate customers’ requirements to achieve engineering breakthroughs. “We can now listen to our customers’ needs more and deliver solutions that overcome their issues,” he said. “Customer experience is key, and the experience they had yesterday is not the experience they expect tomorrow. Without these cloud-based technologies, the changing business landscape would literally be getting away from us.”

One of the biggest changes Parker Hannifin has made in the past five years is to establish high-performance teams with the freedom to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset.

“These teams work in a fairly autonomous way, similar to how startups operate,” Deragisch said. “Using the latest cloud technology, they can quickly sign up new servers to support peak workloads and collaborate on new ideas without being constrained by legacy processes and platforms. We allow them to think out of the box and ensure that technology helps them rather than hinders them.”

4. Commit to ongoing innovation

Most startups are born with a spirit of innovation, while established businesses traditionally focus on protecting their installed base. Lack of innovation gives customers a reason to move, however, so established businesses are refocusing on creating an open-minded culture that encourages new ideas and learns fast from failures.

“Cloud is an enabler for our customers’ vision of adopting more innovative and lean processes,” Mann said. “Invariably, their first reaction will be ‘Okay, I did it like this with the old technology. How do I replicate that?’ That is the biggest challenge—transforming the way their organization has always operated. It isn’t about replication of the past—it is about reinvention.”

Parker Hannifin’s transformation involved far more than implementing new technologies. “We look at innovation as not being just about the tools,” Deragisch said, “but the fact that they’re readily available in the cloud to help solve critical engineering challenges allows us to create an atmosphere of empowerment so teams are encouraged to ask those ‘what if’ questions and truly listen to the customers’ needs as we all pursue the dream of a better tomorrow.

“Innovation is something we recognize as the only way we’re going to continue to grow and develop,” he said. “It requires an environment that allows you to take risks early on with a new technology, make sure it’s doing what the customers want, and then rapidly developing it into a solution that we can launch to market.”

5. Become a digital leader

McKinsey observes that, just like Parker Hannifin, businesses need to do more than move their applications to the cloud if they want to keep pace with startups.

“Just taking legacy applications and moving them to the cloud—lift-and-shift—will not automatically yield the benefits that cloud infrastructure and systems can provide,” McKinsey said in its 2018 article, “Cloud adoption to accelerate IT modernization.” “In fact, in some cases, that approach can result in IT architectures that are more complex, cumbersome, and costly than before. The full value of cloud comes from approaching these options not as one-off tactical decisions but as part of a holistic strategy to pursue digital transformation.”

Using the cloud as a strategic enabler rather than simply a new IT function is helping to drive Parker Hannifin’s future business strategy, Deragisch said.

“One of the key metrics for our enterprise is digital leadership,” he said. “Without the speed, agility and innovation that we’re bringing to these difficult engineering problems, we would not be able to meet our customers’ requirements in the timeframes they have now come to expect. We recently redefined our company’s purpose, which is to enable engineering breakthroughs that lead to a better tomorrow. I truly believe that our cloud strategy is a key part of allowing us to achieve this. We simply cannot make engineering breakthroughs without this technology.” ◆

Creating well-being, naturally

Geneviève Berger, Firmenich

Rebecca Gibson

3 min read

Scent and taste are two often-ignored senses, but they can be scientifically measured, developed, designed and optimized. Firmenich, the world’s largest privately owned perfume and taste company, is dedicated to improving how people experience smells and tastes for health and well-being. Compass spoke to Geneviève Berger, Firmenich’s chief research officer, to learn more about the company’s specialized scientific techniques.

COMPASS: Please tell us about your role at Firmenich.

Geneviève Berger: My role is to drive Firmenich toward its next level of scientific excellence. I am passionate about improving quality of life through science, so I am putting our science to work to delight the 4 billion consumers we touch everyday with products and solutions that contribute to their well-being.

What’s exceptional is how we master the full scientific spectrum of smell and taste, starting with raw materials and ending with human perception. Chemistry is the foundation of our work, but materials science, biotechnology and cell biology are all increasingly important, so we apply a multidisciplinary approach to constantly push our innovation forward. I deeply believe that innovation takes place at the edge of multidisciplinary thinking; that’s where the magic always happens!

Can you explain your belief that consumer products will only be successful if they improve quality of life?

GB: When it comes to health you have two ways of contributing: in the prevention phase or in the treatment and cure phase. I believe in playing a leading role in prevention, which has a bigger impact on public health. I do this by delighting consumers with daily products that contribute to their well-being.

More than a decade ago, we started investing in technologies to make healthier food and drink options taste delicious. For example, one of our latest technologies can remove up to 100% of added sugar naturally without compromising taste. Last year alone we removed 1 trillion calories from products that people love.

How did Firmenich’s participation in the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” contribute to well-being?

GB: We have made a genuine breakthrough in controlling bad smells, thanks to our understanding of olfactory receptors. Our technology counteracts malodor by neutralizing stimulation of olfactive receptors, as opposed to covering the malodor with scent.

