Private industry pushes into space, aiming to reinvent everyday life and interplanetary travel
27 January 2021
4 min read
Space was once the exclusive domain of national governments. Now it is fast becoming an arena for private enterprise, ushering in a new era forged by visionary, risk-taking entrepreneurs. Welcome to the New Space.
The commercial space industry – a field that industry players refer to as New Space – has expanded more than 70% in the past decade. Space Foundation, a US non-profit advocate for the global space industry, estimates its current value at more than US$425 billion. By 2040, it could be a US$1.5 trillion industry, a recent Morgan Stanley study estimates.
One indicator of the rapid growth curve in New Space: at the beginning of 2020, dozens of companies were manufacturing “smallsats”— satellites about the size of large kitchen refrigerators — with hundreds of additional startups exploring opportunities across the multifaceted domain.
“Although entrepreneurs, strategic partnerships and venture capitalists have been leading the charge on funding, the long-term success of the space economy will require a self-sufficient ecosystem,” said Adam Jones, Global Head of Auto and Shared Mobility at Morgan Stanley.
To illustrate the trend, Compass has charted a visual, virtual journey through the New Space universe. All aboard! Liftoff!
Virtual learning is enriching students' on-the-job experiences
22 January 2021
5 min read
When professors and employers can’t meet with a student in person, how can they provide internships? With in-person experiences largely impossible since the COVID-19 pandemic began, educators and companies have been challenged to rethink their internship models. Compass looks at how virtual learning can address these issues and the new challenges it is raising – including whether a virtual class should charge the same fees as a physical one.
Distance learning has been with us since 1858, when the University of London began its “External Learning Programme,” offering students the opportunity to study privately and take exams by mail.
Since early 2020, however, with a pandemic raging worldwide, distance learning has moved mostly online and taken on an entirely new importance. While many students complain about the loss of personal contact involved in learning online, virtual experiences may actually improve several aspects of internships.
“Higher education is leaning more and more into the online delivery of knowledge, which could level the playing field and democratize access to education,” said Sirin Tekinay, dean of engineering at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates; Tekinay also chairs the Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC), giving her a view into trends worldwide. “We have an opportunity like never before to transform the way we offer courseware to improve accessibility to and opportunities in higher education.”
A study by the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University in Indiana reports that undergraduate engineering students say their remote learning experiences have helped them better “adapt to online lectures and actually learned to manage time better,” and that they “believe this experience has made [them] more adaptable.”
“Professional skills, formerly known as ‘soft skills’, are so important to engineers,” said Julie Martin, associate professor of engineering education at The Ohio State University and a collaborator on the Purdue University study. “When students were required to shelter in place, many scattered to different time zones across the USA and the rest of the world. They found themselves on what were truly global teams – something that happens in real engineering work all the time.”
Necessity breeds innovation
While some courses are entirely academic, others rely heavily on laboratory-based study. The importance of a hands-on experience is particularly apparent during internships.
To meet this challenge, universities and other educational societies are switching to remote internships that take advantage of virtual technologies, including 3D product models and artificial intelligence. Access to virtual technology, these educators agree, will greatly improve the value of the internships by exposing students to applications and processes already in use and growing in the global marketplace. For example, a ReportLinker study projects the global simulation software market reaching US$19.4 billion (15.9 billion euros) by 2025; GrandView Research projects the 3D design software market alone to reach $US13 billion (10.7 billion euros) by the same year, indicating rapid adoption for which students must be prepared.
Just four months into the pandemic, in May 2020, the GEDC and the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) launched the Global Virtual Internship Program to help students remotely access online opportunities widely available to the GEDC’s corporate and on-campus members.
“As the year went on and we started to adjust to virtual delivery strategies, we realized that there were actually advantages beyond traditional methods to teaching online and using technology, if we reformulated our mindset,” Tekinay said. “We were able to change teaching techniques significantly throughout the year, and we realized that experiential learning opportunities such as internships could be treated the same way. At the GEDC, we wanted to enable engineering students worldwide to have the option to undertake virtual internships, despite the pandemic.”
Hugo Kieffer, a nuclear engineering student at the École nationale supérieure d'ingénieurs de Caen in France, spent his summer as a remote intern for the Department of Nuclear Reactors of the Czech Technical University in Prague. During the eight-week program, Kieffer contributed to research on uranium fuel, improved his knowledge of Python coding and tested newly developed software.