An estimated 4.5 billion people worldwide lack safe sanitation, with devastating impacts on public health. When we realized smell was one of the greatest barriers to using toilets, we decided to become part of the solution and partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reinvent the toilet experience for increased hygiene and sanitation. Today, our technology is integrated into affordable and sustainable toilet cleaning products for low-income consumers across Bangladesh, India and South Africa. We’re providing key software for the new toilet economy, taking a human- centered approach based on our deep understanding of how positive emotions can drive behavior change.

Firmenich does a lot to support farmers. Can you give us some examples?

GB: Some of the most vulnerable communities within our value chain are the small-holder farmers at the source of our natural ingredients, such as vanilla in Madagascar, patchouli in Indonesia or vetiver in Haiti. We actively work with them, as well as with NGOs and government partners, to ensure we support their sustainable livelihoods.

For example, we pay a premium to these communities to invest in projects that they think will most benefit locals. For example, we built a school in Haiti, and in Madagascar we built a dispensary and wells for access to water. We engage our customers in this effort too. For instance, with support from our customers, we built a daycare center for patchouli farming families in Indonesia.

I deeply believe that innovation takes place at the edge of multidisciplinary thinking; that’s where the magic always happens!

Through our approach to sourcing natural ingredients, we estimate that we positively touch the lives of over 250,000 farming families around the world. To scale up our impact in this area, we have invested in two Livelihood Funds for Family Farming, along with like-minded visionary companies.

What do you consider as your greatest achievement to date in pushing the boundaries of science to improve people’s lives?

GB: Firmenich is playing a critical role to enable the rise of vegan and flexitarian diets that are good for you and good for the planet. Using our sensory expertise, we can make healthy, nutritious and sustainable foods look, taste and smell great. Today, we’re the only flavor house with integrated solutions for improving everything from taste to texture, which enriches the overall eating experience by overcoming issues historically associated with plant proteins, such as off-notes, bitterness, dryness and texture. We can now match the fatty succulence and juiciness of meat proteins in vegetarian and seafood alternatives.

How do you think science will change the world of flavor and fragrance in the future?

GB: The next big frontier that we are working on is digitalization. While digitalization is disrupting business models across every industry, it is also generating exciting new business opportunities, such as even greater speed and more personalized consumer experiences through the power of artificial intelligence (AI).

Last year we inaugurated our Digital Lab (D-lab) in partnership with the EPFL, a world-leading technology institution and one of our closest academic partners, to put us at the forefront of AI to augment our creation capabilities and lead our industry’s next technology frontier.

Creating fragrances and tastes is both an art and a science. Our perfumers and flavorists will always have the emotional and creative advantage over AI, bringing the unique human touch that all our customers demand. However, AI can augment their expertise, helping to provide bespoke sensorial experiences faster than ever before. ◆

Visualizing the oceans

How the maritime industries are using 3D technologies to protect the seas that sustain them

Nick Lerner

5 min read

The marine industry worldwide is racing to comply with challenging ocean-protection regulations. Compass looks at how 3D technologies are helping three maritime companies protect the waters on which their businesses depend.

Robust legislation and wider recognition of industries’ dependence on fragile ocean systems are driving the marine industry to actively protect the seas that sustain them.

Increasingly, companies in this industry are turning to sophisticated virtual resources to predict the results of mitigation strategies and explain to skeptical operators how advanced technologies can help their operations to be profitable, safe and environmentally responsible.

One such enlightened company, Helsinki- based Wärtsilä, a global leader in smart technologies and complete lifecycle solutions for the marine and energy markets, is committed to being a driving force in sustainable shipping. Wärtsilä’s four-stroke diesel engines for ships are used in all the world’s oceans, by more than half the world’s fleet, and have been recognized by Guinness World Records as the “world’s most efficient” for their low fuel consumption and reduced environment impact.

How does the company do it? By creating a system that combines 3D virtual twin models of its engines with cloud-hosted performance data that ship operators can use to fine-tune their operations in real time for optimum performance.

Real-time access to multiple data sources, machine learning and the use of AI [artificial intelligence] allows ships’ operators to coordinate and optimize performance of vessels and onboard systems,” said Steffen Knodt, director of Digital Ventures at Wärtsilä. “Combining route, current and weather data with port access, logistics, ships’ equipment status and fuel usage cuts energy consumption and improves efficiency while helping to meet the United Nations International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) 2050 [target of] 50% greenhouse gas emissions reduction for shipping.”

Wärtsilä’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) cruiser machinery is used for better fuel consumption. (Image © Wärtsilä)

Reducing carbon emissions in shipping is important. The Smithsonian Institute reports that 22 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) are absorbed into the oceans each day, causing acidification of the water. Known as “climate change’s equally evil twin,” acidification is so rapid that many forms of marine life cannot adapt quickly enough and are dying out. The US National Ocean Service, an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Service (NOAA), reports that carbon emissions also contribute to atmospheric global warming, which warms the oceans and disrupts ocean currents that serve as the Earth’s natural temperature- control system.

While protecting the oceans has clear benefits for the environment, maritime operators are discovering that—contrary to long-held assumptions—it also can be good for business.