“In terms of social interaction, it was clearly very different from the normal procedure,” Kieffer said. “I only attended one meeting each week to report my progress and discuss the various next stages of my work.”
Despite the limits on personal engagement with colleagues and senior staff, however, Kieffer said the experience was beneficial.
“Although I was only able to complete certain tasks due to the remote nature of the internship, I was still able to contribute to the laboratory’s projects which, in time, could affect production methods of nuclear fuel. It is important that we know that remote internships are possible and provide students with relevant industry experience.”
Tekinay said that she believes virtual internships are here to stay, and can actually create more valuable experiences than physical internships. Her college at the American University of Sharjah was able to offer virtual internships to students from the US, India, and Chile. During that time, the students worked on research topics, created presentations, observed experiments and collected results.
“This opportunity probably wouldn’t have been viable as a face-to-face experience in our biomedical engineering lab, for various financial and time-related reasons,” Tekinay said. “As such, virtual internships have created a range of new opportunities for engineering students around the world and have the sense of being part of a global community.”
The intern truly became part of the project team, with very clear assignments from day to day, she said. “They were not required to take part in the more menial tasks often asked of interns, such as filing or making coffee. As a result, they were able to provide real value and insight to the project.”
“The idea is not to have remote learning all the time necessarily,” said Julien Doche, student and president of the Bureau Nationale des Élèves Ingénieurs (BNEI), a group which represents the interests of engineering students in France. Instead, the goal is “ to find the balance between the development of education, its adaptation to society and economic events, and maintain the quality of higher education.”
The cost of disruption
Even when virtual learning is delivered effectively, however, questions of cost persist. A recent study by education research organization Niche found that 79% of students believe virtual or hybrid classes should cost less than a traditional, in-person course, since they offer fewer contact hours and little-to-no on-campus interaction.
“This is a tricky issue because the cost of paying for instruction is not lower for online learning,” The Ohio State University's Martin said. “If anything, staff are working more hours to convert courses and deliver online instruction than we were when teaching in person. I think faculty hear this argument and wonder if the implicit suggestion is that they should be paid less for working more. Additionally, universities are experiencing drastic budget cuts during the pandemic, and those institutions that are laying off instructors require the remaining faculty members to teach higher loads than normal.”
Attitudes toward remote learning and the associated fees differ across geographies. Doche said that he believes many engineering students across France are happy to continue paying their fees.
“The majority of engineering schools in France are public,” he said. “We pay around 600 euros [US$725] per year, so the fees are not as expensive as other education institutions and in some other countries. I think attitudes might be quite different were we paying a lot more.”
The subject of higher education fees has been and continues to be a divisive subject. Virtual internships, however, are already proving their value by removing some of the associated clerical work and enabling students to be part of global teams. As educators find ways to pack even more value into virtual learning, exposing students to advanced engineering technologies and global teaming experiences, resistance to paying for them may evaporate
How Xometry leveraged a B2B marketplace to backfill disrupted supply chains
William J. Holstein
6 January 2021
5 min read
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced manufacturers worldwide to find new suppliers for crucial parts, many of their online searches led to on-demand, custom-manufacturing specialist Xometry. Compass spoke with Bill Cronin, chief revenue officer, and Hunter Guerin, product manager, about how Xometry’s involvement in an online B2B parts marketplace helped the six-year-old company meet the global challenge.
Compass:How did Xometry get started?
Bill Cronin: Our cofounder, Randy Altschuler, is a serial entrepreneur who got very interested in the world of manufacturing and how to help product designers get custom-manufactured parts while helping small manufacturers build their businesses. Xometry is all about helping connect supply and demand in custom manufacturing. Engineers and designers upload a CAD file of their part and we give them an instant price. Then, the part is delivered by one of the thousands of manufacturers on our network. It could be delivered by a machine shop in Idaho or one in China, based on the customer’s desired specifications.
How big a company is Xometry now?
BC: Our headquarters is in Maryland and we have offices in Los Angeles, Munich and Lexington, Kentucky. We are now close to 400 people and we continue to grow quickly.
This year, Xometry became “certified” by that online marketplace you mentioned. What does that mean?
Hunter Guerin: It means that it’s even easier for people to get an instant price quote from within the marketplace. They don’t even have to leave the platform where they design their part models to request a quote. We meet the customer where they are.