“Being open and aware through sharing data is the route to sustainability that also offers business advantages of increased productivity and efficiency,” Knodt said. “Ports can be run like airports to save time and energy by adopting smart-city concepts, while new ways of working can be discovered, tested, optimized and validated through 3D simulation.”

Cleaning ballast water

At sea, as many as 200,000 cubic meters (5.28 million US gallons) of ballast water per voyage are used to maintain stability, balance cargo or fuel weight, and keep propellers and rudders submerged. Annually, billions of gallons of ballast water are pumped from and returned to the sea, a process that the World Health Organization notes inadvertently sucks up thousands of marine species, pathogens and organisms, which are then distributed around the globe.

Negative impacts of ballast water include a decline in native species, plus blockage of and damage to onshore drainage and port infrastructure through infestations of non-native species. Scientists at New York’s Cornell University estimate that invasive species are responsible for around US$138 billion annually of lost revenue and management costs in the United States alone, from reductions in fish stocks, closure of fish farms and recreational beaches, to human health impacts, biodiversity losses and damage from non- native plants and mollusks burrowing into and eroding sea defenses or clogging pipes and fishing nets.

Ballast water can even spread disease. In 1991, according to New Scientist magazine, a discharge of cholera-infected water in Peru killed 12,000 people across Latin America and Mexico. By the following year, the same strain was detected in North America by the US Food and Drug Administration.

We use 3D simulations to explain to commercial partners, suppliers, financiers, and customers how complex products, new technologies and systems work.

DANIEL CHO

CEO and founder, Onvector

The IMO is fighting these problems with rules that require the world’s fleet of about 52,000 large ships (longer than 137 meters/450 feet) to clean their ballast water before discharging it. These rules, which take full effect in 2027, have created surging demand for onboard water treatment systems. Research company Energias projects that over the next four years, demand for compliant systems will grow from about US$15 billion to around US$106 billion.

One enterprise looking to capitalize is US-based Onvector. As part of the Boston- based SeaAhead program, which provides networking and consulting support  to startup companies pursuing ocean-focused sustainability innovations, Onvector develops advanced high-voltage plasma and ionized- gas technologies for treatment of ballast water. Plasma is created by charging certain gases with energy, which releases electrons. The ensuing reactions kill even the toughest waterborne bacteria.

“Our technology will surpass all current regulations for complete compliance because plasma is a robust approach to non-chemical water disinfection that cleans more effectively and at lower cost than any other system— with no downside,” said Daniel Cho, CEO and founder of Onvector.

But educating potential buyers and their bankers about new, sophisticated technology is a challenge, Cho said, regardless of its benefits.

“We use 3D simulations to visualize and design plasma reactors and also to explain to commercial partners, suppliers, financiers and customers how complex products, new technologies and systems work,” Cho said. “This facilitates communication, enabling vital innovations in materials, manufacturing and onboard applications. It comes together like solving a multidisciplinary puzzle.”

Protecting marine life

Ashored, another SeaAhead member, is an ocean technology business based in Nova Scotia, Canada, focused on balancing commercial interests with the needs of marine environments. Specifically, Ashored has developed a buoy system for crab and lobster traps that protects marine mammals while improving harvest efficiency.

“To avoid potential rope entanglement of declining species, international trade agreements demand that when whales are spotted in fishing areas, vertical or surface buoy lines have to be removed,” Ashored CEO Aaron Stevenson said. “In 2018 alone, more than 60 boats in New Brunswick were impacted and unable to fish so long as whales remained.”

To eliminate the need for fishing bans, Ashored developed an underwater buoy release free of lines. The system works with existing lobster/crab traps by allowing buoys to be released to the surface via acoustics (or a backup timer) for harvesting.

“Hosting data on the cloud allows fishermen to know precisely where their traps are located and to raise buoys synchronically with the boat’s arrival,” Stevenson said. Working this way increases productivity and lowers fishing risks. An additional benefit: because the buoys remain out of sight until released, captains can keep their trap locations secret from competitors.

The company used 3D modeling and simulation to model the system’s performance and the experience of using them, ensuring that its product works as planned.

“The issues we face are not only commercial and environmental, but also to do with materials and systems that must interact perfectly to work in harsh environments,” Stevenson said. “3D modeling at the design stage lets us simulate and perfect real-life equipment usage in rough seas [while] wearing heavy rubber gloves. Simulation presents the big picture that anyone can understand.”

Ashored is working to add sophisticated trap-tracking and catch-optimization software to its cloud-hosted platform to improve operational accuracy. This will save time and fuel while compiling a database of shellfish habitats and catches to improve future yields. This, Stevenson said, should lead to “better and more profitable fishing decisions that enhance the shellfish industry’s reputation for sustainability by actively protecting whales in their marine environment.”

The United Nations calculates that more than  3 billion people depend on marine and coastal resources for their living and that, to maintain this, “a change will be required in how humans view, manage and use oceans, and marine resources.” As Wärtsilä, Onvector and Ashored demonstrate, virtual universes are a powerful resource for companies of any size in the marine industry’s journey to protect the seas that provide their livelihoods. ◆

Click here for more information on how 3D technology helps to protect our oceans.

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