Because of our model, we have a wide range of services, including 3D printing, machining and sheet metal work, plus injection molding for plastics. We have customers that include BMW, General Electric, Bosch and Dell. Aside from automotive, we’re also active in the aerospace and medical fields.
BC: The other practical effect of becoming certified was that previously, customers could get instant pricing only for 3D printing or additive-manufactured parts. But, by adding our Computerized Numerically Controlled (CNC) capabilities, we were able to offer subtractive manufacturing as well. That’s important to many manufacturers. They’re looking for either metal or plastics for a certain job.
If designers and engineers can get prices on parts so quickly, what does that mean in practical terms?
HG: Everybody’s speed to market is getting faster. We spend a lot of time helping our customers understand the price of something while they are still designing it. That can be incredibly valuable knowledge. They can get feedback on manufacturability and go through different iterations of the part until they get it right. Then they click on a button and the part can be delivered as early as the next day.
And they’re better able to respond to disruptions like the pandemic?
BC: Yes. Xometry’s distributed manufacturing approach has been well-suited for a year of supply chain disruption. We first saw the disruption in China during January and February when many companies were unable to get the orders. So companies in Europe and the US were looking to quickly reshore a significant amount of work.
We had aerospace companies, for example, trying to gear up to work on COVID-related projects like temperature-measurement devices or ventilator parts or masks. We worked with a company called ClearMask. It got started with a woman who couldn’t understand doctors speaking to her through masks during surgery, so she designed a mask that would allow her to hear them better. They’re now selling millions of these masks.
“Everybody’s speed to market is getting faster. We spend a lot of time helping our customers understand the price of something while they are still designing it. That can be incredibly valuable knowledge.”
Hunter Guerin, Xometry
To do things like this, companies had to rapidly build new supply chains for high-demand products and learn to manufacture them very quickly. They needed immediate access to capacity. In some cases we even used multiple manufacturing facilities to maximize speed.
We’ve also helped our small manufacturers survive by helping them with their cash flow. This summer we started providing a payment card to provide payment for 30% of a job upfront when one of our manufacturers takes a job. This gives them the flexibility to buy needed materials to do the job without affecting their cashflow. It’s been very well received by our manufacturers.
Sounds like Xometry’s presence on the marketplace was exactly the right concept at the right time.
BC: Distributed manufacturing, flexibility of supply chains and being able to buy things online are all trends that were already happening, but they have accelerated in a massive way this year.
What other examples can you cite of things you’ve been able to achieve recently?
HG: There was a big trade show recently, and the organizers wanted to unveil special wheelchairs for children that were dressed out like superheroes. The chairs were souped up to become experiences that brighten someone’s day. The project was called Magic Wheelchair. But 24 hours before the show was scheduled to open, on a Sunday, the wheelchair maker realized a supplier was not going to be able to make the delivery date. So we got the specs and put it out on our network and had the parts printed and delivered the next day, before the wheelchairs were scheduled to be presented. We got it done over a weekend.
How can you do this so quickly? A great amount of technical detail must be exchanged among a customer, yourselves and a manufacturer to get a real, binding price quote, right?
BC: The communication between customers and Xometry for file exchanges is seamless. The marketplace has a tool, a communications section, on every request. We are able to reach out to a customer to ask questions about their order. You can exchange screen grabs of a model. If you need to collaborate on design changes to make the model manufacturable, you can do that easily in the comment thread.
HG: We have a team of dedicated engineers we call customer-happiness and customer-success representatives, who work with customers through that tool on the marketplace. Then, after the order is placed, the customer receives status updates, such as a tracking number when the parts ship. We’ve connected all that seamlessly to our own internal processes to automate the transfer of status updates from our internal system into the marketplace.
Roughly 20 years ago, automakers talked about creating a common computerized platform where they could source parts. And now it sounds like you and the marketplace are making that concept of a “frictionless marketplace” actually work.
BC: That’s fair to say. Our head of operations came from Magna [a Canadian automotive parts company]. When he first saw what we were doing, he said, “Wow, this is the type of stuff we’ve been trying to do for years.” He was amazed at the speed we were able to add to the process. What used to take days and weeks took only seconds, and the prices were very low.
HG: We’re addressing issues that have been there for years. Our ability, via the marketplace, to help condense those time periods and bring pricing into the process earlier makes designers even smarter about the ultimate cost of what they are designing. We’re not just providing the price. We’re going to find the capacity within our network. There may be a lot of people who can make the part, but can they start on it today?
How does machine learning fit into what you’re doing? Have advances in the artificial intelligence field helped advance what you’re doing?
BC: We have highly sophisticated machine learning that chooses which suppliers a project is presented to, based on their capabilities and behavior. We are, in effect, predicting the price that we expect from our network based on a range of data, including the behavior of manufacturers who have done parts like this in the past. We are constantly improving our algorithms. Every time people come in and use us, our process is getting smarter and smarter.
How online marketplaces have won fans during the pandemic
3 min read
When industrial buyers ventured online in search of new suppliers to replace those shut down by the pandemic, they discovered benefits that exceeded that limited goal. Online marketplace expert Benoit Schildknecht explains how their experiences may change sourcing forever.
Online consumer marketplaces – the Amazons and Alibabas of the world – helped keep many households going through the early months of the pandemic. Even people who had never shopped online gave it a try, and most were pleasantly surprised by the ease of the experience.
But what of businesses? When companies’ default suppliers of widgets and ball bearings shut down, where did their purchasing agents turn? Like neophyte consumers, many went online. And what they found was far more valuable than temporary replacements for shutdown suppliers.
Consider the case of an online business marketplace geared to companies that design and manufacture products. Many studies have shown that 80% of the cost of a product is determined during the design stage. Typically, though, designers don’t know how much the parts they are designing will cost to make or buy. Unless they are incorporating parts they have used before, they must wait until Purchasing can collect quotes from suppliers to know if they have hit the target on cost.
“When the pandemic struck many buyers flocked to online marketplaces, searching for new suppliers to replace those forced to shut down. What they found, however, was a better way to buy.”
If, as usually happens, the quotes submitted to Purchasing show that the product will cost more to make than the market will bear, it’s back to the drawing board to re-design the product and lower the cost. The minimum delay in such cases is at least two weeks – more if hitting the right price targets requires more than one re-design and re-bid. Suddenly, a new-product introduction schedule that once seemed reasonable becomes impossible, jeopardizing the product’s market potential.
Instead, what if a designer’s CAD software were connected to an online marketplace that could quote the cost of a part design in real time? Then the designer would know immediately if the design would exceed the target cost, and could begin exploring cost-saving measures. Whatever the answer to the design challenge, the designer could know before releasing the design that the cost was on-target.
Digital 3D designs, online connectivity, and AI-powered estimating algorithms not only make this scenario possible – they have made it real. In many cases, those manufacturers who are providing the estimates will even suggest design changes to bring down the cost – online, in real time, and free of charge.
Purchasing still plays its role, of course, negotiating the best possible price for the final design from a number of suppliers or manufacturers. Buyers can even use the marketplace to streamline that process, posting the part models and requesting quotes from multiple suppliers with a few simple clicks.
In fact, many business buyers discovered during the pandemic that they could have been buying their parts pre-pandemic at substantially lower prices via an online marketplace. How is this possible? A marketplace puts hundreds of vendors at a buyer’s fingertips, many more than a typical buyer can search out on their own. When a buyer can receive dozens of quotes in less time that it takes to get three the old-fashioned way, price savings often result.
The best marketplaces also will conduct much of a buyer’s normal due-diligence, pre-certifying the capabilities of each vendor, along with their reliability, financial health and legal status. Once a buyer receives bids and identifies a short list of potential vendors, they can conduct further reviews and negotiations, securely and privately, via the marketplace.
Custom design isn’t the only way a marketplace can help manufacturers. Just like Amazon, a B2B marketplace can offer massive selections of standard parts – in virtual form, as 3D CAD models – from hundreds of suppliers. Searching via key specifications for the part make it quick and easy to find just the right design. A designer can even add the 3D model for a part directly into their design, at no cost. If the part becomes part of the final design, Purchasing contacts the design owner to request a quote, or posts it for competitive bids.
When the pandemic struck, many product designers and B2B buyers flocked to online marketplaces out of necessity, searching for new suppliers to replace those forced to shut down. What they found, however, was a better way to buy, with more choice, closer proximity, and improved visibility into and control over the 80% of cost baked into a product at the design stage.
Discover how custom-manufacturing specialist Xometry leveraged the 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace during the COVID-19 pandemic to find new suppliers for crucial parts.
Top image: Benoit Schildknecht, Business Development Director, 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace at