Taking sustainable packaging to market faster

Using 3D simulation, Metsä Board has reduced time to market by 85%


15 September 2021

4 min read

Leading European paperboard producer Metsä Board, which makes premium lightweight paperboards from wood fibers, strives to be a frontrunner in sustainability and customer service. Markku Leskelä, the company’s Vice President of Research and Product Development, and Pekka Suokas, its R&D Manager, spoke with Compass about how 3D simulations help them achieve these goals.

COMPASS: Please tell us about Metsä Board and your products. What makes your organization unique?

Markku Leskelä: We manufacture paperboard and provide design services for recyclable packaging made from certified wood fiber. It’s our approach to engineering that makes us unique. We aim to meet the most demanding packaging needs quickly, cost-efficiently and, most of all, sustainably.

As the global need for packaging grows, so does the need to create new, sustainable solutions that can replace fossil-based materials. We want to be a forerunner in this regard, so we strive for products that are light, recyclable and compostable. We are always looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and we aim for fossil-free production and products by 2030.

Metsä Board manufactures paperboard made from certified wood fiber and provides design services for recyclable packaging used in CPG and Pharmaceuticals. (Image © Metsä Board)

Who are your customers? Why do they choose Metsä Board over the competition?

ML: We serve a wide range of customers around the globe who operate in a variety of industries, such as CPG [consumer packaged goods] and pharmaceuticals. In fact, consumers use millions of packages made of Metsä Board paperboards every day. Our main market is Europe, followed closely by the Americas, but we are seeing a growing demand from companies across Asia-Pacific, too.

Our customers value the high and consistent quality of our products, based on the excellence of our board mills and tailor-made, high-quality pulp. But they don’t just choose us for our technical performance; they value our commitment to sustainable development, too. Indeed, as reducing packaging waste becomes a global priority, our customers increasingly prioritize sustainability. This is where we want to excel. By optimizing the materials and structure of packaging, we can provide our customers with even more sustainable and high-performing packaging solutions. And, through the introduction of our Metsä Board 360 Services, we can go even further.

“Compared to physical prototyping, we can recommend optimum paperboard and even design improvements 85% quicker.”

Markku Leskelä
Vice President of Research and Product Development, Metsä Board

What is Metsä Board 360 Services?

ML: Metsä Board 360 Services are designed to help our customers create the best solution for their needs while lowering the environmental impact of their packaging. Using advanced simulation technologies, we can create virtual twins of our customers’ existing packaging solutions and work out how they perform against our new innovations, in a variety of simulated environments. We can improve functionality, recyclability and brand impact in this virtual world, maximizing product performance while minimizing both carbon footprint and costs. What’s more, we can do this incredibly fast compared to physical prototyping. We can recommend optimum paperboard and even design improvements 85% quicker. This is quite a coup, and is being received very positively by our customers so far.

Pekka Suokas: Metsä Board 360 Services are facilitating a significant step-change in the way we work. As an example, our traditional approach was to make a prototype package, which then had to be transported to be tested. Based on the test results, we would then adapt the design and the process would start again. It was time-consuming and costly – and our customers do not have abundant amounts of time or money. By creating 3D virtual twins of products in the computer, we eliminate the physical prototyping stage and deliver a much better customer experience at the same time.

What is your major business challenge? And do the shifting demands of the customers you serve create additional complexity?

ML: We want to meet with the increasing demand in line with customer needs.  CPG customers, for example, are often preparing for Christmas activity as early as spring, so we need to be equipped for this. Additional demand has arisen because of the pandemic, which gave way to a huge rise in e-commerce activity, as well as increased needs from the pharma industry.

The e-commerce market has unique packaging needs, which are different from brick-and-mortar retail. There are far more touchpoints, as packages are unloaded and reloaded multiple times before they reach the recipient. This means you need optimum paperboard and packaging design to withstand this heavy handling, while ensuring that packages are lightweight and have as small a carbon footprint as possible.

The pharma industry has different demands. It requires packaging that meets stringent regulations and can withstand extreme temperatures. Take our packaging that stored and transported COVID-19 vaccines, for example. It needed to retain its specified thickness, mechanical strength and water absorption properties – even at temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius [-94 degrees Fahrenheit].

How does 3D simulation technology help you meet these challenges?

“By creating 3D virtual twins of products in the computer, we eliminate the physical prototyping stage and deliver a much better customer experience at the same time.”

Pekka Suokas
R&D Manager, Metsä Board

PS: Simulation helps us test an almost infinite number of applications of our products, and fast. When it comes to CPG products, we can achieve the optimal balance between strength, size and performance and save costs in the process. By reducing the weight of our paperboard we can achieve notable material savings. We produce 1.3 million tons of paperboard every year; if all of that were used to produce, for example, cereal packages weighing 19 grams each, it would be enough to make 160 million packages a day. So cutting the paperboard weight by just 1% would save the amount of natural resources needed to produce 1.6 million packages a day.

By using virtual twin experiences, Metsä Board saves time and cost and can quickly create product design applications that achieve the appropriate strength, size and performance requirements. (Image © Metsä Board)

Simulation offers similar benefits for our pharma customers. We can run virtual simulations of how our packaging performs at -70 degrees Celsius [-94 degrees Fahrenheit] and combine transportation tests with board-conditioning tests. We can do all of this in as little as a day, instead of the weeks it would have taken using physical prototyping and testing.

What are the next steps in your strategy in the short and long term?

PS: Our success will be defined by how fast we can recommend optimum paperboard, develop new solutions and deliver them to our customers. I have no doubt that simulation will be helpful to achieve this; using this kind of advanced technology, we will be able to achieve more than conventional suppliers, and faster too. I’m excited about the new possibilities and interesting applications that simulation will facilitate in the future.

Learn more about sustainable packaging

Modeling mechatronic success

MBSE cuts automotive development cycles, improves on-time product launches

Rebecca Lambert
7 April 2021

4 min read

Automotive manufacturers and suppliers are embracing a progressive approach to develop complex vehicles faster: model-based systems engineering (MBSE) platforms that connect all mechanical, electrical and software disciplines. Experts recommend getting started by adopting MBSE one project at a time, using simple changes as building blocks to teach knowledge reuse and eventually integrating the entire organization.

Manufacturers that use a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) platform to interlink all disciplines and systems configure new vehicles faster and more cost effectively, compared to those reliant on traditional engineering and manufacturing approaches, a recent study found.

“If you look at the hard metrics, our research found that for the best in class – those that have embraced MBSE and are in the top 20% of the aggregate performers – 91% met their product launch dates and saw a 9% reduction in the development cycle,” said Ed Ladzinski, CEO of SMS ThinkTank, a US-based systems modeling and simulation consultant. “For the laggards, only 44% met their product launch milestones, and saw an 8% increase in their development cycle.”

Traditional engineering lags MBSE, experts agree, because its linear, document-led approach, where separate teams develop vehicle, powertrain and major subsystems and then try to merge the three, cannot accommodate the accelerated development cycles and growing complexities of next-generation vehicles. MBSE-focused automotive manufacturers, however, bring their vehicles to life as virtual twins: dynamic, digital 3D models that can be evaluated not only as a fully integrated automobile, but also in context of virtual universes that simulate real-life operating conditions. With these models, every interconnection is defined from the start, ensuring that each system integrates seamlessly throughout the design process and beyond, and performs as expected in different operating conditions.

"This is a real opportunity for the automotive industry to better manage and adapt to change, be more innovative and deliver better products that exceed consumer expectations."

Ed Ladzinski
CEO, SMS ThinkTank


“MBSE focuses on the development of a coherent, digitalized systems model,” said Tino Krüger, the Berlin-based managing director for professional services company Accenture’s Industry X.0, Engineering/PLM and Smart Factory practices. “This comprises requirements, design, analysis and verification information and is characterized as a model-centric approach. The model serves as a single source of truth for the development team and is the primary artifact produced by systems engineering activities. Documentation becomes secondary and is automatically generated from the system model.”

Beyond speed and cost savings, manufacturers can expect to minimize errors and continuously improve performance.

“With this holistic way of thinking, consider all the other benefits that may initially get overlooked [in an ROI calculation]: the risks that don’t materialize, the rework that doesn’t need to be done, the customer complaints that don’t occur, the insight that goes into every decision,” Ladzinski said. “This is a real opportunity for the automotive industry to better manage and adapt to change, be more innovative and deliver better products that exceed consumer expectations.”

EASING ACCESS

Accenture’s MBSE practice has launched a series of workshops that show businesses how to develop a reusable, high-level architecture of an innovative product in just 10 weeks with MBSE. “Under the theme ‘from zero to hero,’ our certified experts teach your interdisciplinary team the basics of MBSE to first gain a deep theoretical understanding of the model-centric approach,” Krüger said. “In parallel, as a team, we apply this knowledge directly to the development of the client’s own use case and let MBSE be experienced in a digestible, yet creative and applied manner. With this newly developed theoretical and practical skillset, clients can further design and develop their own prototypes, while connecting the results to their existing development infrastructure.”

Accenture’s guidance is based on the universal Cyber MagicGrid Framework, which helps transform stakeholder needs into systems requirements.

“We start with the problem domain,” Krüger said. “The goal is to understand the customer’s problem in order to design the product in a customer-oriented way. Within the solution domain, the actual engineering and the development of a technical solution tailored to the previously defined problem begins. Finally, the physical components of the product are elaborated in the implementation domain. Based on the workshop, we further help our clients to scale MBSE on a strategic level.”

SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTING MBSE

Bosch Car Multimedia, a division of Germany-based Bosch Mobility Solutions, makes advanced vehicle infotainment and navigation systems. Until it reengineered its processes and brought all disciplines together on a single platform using an MBSE approach, it lost critical information and experienced costly late-cycle product changes.

To address these issues, Bosch Car Multimedia adopted a standard framework and a business innovation platform to organize its processes around MBSE, connecting its specialized functional teams with a visual language that each discipline could understand. The company, which formerly relied on physical prototypes to detect design errors, now creates an integrated 3D model, allowing all software, mechanical and hardware engineers to work concurrently on designs and testing their interactions virtually so that product performance can be evaluated and refined at an early stage.

“With a model-based approach, we can analyze concepts and their weaknesses quicker, taking into account all tolerances in the early development phases, so that the system can be correctly interpreted,” said Martin Schmidt, director of customer programs at Bosch Car Multimedia. “For example, through kinematic simulation and behavior modeling we were able to adapt the design of a blockage detection algorithm.”

By using a ‘systems of systems' approach such as model-based system engineering, automotive companies can simplify engineering complexities between mechanical, electrical, software, and other functions. (Image © Dassault Systèmes)

As more manufacturers recognize MBSE as a critical tool for successfully executing holistic change, SMS ThinkTank’s Ladzinski encourages them to think of MBSE as a journey, not a destination.

“Start out [your MBSE adoption journey] by developing a gap analysis, looking at where you are now to where you want to be,” he said. “Then draw up short, medium and long-term objectives with a real focus on educating all areas across the business of the impending changes. Remember, MBSE is not a product but a way of thinking throughout the entire product lifecycle. And it’s not an overnight implementation, but a journey that takes leadership, resources and patience.”

Effective MBSE change management requires that businesses consider the wider impact of MBSE across their processes, corporate structures and culture, and get all stakeholders on board.

“MBSE is traditionally successfully applied to current IT landscapes and even can be included during the decision-making process,” Krüger said. “Decision-makers should be advised to set the right scope for an MBSE integration as a starting point.”

Over time, businesses practice MBSE more naturally and on a strategic level, building it into everything their developers, designers and engineers do to put all interconnections in dynamic relation. “The model-centric approach enables improved communication, tackles ever-rising complexity among today`s products and services, and also reduces risk during the design and development phases,” Krüger said. “Functional dependencies in progressively complex products are presented transparently, and customer needs are realized and transformed to highly functional products.”

Discover more about the benefits of MBSE >

Sustainable construction

As environmental regulations and fees increase, technology helps builders respond

Nick Lerner
17 March 2021

4 min read

Stringent regulations enforced with stiff financial penalties and heightened stakeholder pressure are driving the construction industry to reduce its carbon emissions and waste materials. Compass spoke with Fabrice Bonnifet, director of Sustainable Development & QSE (Quality, Safety, Environment) Bouygues Group, about its transition to more environmentally sustainable construction methods.

COMPASS: Please describe Bouygues and its sustainable development goals.

FABRICE BONNIFET: In its construction business, Bouygues employs more than 58,000 people and generates annual sales of around €13.4 billion [US$16.25 billion]. The company spans the entire construction industry value chain, including land management, design, building, assembly, maintenance, deconstruction and reuse. We are in 60 countries, building transport and energy infrastructure; housing; social, educational and healthcare facilities; industrial installations; and iconic landmark buildings.

We have an ambitious climate strategy underway to reduce our carbon footprint by up to 50% during this decade. This is being achieved through a combination of innovations, including a 40% reduction in the carbon intensity of concrete, 30% of all European buildings being made of sustainable wood, and using 90% green vehicles by 2030.

We are also cutting waste by reusing building components after their first life, improving quality and making construction processes safer and more efficient.

How environmentally and economically sustainable is today’s construction industry?

FB: To achieve environmental sustainability targets, the current industry focus is on carbon reduction. Reducing the energy and carbon demands of making, refurbishing and operating buildings means the industry can thrive together with the environment. The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, pollution and physical waste means that construction players must evolve to save not just their companies, but the whole planet.

New regulations are adopted every year for the construction industry. Are these helping the industry become more sustainable?

FB: Internationally, authorities are imposing carbon taxes that force the industry to take more responsibility for its materials usage and working practices. These penalize companies that do not innovate and will force them out of business. Other regulations and agreements encourage environmentally positive changes in building management, including intensifying and diversifying usage through sharing office space and resources – space, energy, water and parking – with wider communities. This leads to greater asset usage, fewer buildings being required, and enhanced social, environmental and economic benefits.

What are the main drivers for the industry to take these actions?

FB: Taxes and regulations mean that companies are likely to make less profit until they reduce their exploitation of natural resources and lower their carbon emissions, as well as those of the buildings and infrastructure that they create. Many jobs and businesses therefore need to be reinvented. This means new types of organizations are emerging that use less energy but provide a cleaner and, ultimately, more profitable world. We can’t continue to sacrifice our climate by consuming fossil fuels, so everyone must innovate together in a shared circular economy.

Concrete manufacturing is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases in the world. Can reliance on concrete be reduced?

FB: Concrete contributes more than 6% of our planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, it is a low-cost material, but a €100 [US$121] per ton tax is expected soon in Europe and elsewhere. This prospect is forcing the industry to innovate its materials science and usage. At Bouygues we are developing low-carbon concrete alternatives that divide concrete’s carbon footprint by two or three, and we are rapidly increasing wood construction for social housing to 25% over four years, because it stores rather than emits carbon.

How are virtualization and standardization affecting Bouygues?

FB: Virtualization, using an enterprise-wide platform, heralds a more integrated organizational approach that allows us to exercise in-house control over every aspect of our work. That means design, manufacture, transportation and assembly of building components can be optimized and standardized. [For example,] digital technology is enabling us to build factories that can manufacture 2,000 modular apartments per year that are quick, clean and easy to assemble at the worksite.

What else has Bouygues done to accelerate its environmental sustainability?

FB: As well as using wood and developing low-carbon building materials and assembly systems, we reduce the lifetime carbon emissions of buildings and structures and are endeavoring to cut these to zero. This is achieved through realistic simulation that fully reveals a building’s long-term environmental impact, then digitally engineering solutions such as improved insulation, airflow, energy usage and recycling strategies for enhanced sustainability.

We also digitally “bank” materials by keeping a database of components that have already been used in buildings. At the end of a structure’s life, these parts will be used again in other, future buildings.

Bouygues measures and monitors the progression of its sustainability, and employees are incentivized through bonuses related to carbon and waste reductions.

What technology does Bouygues deploy to advance sustainability, and what has it accomplished to date?

FB: Through a technology partnership, we are developing a unified, enterprise-wide business platform to digitally simulate, predict performance characteristics and thereby transform the design, engineering and operation of all our products, projects and processes. This provides the means for highly efficient low-carbon capabilities across all of Bouygues’ construction activities.

In Grenoble, France, we have delivered ABC (Autonomous Building for Citizens). It is the first low-carbon, autonomous social housing that generates and stores its own electricity, harvests rainfall and processes its waste into compost and biogas energy [gases produced by the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen]. The results have been a 40% reduction in household waste, and more than 107% of electricity demand is covered by the buildings’ solar farm. The building cuts residents’ piped-in water consumption by 70% and recovers heat from recyclable wastewater.

The ABC project comprises 62 dwellings, with 20 communal halls, an educational showroom and vegetable gardens. (Image © Bouygues)

The project enhances social value and engagement for occupants through sharing building performance data and encouraging community actions. This helps occupants adapt to the changes that characterize urban society and learn how their new home works.

How can Bouygues extend these efforts to help entire cities to be more sustainable?

FB: Cities can become sustainable by producing their own energy, potable water and food from urban farms in new and refurbished buildings. We deploy high-performance, bioclimatic design technology that takes into account climate and environmental conditions to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. This means we can reimagine and build cities that decelerate climate change with hybrid buildings that generate their own energy.

Cities can also become more liveable, with easier, safer, soft transport such as walking and cycling, in addition to pollution-free buses and shared electric vehicles that are integrated with and charged by buildings.

What does the future of sustainable construction look like?

Fabrice Bonnifet, director of Sustainable Development & QSE (Quality, Safety, Environment), Bouygues Group

FB: We will increasingly see digitally developed modular construction that brings technically perfected, accurately made, low-carbon components cleanly to worksites for easy assembly. Innovative minds, enabled with digital technology that helps realize their visions, will deliver commercial and environmental sustainability to industry players that are prepared to embrace this crucial transformation.

What is Bouygues planning for the future?

FB: We are working toward a better future for humanity that reconciles business profit with sustainability. Ongoing research, development and virtualization are enabling rapid innovation of low-carbon construction materials and methods. This work is vital to safeguard our planet, because there is no vaccine for the climate.

Learn more about sustainability solutions for the construction industry.

Innovating internships

Virtual learning is enriching students' on-the-job experiences

Elly Yates-Roberts
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.  

Sirin Tekinay, dean of engineering at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates; Chair, Global Engineering Deans Council (Image © Sirin Tekinay)

“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.”

Julie Martin, associate professor of engineering education, The Ohio State University (Image © Julie Martin)

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, nuclear engineering student, École nationale supérieure d'ingénieurs de Caen (Image © Hugo Keiffer)

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

Click here to discover the 3DEXPERIENCE Edu Hub.

Outsourcing outcomes

Software providers who guarantee results are attracting enterprise buyers’ attention

Lindsay James
3 December 2020

5 min read

By moving away from traditional software licensing in favor of software partners who are willing to deliver outcomes, businesses have an opportunity to reduce risk and realize quantifiable results. These approaches, known as Outcome-Based Engagement and Outcome-Based Services, offer attractive alternatives for clients who need a different model for software-enabled work.

The global market for the enterprise software that large companies use to run their businesses reached US$477 billion (393 billion euros) in 2019, Statista reports. But why?

In reality, no business buys software because it wants to own software. It buys software (or rents it on the cloud) because it wants the benefits the software can deliver, from sharper financial insights to improved collaboration among widely dispersed teams. So, instead of selling software, shouldn’t software companies sell the results their software can deliver?

As it turns out, a few innovative firms are doing just that – and finding that the COVID-19 pandemic has made increasingly risk-averse business buyers receptive to the idea.

“We are living in an uncertain world at the moment, and the current pandemic is only amplifying existing pressures,” said Bill McBeath, co-founder and chief research officer at Massachusetts-based analyst firm ChainLink Research. “With traditional software licensing models, whether perpetual license or software-as-a-service subscriptions, the solution provider gives some guarantee that the software will perform and that they will fix bugs that arise. But they provide virtually no guarantee that the software will be adopted effectively, deliver the promised outcomes, or generate the promised return on investment [ROI].

“All of that performance risk is on the buyer and users of the software. As a result, some companies are starting to look for more substantive, financial-consequential assurances from their third-party vendors that the claimed ROI will materialize.”

A new approach

The Global Outsourcing Association reports that 89% of both buyers and service providers increasingly favor software contracts based on outcomes. By shifting responsibility for implementation, maintenance and negotiated results (outcomes) to the software provider, Outcome-Based Engagements (OBEs) increase the likelihood that companies will achieve their targeted business goals. In return, vendors receive a share of the financial benefits that accrue to the buyer — a number that can be significantly larger than the list price of the software licenses and a consulting engagement.

89%

of both buyers and service providers increasingly favor software contracts based on outcomes.
Source: Global Outsourcing Association

“With an outcome-based approach, value is driven by a joint commitment to achieve a specific outcome,” McBeath said. “Clients and service providers come to agreement on a set of well-defined, measurable outcomes they want to achieve, with financial penalties and/or rewards to motivate the service provider to help deliver on them.”

It’s a win-win scenario.

“The service provider’s interests become much more aligned with the client’s,” McBeath said. “Both parties tend to become more invested in the relationship. Quite apart from a ‘license-and-leave-you-to-it-approach,’ an outcome-based model provides a level of guarantee of the results. By having skin in the game, the vendor is sharing the risk with the client. It’s an approach that, when done correctly, can result in a stickier, more embedded relationship.”

Quite apart from a ‘license-and-leave-you-to-it-approach,’ an outcome-based model provides a level of guarantee of the results.

Bill McBeath
Co-Founder and Chief Research Officer, ChainLink Research

Outcome-Based models come in two basic varieties: Outcome-Based Services, which often involve one-time or short-term projects; and full-scale, longer-term Outcome-Based Engagements.

In the case of Outcome-Based Services, the client prefers not to execute the project itself. Instead, it hires the software supplier to do the work and deliver the results. For example, a client might hire an engineering software company to design a product, process or space, and then to virtually test the results, proving that the design meets the client’s objectives. In such cases, the client buys the results: a proven design that delivers on the client’s goals.

Outcome-Based Services are particularly attractive to clients who have a one-time or short-term need, lack staff trained in using the software, or have more work than its own employees can complete in the available time.

In an Outcome-Based Engagement, the client has an ongoing need for what the software can accomplish but wants guaranteed results. In this case, the client and the software provider analyze the client’s needs and agree to pre-defined, measureable objectives. If the objectives are met the software provider earns a premium fee.

Especially in situations where the client and the software provider have a long and trusting relationship, the client may further incent the software supplier by paying it an amount equal to a pre-determined percentage of the benefits achieved for the client.

Could you benefit from OBE?

Modeling success

For GEA, a German food-processing technology supplier, an outcome-based services approach has proven to be a positive choice.

Following the COVID-19 lockdowns in Germany, GEA hired its software provider’s expert team to model its employee cafeteria as an Outcome-Based Service. The firm wanted to analyze the airflow around the communal space and the safest scenarios for bringing employees back to work.

“The full canteen is modeled,” said Eric Nitzsche, vice president of Engineering Standards & Services at GEA. “Our vendor built a 3D model with all parameters set and then simulated how the virus might spread as people move around. It’s been an incredibly effective tool.”

By virtually modeling its cafeteria and simulating its airflows, GEA discovered high-risk areas for COVID transmission and how to eliminate or avoid them. Outsourcing the project as an Outcome-Based Services engagement delivered better results in less time than GEA could have achieved alone. (Image © GEA)

Having those simulations increased the company’s confidence in its reopening plans. “The simulation we have in our hands is very valuable in how we make decisions,” Nitzsche said. “We know what we need to do now. This is great progress for us.”

The vendor’s experience also improved the outcome. “What I really liked is the agile approach the vendor took,” Nitzsche said. “They asked questions that we wouldn’t have even thought of, which allowed us to tap into innovative new ideas. Ultimately, an outcome-based approach eased our life somewhat dramatically. It allowed us to focus on the most important thing for us: our business.”

Ultimately, an outcome-based approach eased our life somewhat dramatically. It allowed us to focus on the most important thing for us: our business.

Eric Nitzsche
Vice President of Engineering Standards & Services, GEA

Some Outcome-Based Engagements, however, are so vital to a company’s competitiveness that the clients prefer not to be named. One such case: a large vehicle manufacturer that partnered with its software supplier to outsource the manufacturer’s process for complying with the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) certification.

The certification, which gives consumers and regulators consistent information on fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions of traditional, hybrid and fully electric cars and motorcycles worldwide, requires a separate wind tunnel test for each configuration of a vehicle. If a vehicle is available with a dozen different combinations of external features, the standard requires a dozen separate wind tunnel tests. If the vehicle comes in different versions – sedan, wagon and SUV, for example – a total of 36 separate tests would be required.

For every manufacturer to physically test every variant of every vehicle in a wind tunnel would take more time than the world’s available facilities can support. Therefore, regulators are permitting automakers to run simulated tests on their vehicle variants – if they can demonstrate that the simulations are designed and implemented to accurately predict the results of a physical wind tunnel test.

Developing and certifying the simulation process and results requires significant investment, time and specialized staff. Any delay in receiving certification could cost an automaker billions of dollars. Therefore, the automotive manufacturer’s software partner developed a certified process to run the simulations, generate all documentation, and submit results to the regulators. The process can certify an entire vehicle family in days, not weeks, with accuracy comparable to that of physical testing. The turnkey solution eliminates the need for the automaker to build an expensive physical wind tunnel that it might only use a small percentage of each year.

A broader palette of solutions

Outcome-Based Engagements and Outcome-Based Services are not for everyone. The larger the commitment, the more important the ground rules and measurements become. This is especially true when a software vendor takes on the responsibility of implementing and managing business-critical software inside their customer’s business.

“An outcome-based business model requires a deep and trusted relationship between the vendor and the customer,” McBeath said. “Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, is agreeing on the specific business outcomes, how they will be measured, and how rewards will be shared.

“That challenge explains why an outcome-based approach isn’t right in every situation,” McBeath said. “For the right high-value use cases, between customers who are willing to put in the effort to carefully agree on a very well defined set of KPIs and the right vendor willing to share the risk and reward, this can be a very attractive proposition.”

Learn more about the value of OBE

Click here for an expert’s perspective on OBE

Shared success

Why companies are changing how they ‘buy’ software

Lionel Burgaud

3 min read

The disruption of COVID-19 has prompted business leaders to rethink many assumptions and practices. Buying enterprise software – rather than buying the outcomes the software can deliver – is one long-standing practice that many are reevaluating.

Industry analysts are tracking many fundamental changes in the business landscape since the pandemic’s onset, including a radical change in business philosophy: Having just experienced the high cost of disruption, many businesses are shifting their cost-risk calculations to give equal weight to actions that can lower their risks – even when those options cost more.  

One significant way for businesses to lower their risks and increase their success is to share responsibility with their software partners for achieving concrete benefits from business-critical, enterprise-level software. The goal: to ensure that the software provider will be fully committed to achieving the client’s business goals for the project. The incentive: compensating the software company based on the benefits it generates for the client’s business.

This approach, which focuses on business results and shares both risks and reward, is the basis of software-benefit models known as Outcome-Based Engagement (OBE) and Outcome-Based Services.

With OBE, the software provider and client agree at the outset on the business goals the software must achieve for the client and how that achievement will be measured. The software provider takes responsibility for the software and for achieving its benefits for the client, with compensation based on actual deliverables and results.

Yes, OBE costs more than purchasing software licenses and paying annual renewal fees. But it virtually eliminates the client’s risk of failing to achieve the business benefits that the software can deliver. If the software does not deliver the expected results and value, the client pays nothing. If it succeeds, the software provider is compensated based on the value it has actually created for the client.

“For those who want to minimize their risks, accelerate their successes and de-stress their work lives, Outcome-Based Services and Outcome-Based Engagement can be game-changers.”

While OBE envisions a long-term relationship between client and provider, Outcome-Based Services generally have a shorter duration. In this context, the software provider does not deliver the software to the client at all; instead, it uses the software to perform work on the client’s behalf. Such services also reduce or eliminate the cost of training the client’s team to use the software, and it shortens the time-to-benefit.

Could you benefit from OBE?

Outcome-Based Services are especially helpful when a client lacks the time to implement, or when they have a one-time need. For example, when officials in Wuhan, China, needed to build the Leishenshan Hospital in 14 days to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients, they wanted to predict and prevent virus dispersal via the hospital’s ventilation system. They did not have time to acquire, implement and learn how to use 3D modeling and simulation software, so they hired the software provider to do the work for them. The hospital paid the software company a set price for the results and insights.

In another healthcare example, a pharmaceutical manufacturer needed to qualify a complex syringe-filling machine and all of the systems and processes used to operate it. The project also involved validating the formulation process and robotized control stations in an atmosphere-controlled area.

The client needed assurance that the system could go into production without incident. Their software partner used “hardware-in-the-loop” modeling and simulation to pre-test and pre-validate the entire system and develop needed training and operating materials.

For some clients, Outcome-Based Services is a one-time experience. For others, it becomes a preferred model. Either way, these services deliver a taste of the software’s benefits. The client may subsequently decide to purchase the software via a classic, license-based business model. Or, once they have experienced the shared-goal, low-stress reality of an Outcome-Based approach, they may want the benefits without shouldering the full responsibility of getting them. Such clients then move forward with their software partner in a full OBE model.

Clients with large, sophisticated IT staffs may always prefer to implement and maintain their software, so the traditional license model will not disappear any time soon. For those who want to minimize their risks, accelerate their successes and de-stress their work lives, however, Outcome-Based Services and Outcome-Based Engagement can be game-changers.

Learn more about OBE

Click here for examples of outcome-based projects

Material ambitions

New research center at Purdue aims to solve composites’ sticky challenges

Tony Velocci
28 October 2020

5 min read

For years, Purdue University’s Composites Manufacturing Simulation Center has attracted researchers from companies facing difficult challenges in developing and manufacturing advanced composite materials. With today's launch of the center’s new sister research lab – the 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center of Excellence in Advanced Composites – the lure for researchers has become even stronger.  

With researchers everywhere striving to push the boundaries of technology – from anti-viral vaccines to carbon reduction – plenty of laboratories focus on solving complex problems. But at Purdue University, a new academic-industrial partnership is focused on a challenge that could provide the key to solving a host of other challenges: accelerating the production of high-performance composites and reducing their cost.

R. Byron Pipes, director of the Indiana Manufacturing Institute, executive director of the institute’s Composites Manufacturing Simulation Center, and director of the new 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center

With an unparalleled ratio of high strength to low weight, composites are central to enabling many of the green technologies that could help address the climate-change challenge. Zero-carbon electric airplanes and automobiles, for example, must be light enough to travel reasonable distances when powered by batteries, solar energy or hydrogen, yet strong enough to be safe and durable. These same requirements apply to renewable energy applications such as wind turbines, which must be light enough to move in the slightest breeze, yet strong enough to survive major wind gusts.

Technical challenges stand in the way, however, including the fact that some forms of composites – with their complex layers of fibers and resins – are expensive to manufacture and can take years to certify in highly regulated industries.

The 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center of Excellence in Advanced Composites, formally dedicated at Purdue University today (October 28, 2020), aims to help researchers solve those challenges, and many more.

“There’s no other research and education facility like it in the world,” said R. Byron Pipes, director of the Indiana Manufacturing Institute, executive director of the institute’s Composites Manufacturing Simulation Center, and director of the new 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center. “The team of experts and scholars we’ve assembled are the best in the world.”

SEEING IS BELIEVING 

The center is the latest evolution of a long-standing partnership between Purdue and Dassault Systèmes and is supported by industry sponsors that include Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Volkswagen. “We’ve had an eight-year relationship with Dassault Systèmes, and this new facility takes that relationship to a higher level,” Pipes said.

The center is housed in the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, Indiana — the largest university-affiliated technology incubation complex in the United States. Organizers celebrated the center’s dedication by demonstrating some of the digital and virtual technologies that will allow scientists and engineers to imagine sustainable innovations and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques for advanced composites.

“As simple as that sounds, it’s not,” Pipes said. “This will be a huge step. We’ll be simulating manufacturing processes and the performance of products made from advanced composites from experienced-based knowledge in the past.”

“Using new manufacturing techniques and the integrated digital technologies at our disposal, we believe we can cut the time to produce advanced composite products by 50%.”

R. Byron Pipes
Director, 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center of Excellence in Advanced Composites

Among the center’s goals: better understanding of composites and their behavior, and accelerated discovery enabled by applying 3D virtual modeling and simulation to the challenge. To facilitate that aspect of the research, modeling and simulation will be conducted on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, which manages all of the processes and data used in 3D modeling and simulation, facilitates collaboration among researchers, maintains a complete history of the work, and tracks all remaining tasks.

“We’ll be users and proponents of this platform on which the digital thread – a digital record of a product or process across its entire lifecycle – of composites manufacturing and product performance is contained,” Pipes said. “Most labs never used the manufacturing simulation; they only tested product performance.”

EDUCATIONAL ADVANCEMENT

In effect, Pipes said, the center delivers on the 2003 vision of now-retired Boeing Chief Technology Officer John Tracy, expressed when the company decided to build the 787 Dreamliner, the world’s first all-composite passenger jet. Tracy and his colleagues recognized the technical challenges of an all-composite jet and knew that solving them would require not only digital design and development technology, but also a completely new set of engineering competencies. 

Another of the center’s goals is to educate current and future scientists and engineers to make the best use of modeling and simulation in their work.

“Talent development has always been one of our major contributions to society,” Pipes said. “We take information from the laboratory directly to the classroom. That’s the fastest way to transfer knowledge, so students can act on it.”

Creating a digital record of carbon fiber prepreg manufacturing (shown here) and processing is a key focus for Hexcel. In addition, Hexcel is working with the 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center of Excellence in Advanced Composites at Purdue University on developing pre-qualified data for the company’s new thermoplastic composite, which will allow engineers to simulate how to incorporate the material into new products and how to manufacture them. (Image © Hexcel)

Pipes restates Tracy’s vision as a question: Can a digital twin – a scientifically accurate, virtual replica of a product, system or process that exists or will be created in the physical world – also replicate the complex engineering process for creating a composite product? And, if so, can engineers employ the digital twin – also known as a virtual twin because data is displayed as a dynamic 3D model – to not only accelerate a product’s development, but also reduce its development costs?

“That’s where we come in,” Pipes said. “We at the university are training the people who will do that, and also developing the knowledge to do those things. The knowledge will come from the application of the digital technology to solve the unanswered questions in the manufacture of advanced composite systems. It’s a huge challenge to validate a digital twin. But using new manufacturing techniques and the integrated digital technologies at our disposal, we believe we can meet that challenge and cut the time to produce advanced composite products by 50%.”

The center, Pipes said, gives manufacturers a place to bring their technical challenges with advanced composites and receive the support they need to solve them. With the platform’s ability to maintain a complete digital thread of every project, Pipes said, “we can help people find the basic understanding of the ‘why’ and the ‘how.’”

EYES ON THE PRIZE

Hexcel, a leading producer of carbon-fiber reinforcements and resin systems, brought the center one of its first research challenges: developing a new thermoplastic composite that could help Hexcel expand into the market for Urban Air Mobility and Unmanned Aerial Systems, along with servicing existing commercial and defense aerospace platforms. The company aims to create a digital data set for its new composite, developing and documenting all of the information needed to design a structure using Hexcel materials, and then analyze the structure virtually.

“Being able to pre-qualify data for our new material system is critical to helping us move into new markets and expand in existing ones,” said Bob Yancey, Hexcel’s business development director. “By giving designers the ability to virtually try out new materials, material forms and manufacturing processes, we believe we can accelerate the innovation of new systems.”

“By giving designers the ability to virtually try out new materials, material forms and manufacturing processes, we believe we can accelerate the innovation of new systems.”

Bob Yancey,
Business Development Director, Hexcel

Thermoplastics comprise only a small percentage of the current composites market, so it offers tremendous market potential. “We want to be able to provide any customer who wants to use our new thermoplastic composites with digital data sets that allow them to virtually design the structure and develop the manufacturing process with confidence,” Yancey said

Projects like Hexcel’s already have Pipes focused on what needs to come next.

“My vision of success is getting all supply chain members actively engaged in this enterprise, and educating them in how to use digital technologies and the importance of the digital thread,” Pipes said. “The platform will be key to that opportunity.” 

Driven to distraction

As cognitive overload at work threatens productivity, employers seek solutions


21 October 2020

Businesses take many steps to protect their employees’ physical health, but how are they protecting their employees’ cognitive wellbeing?

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) describes the communication vehicles competing for our attention as “cognitive overload,” a form of brain drain that reduces attention spans, creativity and problem-solving abilities. To defeat it, BCG advises organizations to “address cognition comprehensively.”

One option? A digital business platform that gives employees one central source for reliable, up-to-the-minute information, with workspaces that track every aspect of a project. By empowering employees with ready access to consolidated, rationalized information when they need it, a platform helps protect, restore and build everyone’s cognitive powers.

Cognitive overload manifests in different ways at different organizational levels.

Learn more about business experience platforms here

Transforming to a sustainable maritime future

How industry collaboration and data-sharing improves economic growth and discovery

Nick Lerner
7 October 2020

3 min read

Comprising 440 organizations, the French Maritime Cluster (CMF) promotes industry-wide change to achieve environmental and business sustainability. Compass spoke with CMF President Frédéric Moncany de Saint-Aignan about the importance of working collaboratively among the industry’s many different stakeholders, with other industries and with government officials, and about how digitalization is contributing to the industry’s transition.

COMPASS: CMF represents a surprisingly large part of the French economy. Can you please describe its scope, work and goals?

FREDERIC MONCANY de SAINT-AIGNAN: CMF gathers together the whole of the French marine industry including ship owners and operators, yards, fishing, energy – including oil and gas – leisure, finance and training. France has the second largest sea area after the United States, as it includes vast oceans around our Polynesian territories. The industry accounts for more than 95 billion euros [US$108 billion] annual turnover and – excluding tourism – directly employs 350,000 people. That makes it bigger than the French aerospace and telecoms industries.

Profile
Frédéric Moncany de Saint-Aignan worked as a master mariner and river pilot at the port of Rouen, France, for 25 years. In 2009, he became chair of the French Maritime Pilots’ Association and then VP of the International Maritime Pilots’ Association. In 2014, he became President of the French Maritime Cluster. Then in 2019, he also was named President of the National Maritime School. 

CMF also has developed the Coalition for Maritime Environmental and Energy Transition, which includes more than 20 major industry stakeholders. This coalition aims to define a 2050 vision for maritime environmental and energy transition and to identify the actions that will be key to meeting the greenhouse gas reduction objectives of the International Maritime Organization [IMO].

Besides bringing the industry together, we promote CMF to businesses and politicians and push development of the Blue Economy, also called the Ocean Economy, which the World Bank defines as “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.”

COMPASS: Please explain how the Blue Economy combines development, sustainability, environment and economy.

FMdS-A: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD] predicts that the global Blue Economy will double in size to, 2.50 trillion euros [US$3 trillion] over the next decade. As well as growth of traditional marine industries, massive development will come from new and expanding sectors that include energy, aquaculture, tourism, undersea mining and minerals, and biodiversity, which will see new food and medical advances coming from cellular animals and algae. This represents a huge field for discovery. President Emmanuel Macron of France said that the 21st century will be the “maritime century,” with the industry being the main driver for economic growth.

COMPASS: How is technology helping to nurture innovation, foster collaboration and operational synergies?

FMdS-A: With the ability to quickly and precisely access, deliver and collaboratively share the right information digitally on a universally accessible platform, we are quickly and efficiently exploring new types of fuels and propulsion for ships, cranes and vehicles in partnership with auto and aero companies. We are developing blood substitutes and wound dressings from ocean microorganisms, and we are devising, testing and tasting exciting new foods. Also, safe undersea mining is expanding. These and many more activities sustainably drive growth and help reduce negative environmental impacts.

COMPASS: What issues require urgent attention in the maritime sector?

FMdS-A: We need to tackle plastic, emissions, species extinction, climate change and much more. Through working collaboratively, the industry is on a good track towards better environmental and business sustainability, with many big initiatives underway. These include Getting to Zero Coalition, which is committed to getting commercially viable deep sea zero emission vessels into operation by 2030 – maritime shipping’s moon-shot ambition. Another initiative, Poseidon Principles, provides a framework for integrating climate considerations into bank’s lending decisions that promote international shipping’s decarbonization. So far 18 leading banks, jointly representing 128 billion euros [US$150 billion] in shipping finance, have committed to this scheme.

We can achieve more and are more intelligent together, so CMF connects and works closely with NGOs [non-governmental organizations], enterprises, financiers and governments, defining and quickly transitioning to global sustainability solutions.

COMPASS: What are the biggest obstacles?

FMdS-A: Solutions at sea are always expensive and often require long-term investments in terms of time and money. A digital enterprise platform that hosts knowledge from multiple sources and projects helps stakeholders see the big picture and make wiser and better-informed decisions.

COMPASS: How important is innovation?

FMdS-A: Our credo is that innovation is the future. Blue [ocean-based] technology is transforming economies, spurred by innovation that derives from people and organizations working in unison. Enabling digital cross-fertilization among multiple industries is a vital component because it efficiently accelerates innovations while introducing transformative operational interactions, paradigm shifts and new business models.

COMPASS: Do you have any examples of these interactions delivering positive results?

FMdS-A: Virtual twin vessels are exact representations of ships through its lifecycle – accurate in every detail.  They digitally interact with ports, land-based operations and the broader environment. Working toward ultra-efficient, autonomous and environmentally optimized extended industry operations is made possible through precise modeling and simulation using virtual twins. Sharing ideas and data this way moves us toward the best and most optimized solutions.

COMPASS: What does the future of the maritime industry look like?

FMdS-A: It looks brilliant. This is the most exciting time for the industry since the switch from wind to steam power in the mid-19th century. Technology is now so advanced that it has become easy to innovate and much simpler to implement new ideas. The industry is moving forward at an unprecedented pace, and it is bound to continue. By bringing their cleverness to CMF, people and businesses empower the transformations that industry, society and our oceans require for a truly sustainable future.

Innovation in clinical trials

Embracing virtual technologies offers powerful opportunities

Anthony Costello
29 September 2020

2 min read

Even before COVID-19, many business sectors were facing challenges to improve service and product delivery, and were beginning to explore the benefits of virtualization. The need to accelerate this trend has been particularly high in healthcare, where virtualizing clinical trials – using remote, patient-centered technologies – can help propel the research necessary to bring new medicines to market.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten public health and, in turn, the worldwide economy. The importance of discovering and developing new treatments and vaccines is obvious. But the novel coronavirus is also affecting advancements in other areas, ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to the Zika virus.

Because most clinical trials are conducted at physical study sites (a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office), quarantines and limited access to healthcare facilities have created obstacles for patient volunteers to get to their checkups or enroll in new trials. Globally as of July 1, 2020, the average number of new patients entering trials year-over-year has declined by 6%. The impact is uneven, however, with trials down as little as 9% in France to declines of 55% in the UK and 79% in India. This trend threatens the development of new treatments while limiting patients’ access to experimental treatments that might improve, extend or save their lives.

Fortunately, the continuing digital transformation of life sciences offers new hope for overcoming these obstacles and discovering new treatments more quickly and more easily, with reduced barriers for researchers and patients. Part of this evolution aims to remove physical and geographical barriers that can interfere with launching a clinical study and carrying it to completion. Business innovation platforms, for example, have made it possible to manage multiple, divergent systems and technology for greater efficiency and economy. Best of all, these platforms make it easier for researchers to comply with all regulatory requirements.

RECOGNIZING THE BENEFITS

As a result, regulatory agencies are beginning to embrace technologies that enable the virtualization of clinical trials, as demonstrated by an analysis of 17 regulatory agencies’ practices around the world. Of four key technology areas surveyed – remote monitoring, e-consent, telemedicine, and direct shipment of investigational products to patients – all of the agencies have promoted at least two of the technology solutions; six of the agencies are advancing all four. Some have even indicated a willingness to extend emergency policies adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the use of these innovations to become permanent.

These trends indicate that virtualized trials and direct patient interaction with technology are becoming more the norm rather than the exception.

Technology products, including mobile phones and wearable sensors, are continuing to virtualize more aspects of study design and data collection, including remote patient consent, treatment randomization, data capture, document monitoring and reporting, and site access. Cloud-based patient portals, meanwhile, are providing tools for study participants to talk with doctors, and also to share images and data related to their conditions. This same technology allows researchers to stay in close contact with study patients, monitor their conditions and collect a constant stream of data from both medical-grade and consumer devices.

These trends indicate that virtualized trials and direct patient interaction with technology are becoming more the norm than the exception. Beginning with the first partially virtual trial in 2001, about one-third of all clinical trials have already incorporated some form of virtualization, and the number of patients involved has more than doubled in the past few years.

CHANGE FOR GOOD

The adaptations the industry is making due to the COVID-19 pandemic will persist and grow, and will be supported by the next generation of analytical tools and AI algorithms. These are crucial to sifting through billions of data points to identify the evidence and insights necessary to demonstrate product safety and efficacy.

Rethinking and reengineering clinical development is revolutionizing the way we bring new therapies to patients, making trials more accurate, more efficient, and more patient-friendly than ever before.

PROFILE: Anthony Costello is Senior Vice President, Patient Cloud, at Medidata, where he oversees all patient-facing products and the mobile health business unit. During his 25 year history in the clinical research industry he has co-founded multiple start-up companies focused on clinical technology including Mytrus – acquired by Medidata in 2017.

Eye in the sky

XSun CEO Benjamin David's vision for solar-powered drones is making long-range environmental surveys more affordable

Bertrand Dietz
9 September 2020

4 min read

Inspired by his experience in designing satellites, XSun founder Benjamin David is adapting space technology to the challenges of performing long-range, visual survey tasks for environmental and safety purposes with low-cost, zero-emission drones.

For Benjamin David, a perfect day combines his favorite forces of nature: wind, water, sun and sky, all working together with the best of human innovation to power a sleek racing sailboat over the ocean at top speed.

Benjamin David. (Image © Jeremy Levin)

David, an avid water sport enthusiast, frequently windsurfed the waters off Guérande, in Loire-Atlantique on France’s scenic Atlantic coast, during his aerospace engineering studies at nearby Polytech Nantes. “Water sports provide absolutely incredible sensations, but I also love sailing because boats are concentrates of technology and use renewable energy,” he said.

Flight, too, drives David’s imagination, and his dreams of creating a flying machine powered by those same forces of nature are coming true in Guérande. After working on satellite technology for the European Space Agency and for Airbus in England and Germany, he has returned to Guérande to found a long-dreamed startup. Called XSun – X for technology, Sun for solar power – the company focuses on building, testing and proving the capabilities of solar powered, long-range drones for surveys, research and environmental-protection missions.

XSun’s unusual two-wing design allows it to carry more solar panels, giving it a range of 600 kilometers (373 miles) in a recent 12-hour test, with zero carbon emissions. (Image © Jeremy Levin)

“The points of convergence between aeronautics and sailing are obvious,” David said. “The best-performing sailboats, including monohulls, now glide over the water using their daggerboard foils. They are gradually becoming flying machines, with control systems directly derived from aerospace know-how. These sailboats that fly on the water use a renewable energy: wind. At XSun, we use another renewable energy – the sun – to make our machines fly. I see a convergence here that really thrills me.”

ENVIRONMENTAL AND SAFETY MISSIONS

Besides being a beautiful place to live, Guérande provides the perfect environment in which to launch a high-tech startup focused on solar flight. In addition to its open coastline and plentiful watersports, it offers an uncluttered landscape perfect for testing long-distance drones and a rich heritage in aerospace and composite materials, with tech-oriented universities and innovation centers clustered around the region’s shipyards and its major Airbus facility.

XSun founder Benjamin David chose to locate his solar-powered survey drone company in Guérande, Loire-Atlantique, on France’s scenic Atlantic coast, because of its strengths in aerospace, yachting and composite materials. (Image © Jeremy Levin)

600 km

The distance covered by an XSun drone in a 12-hour, autonomous endurance test conducted in mid-2020 with zero carbon emissions.

Unlike satellites or their near-Earth counterparts – helicopters and airplanes – drones are more economical to produce and operate. XSun’s solar-powered, remotely operated drones also offer operators longer ranges, increased autonomy and improved sustainability, with none of the CO2 outputs produced by other flying machines.

Returning here to launch XSun delivers on a concept that has been simmering in the back of David’s brain since he worked on the Galileo satellite array for the European Space Agency. The array is powered by solar energy and remotely controlled from the ground; those same two factors are true of XSun drones. “Just like a satellite constellation,” he said

Among the long-range tasks XSun drones might undertake: oil and gas pipeline surveillance in search of small leaks that need repair, or scans of railway lines to identify obstacles or damaged tracks.

“XSun flying machines are a kind of human eye that is always open, permanently in flight and monitoring the Earth to better protect it.”

Benjamin David
Founder, XSun

“We are also thinking about the observation and monitoring of wildlife and plants in forest areas,” David said. “In the shipping world, the surveillance of vast stretches for military or environmental purposes, and the detection of oil slicks and illegal dumping, are other possible uses.”

Automation is important, he said, so that the drone can do most of its work without human supervision. “Our aim is to adapt the automation of space satellites into the drone sector, designing machines that can carry out programmed missions independently.” The only time human supervision might be required: during takeoffs and landings, to avoid tall buildings or other drones.

A WELL-REFINED DESIGN

The XSun team maximized the drone’s range using an ingenious, two-wing design that hearkens back to early airplane designs, allowing for twice as many solar panels as would be possible on a single wing. The two wings are arranged one behind the other, allowing all of the solar panels to soak up the sun at all times. “The design also has a number of advantages in terms of its aerodynamic performance, which the aeronautic industry has ignored, as the single wing has dominated until now,” David said.

To improve on its original SolarXOne design, the XSun team used digital 3D simulations to refine the drone’s surface quality and aerodynamics. Collaborating via a shared innovation platform on the cloud also allowed the team members to iterate their ideas repeatedly while maintaining a clear configuration of all subsystems.

“The cloud offers us remote access to powerful design and simulation tools,” David said. “We can work on the move, remotely or at a partner site, which ties in well with our central idea: Our machines can operate easily anywhere, so it’s only natural that the same applies to our working methods.”

Composite materials and optimized design combined to help the XSun team create a drone that weighs less than 25 kilograms (about 55 pounds), has a wingspan of more than 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet), and a payload capacity of 7 kilograms (about 15 pounds) for flights lasting at least 12 hours. (Image © Jeremy Levin)

The end result: In an endurance test conducted in mid-2020, the company’s newest XSun design achieved a 12-hour, autonomous flight – with a payload – that covered a distance of 600 kilometers (373 miles) with zero carbon emissions.

LOW WEIGHT FOR LONG RANGES

The drone weighs less than 25 kilograms (about 55 pounds), has a wingspan of more than 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet), and a payload capacity of 7 kilograms (about 15 pounds) for flights lasting at least 12 hours. Composite materials are used throughout to minimize weight, and the team has hopes of achieving 20-hour flights.

25KG

The drone weighs less than 25 kilograms (about 55 pounds), has a wingspan of more than 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet), and a payload capacity of 7 kilograms (about 15 pounds).

The low weight means that XSun’s drones qualify for use in all countries worldwide. Low weight also translates into the ability to fly longer distances; the greater the drone’s range, the bigger the challenges it can address. Which also drives David in his quest.

“It’s an incredibly exciting project that throws challenges at us every day, whether technical, regulatory or financial,” he said. “We are at the dawn of a new age, one in which autonomous machines are proliferating on the ground, in the air and in the water, with a clear interconnections between them. If XSun can get the message across that it is possible to use renewable energy right now, and that it is not something for the distant future but for the present, we can consider our mission accomplished.”

XSun is a member of the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, an accelerator that facilitates and nurtures disruptive product innovation.

Watch a video to hear Benjamin David talk about his passion for finding innovative solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

Advancing engineers

Engineering education evolves to prepare students for the modern workplace

Richard Humphreys
26 August 2020

5 min read

As society changes and technologies evolve, engineering schools must adapt and apply new methods to better prepare students for the workplace. Around the globe, societies devoted to advancing engineering education are facilitating collaboration between academia and industry to equip students with the skills to design a better world.

Climate change, burgeoning urban populations and a lack of basic amenities in developing countries are among the new and emerging challenges that universities must train a new generation of engineers to tackle. To do so, however, they must also train their students to think about challenges in new ways and to use the most advanced technologies in solving them.

Norman Fortenberry, Executive Director of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) (Image © Norman Fortenberry)

“As a professional society, one of the biggest challenges is working with our members to provide learning experiences that mirror authentic engineering practice,” said Norman Fortenberry, executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Although that can be a challenge, he said, it is a requirement of engineering education’s top mission: preparing students to meet the labor market’s needs.

Work to expand and accelerate engineering education’s transition globally is an ever-shifting challenge, however. Each nation, or region within a nation, faces challenges unique to its culture and economy. And so, in engineering schools around the globe, engineering societies comprising university deans and professors, retired engineers and government officials are working with educators and industry representatives to adequately prepare a new generation for a new set of challenges than their predecessors encountered.

SOLVING REAL-WORLD ISSUES

One project that gave engineering students the chance to experience real-world challenges was developed at Campbell University in North Carolina. Campbell students visited a wildlife conservation camp in Botswana, where they tackled the problem of determining why the camp’s batteries – which powered its water pumps – drained of power so quickly.

Universities have to change something about their educational model if they want to survive. Otherwise, Generation Alpha will keep questioning why they need to go to the university.

Şirin Tekinay
Chair of the Global Engineering Deans Council

The students discovered that the battery acid water mixture inside the batteries was evaporating too quickly. Their solution involved replacing the mixture, but only after first testing to make sure it was de-ionized – a skill they had acquired by building a mini saltwater fish tank in class. All 24 of the batteries were salvaged and will now last for the full 10-year period. During the project, the students shared their methods with the locals so they can continue to maintain the batteries. 

This hands-on, project-based approach to learning – in sharp contrast to the engineering education’s long tradition of lectures – gave the students a chance to learn by doing, while providing valuable support to solving a challenge common in developing nations that lack well-established power grids.

In a similar vein, Fortenberry points to Boeing’s “Aerospace Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering” (AerosPACE) program, a 16-week capstone course that involves nine university deans and faculty and more than 90 students. With support from Boeing employees, they work together to design, build and fly an unmanned aircraft system that can tackle grand social challenges.

“The program brings together stakeholders from industry, academia and government to build core competencies for the next generation of aerospace innovators in a sociotechnical, collaborative environment founded in the learning sciences,” said Michael Richey, chief learning scientist at Boeing.

“Benefits to academia include preparing engineering students for the global world and closing the gap between theory and practice, while for industry, benefits include developing mentor-mentee relationships between current and future employees as well as decreasing hiring costs and increasing quality of hire.”

TEACHING METHODS

In many cases, however, educators need to change not only what they teach, but how they teach it. Şirin Tekinay, chair of the Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC), points out that employers aren’t the only ones pushing for change; students, too, are sick of lectures rich in theory but devoid of an opportunity to practice.

“Universities have to change something about their educational model if they want to survive,” she said. “Otherwise, Generation Alpha [those born after 2011] will keep questioning why they need to go to the university.” As a result, she said, “I believe we will see more student-orientated education models where you have students in project teams.”

Like Alphas, members of Generation Z (those born from the mid-1990s to 2010) are digital natives accustomed to easy and free access to information. Generally, students in this age group don’t want to be spoon-fed concepts by lecturers, Tekinay said; instead, they want a chance to learn concepts by applying them in real-world situations.

“There is already an evolution toward more problem-based learning, and I see workforce education becoming more purpose-orientated and experiential,” she said. “The purpose-oriented, project-based education model motivates students by providing a sense of meaning, a sense of impact. They now ‘pull’ the information they need, in order to serve the greater good. Ultimately, they want to see that they are contributing to generating socio-economic and environmental value; in turn, making life on the planet sustainable, healthier, safer, and happier.”

"Climate change, burgeoning urban populations and the lack of basic amenities in developing countries are among the new and emerging challenges universities must train a new generation of engineers to tackle."

Michael Auer
General Secretary of the International Society for Engineering Education (IGIP)

Students also want to be prepared to use and build on the advanced digital technologies they will encounter in the workplace.

“The pace of technology is changing; it is going ever faster,” said Yolande Berbers, president of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI). “There is a large shift to digital, to things like big data and artificial intelligence (AI); even a mechanic should know something about AI. I think most engineering curricula have courses on programming, on statistics. But few – outside the engineers in computer science – have courses on AI or big data. This is changing, but at a very slow pace.”

COLLABORATION IS KEY

Collaboration among societies, education, industry and government is central to addressing such challenges, the educators agree.

The Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, for example, has launched a new learning center, giving engineering students access to digital engineering applications, plus the opportunity to work in teams, share data and manage a project.

“I wanted to keep our students competitive and ready to thrive in the fast evolving digital-driven work environment,” said Natacha DePaola, dean of engineering at Illinois Tech. “I was interested in getting students to use digital tools in an effective way that prepares them for their careers.”

Co-curricular and extracurricular programs at the center provide students with opportunities to practice what they learn in the classroom, DePaola said.

Natacha DePaola, Dean of Engineering at Illinois Tech (Image © Natacha DePaola)

“Students work with faculty and corporate mentors on problems that are designed to reflect the needs of the industry,” she said. “We try to build on our corporate relations by identifying opportunities for mentored projects for students. That is a key component today in keeping education current as to being knowledgeable and understanding the use of digital tools.”

DePaola said the new learning center is making great progress. “Students have been involved in various activities that has helped to get the learning center up and running, including using the business platform for learning; participating in the development of instructional materials; working on a project; and advancing their research,” she said.

UNITING EDUCATION AND INDUSTRY

To succeed, innovative programs require active support and participation from industrial companies, Fortenberry said – and that participation extends beyond giving engineering schools projects their students can do.

“A company needs to explain to students how its work relates to the students’ societal concerns and how incoming employees contribute to making the world a better place, which is what a lot of students are really concerned about,” he said.

The 2019 IGIP workshop at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, was a workshop on the topic of “Engineering education for sustainable development.”(Image © IGIP)

Employers also expect engineering students to be able to work with specialists in other fields, Fortenberry said. Benjamin Goldschneider, a doctoral student in engineering education at Virginia Tech, tackled that challenge head-on, helping to establish a pilot course where students work on four-person teams in search of an interdisciplinary approach. “I believe it was a successful pilot run,” he said. The concept helped students break out of their silos and gain “better preparation for the work they will do in industry.”

Participation in societies helps engineering schools recognize that no single entity can have all the answers, said Krishna Vedula, president of the Indo-Universal Collaboration on Engineering Education (IUCEE). “The problems facing society are so complex that collaboration is the only way we can hope to address them,” he said. ”The only way to get schools to see the big picture is for them to step out of the comfort zone and visit other institutions, meet people from industry and society.”

Learn more about 3DS education and training opportunities

Transparent supply chains

Consumer packaged goods companies pursue farm-to-table visibility

Rebecca Lambert
19 August 2020

5 min read

Today’s consumers are increasingly health-conscious and socially conscious about their food choices. As high-quality, fresh and sustainable produce gains popularity over processed convenience food, the pressure is on consumer packaged goods businesses to be transparent about how their products make their way from farm to shelf. For many, this means transforming their operations and completely rethinking their supply chains.

When the British-Dutch consumer packaged goods (CPG) business Unilever, maker of US mayonnaise powerhouse Hellmann’s, announced in 2010 that it would use only certified cage-free eggs by 2020, it upended the entire US supply chain.

In 2010, only 2% of egg-laying hens in the US were cage-free. “The sheer number of eggs that go into Hellmann’s products – 331 million a year in the US only – means we had to completely rebuild our supply chain in order to make our goal a reality,” the company’s marketing director, Russell Lilly, said at the time. Still, the company achieved its goal three years ahead of schedule, working its partnerships with suppliers and animal-welfare organizations to transform the US egg-production business.

Hellmann’s scramble for responsibly sourced eggs is increasingly typical of how growing health- and social-consciousness on the part of consumers is driving change in the CPG supply chain – and the supply chain is responding by applying digital technologies to the challenges of achieving farm-to-table transparency.

“As consumers increasingly make purchasing decisions based on brands’ sustainability efforts and values, grocers are putting pressure on CPG companies to act responsibly,” said Lindsey Mazza, an expert in Consumer Products and Retail, Supply Chain at French consulting business Capgemini. “Adoption of product management systems is growing in the CPG space so that suppliers can drive critical supply chain and sourcing information to the retailer, providing traceability all the way back to the farm.”

DATA PROVES QUALITY

A 2018 report by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Boston Consulting Group, titled “How CPG Supply Chains Are Preparing for Seismic Change,” found that 78% of CPG companies are prioritizing end-to-end data visibility—from point-of-sale data to GPS tracking data on shipments.

78%

of CPG companies are prioritizing end-to-end data visibility—from point-of-sale data to GPS tracking data on shipments.

Source: 2018 report by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Boston Consulting Group

“They use predictive analytics for demand forecasting and capacity modeling, and scenario modeling to optimize manufacturing and distribution,” the GMA report said. “Geo-analytics help them improve logistics flows and route planning and build a control tower to create end-to-end visibility in the supply chain. New data architecture, built partly in the cloud, can link data seamlessly, enabling companies to leapfrog costly and lengthy ERP deployments.”

US-based Amy’s Kitchen, a pioneer in organic food production, is just one CPG company that has turned to supply chain optimization software to gain full visibility into all aspects of its supply chain. “Our goal is to make the most delicious food with the best quality ingredients, and this brings complexity into our supply chain,” said Nigel Batchem, Senior Director of Planning at Amy’s Kitchen.

Amy’s Kitchen was using Excel spreadsheets, which were becoming less effective with each passing day. Response times were too slow to meet changes in demand, and worse, monthly planning cycles could take as long as six weeks to complete. Amy's Kitchen's systems were simply unable to cope with the rising level of complexity. Suboptimal planning processes were actively holding Amy’s Kitchen back from further growth.

“We required a supply chain planning and optimization platform that could accommodate our intricate scheduling requirements, which stems from our unique approach of assembling and cooking products simultaneously,“ said Andy Berliner, co-founder of Amy’s Kitchen. “Using [a] software platform will enable us to maintain the high quality and fulfillment standards our customers have come to expect.”

“We required a supply chain planning and optimization platform that could accommodate our intricate scheduling requirements, which stems from our unique approach of assembling and cooking products simultaneously. Using [a] software platform will enable us to maintain the high quality and fulfillment standards our customers have come to expect.”

Andy Berliner
Co-founder of Amy’s Kitchen

The result? Amy’s Kitchen is very happy with how digital planning has enabled it to meet its planning goals, cut costs, increase visibility and improve its ability to adapt to disruptions. In addition to business benefits, Amy’s Kitchen employees experience improvements as well. The optimized scheduling means that Amy's Kitchen can now improve the work life of its employees. For this company, it is not enough to simply produce high-quality food; the quality of the work experience of those producing the food has to match.

ANALYSIS DRIVES INSIGHTS

The data needed to drive these systems also is going digital. Sensors track factory processing information, temperatures during shipping, times and dates of pickups and deliveries, sell-by and use-by dates and a host of other metrics. To move quickly if a shipment is delayed, if temperatures are out of range for too long, or if a recall is needed, however, CPG companies need reporting systems that can access, cleanse, analyze and highlight data in real time to deliver critical insights. And that means that artificial intelligence (AI) has an increasingly important role to play.

“AI will be used to augment people,” said Simon Ellis, who leads the Supply Chain Strategies practice at analyst firm IDC Manufacturing Insights. “As CPG companies process more and more data, they will need eyeballs to look at and act on the information that brings. AI will provide the additional resource they need; if not, that data is wasted.”

How CPG companies collect and use data will become a point of competitive differentiation, Ellis predicts. “Those that will have access to data better will perform better,” he said. “Total supply chain visibility cannot be achieved without data.”

BACK TO BASICS

As the demands on CPG companies continue to grow, some are taking a back-to-basics approach tackling supply chain complexities, becoming more sustainable in the process.

“Larger multinationals are being squeezed in the market by new independent CPG companies that appeal to consumers with their strong ethics, total transparency and sustainable business models,” Capgemini’s Mazza said. “With a simplified supply chain, they are able to bring products to market much faster and react to the pulse of what consumers want.”

UK smoothie brand Innocent Drinks, for example, has built its reputation on making simple, natural, healthy drinks. Innocent’s company mission is to make products that taste good and improve consumer health. To reinforce that commitment, the company recently became a certified B Corporation, a voluntary audit carried out by global non-profit organization B Lab, which assesses companies’ impact not only in terms of food quality, but also on employees, customers, community and environment.

“We’re trying to be a good company and demonstrate that you can grow successfully doing it the right way, and we want others to follow,” Innocent CEO Douglas Lamont said in a recent interview with the London Evening Standard. That’s also why the company favors suppliers certified by independent environmental and social organizations, including the Rainforest Alliance, and pays a premium for certified fruit.

TRUST BUILDS LOYALTY

By establishing trust with consumers and helping them to be more socially responsible themselves, businesses can put people and the planet on the same footing as profits, and make sustainable capitalism work.

“Today, when it comes to their food, consumers want speed, honesty and transparency,” Mazza said. And so CPG businesses must demonstrate – with certified data delivered in real time – that they use sustainable ingredients and practices across every aspect of their supply chain.

”It’s up to CPG companies to clearly express their brand values, demonstrate how they are helping the planet and communicate their product attributes to consumers,” Mazza said. “Using technology, they can get a better grasp of their supply chain, creating products that are sustainable, traceable and desirable.”

Discover more about drivers for CPG and Retail companies that are leading to long-term health and growth

Embedded electronics

Touch technology replaces buttons with sleek, invisible control panels

Rebecca Lambert
12 August 2020

4 min read

Consumer products are smart, connected and tactile–and soon, surfaces ranging from car armrests to front door locks will be, too, thanks to injection molded structural electronics (IMSE). IMSE makes electronic circuitry and functionality part of the 3D structure itself, enabling sleek, elegant product designs that eliminate the need for mechanical buttons and switches. 

Homeowners will soon be able to open their doors with a touch, thanks to smart-lock maker PassiveBolt. The company, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, used automotive-grade technology to convert existing deadbolt hardware into a touch-activated device. After winning a Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 Innovation Award in the Smart Home category for engineering and design quality, PassiveBolt’s Shepherd Lock is scheduled to hit the market this year.


PassiveBolt's Shepherd Lock keyless entry system won a CES 2020 Innovation award in the highly competitive smart home category. The smart cover cosmetic surface for both structure and electronic functions includes capacitive touch control, contact pads for external connectivity and LEDs to show lock status. (Image © TaktoTec)

Like keyless car entry, the Shepherd Lock lets a homeowner lock and unlock a door by simply touching its smart surface, provided they have their virtual key on a smartphone or fob they carry with them. Owners also can check the lock’s status via a mobile app, and the device alerts the owner and freezes the lock if an intruder tries to break in or disable the lock.  

The sleek, simple design is possible thanks to in-mold electronics (IME) technology developed by TactoTek of Oulu, Finland. TaktoTek calls its IME technology IMSE (injection molded structural electronics), and it brings electronics to places traditional electronics could never go, encapsulating functionality within thin injection-molded plastic that responds to touch. The result: sleek, elegant, smart surfaces that are protected from vibration, debris and moisture and significantly cut down on thickness and weight.

“The only way to achieve such a seamless design was to embed the touch sensor and feedback LEDs into the surface of the cover,” said Kabir Maiga, co-founder of PassiveBolt. “IMSE was the solution that unlocked this design option.”

NEW DESIGN POSSIBILITIES WITH IMSE

If you have ever tried to clean your toddler’s cracker crumbs out of the spaces around car window buttons, the disadvantages of traditional mechanical controls are obvious. Designers hate them, too, because they interrupt and visually clutter spaces that should be smooth and flowing. IMSE eliminates crumb-collectors and visual clutter by hiding touch-activated controls under a thin, smooth surface. This transforms vehicle door trims, cover panels, and other locations that were once too thin for traditional electronic structures into beautiful surfaces that become controls for lighting and other electronic functions when touched.

“IMSE parts are smart, molded structures, meaning that the electronics are part of the structure itself,” said Dave Rice, senior vice president of marketing at TactoTek. “They are typically 2 to 3.5 millimeters (0.07 to 0.13 inches) thick and injection molded into a single 3D piece.”

IMSE allows manufacturers like PassiveBolt to create previously impossible, innovative products that deliver on both style and functionality.

“IMSE provides the ability to simplify a mechatronic design,” PassiveBolt’s Maiga said. “It makes it possible to combine electronic and mechanical parts into a unified piece, thereby rendering mechanical stack-ups significantly less complex, cutting down on the number of parts we need to manufacture and giving us far more design options.”

THE INDUSTRIALIZATION OF IME

After years of development IME technology–the generic industry term for integrating electronics circuitry with thermoforming or molding–is finally making its way into consumer goods, home appliances and vehicles.

“The ability to design, produce or integrate IME-made parts will become a strategic know-how and competency for many firms worldwide,” UK market research firm IDTechEx said in its 2019 report, “In-Mold Electronics 2019-2029: Technology, Market Forecasts, Players.”

IMSE technology automotive overhead control panel with capacitive touch controls, passive haptics and illumination, in a seamless molded package 3.5 mm thick and weighing only 200 grams. (Image © TaktoTec)

Before that can happen, however, designers and engineers must learn how to design successful integrated parts, TactoTek’s Rice said.

“To be successful in the marketplace, IMSE technology must be predictable, reliable and economical,” Rice said. “Those qualities require a deep knowledge of the materials and electronic components used in IMSE parts and how they interact during IMSE manufacturing processes, as well as design rules for using them.”

To help, he said, TactoTek has developed an offering called IMSE Builder. “Through tests and analyses, we create and document validated design rules, materials and components, manufacturing process controls, testing and quality assurance methods,” Rice said. “TactoTek licenses the patents and know-how to other manufacturers that mass-produce IMSE parts. We help them understand what’s possible with IMSE technology; they use their design vision and creativity to bring it to life.”

APPLICATIONS ON THE INCREASE

As a result, original equipment manufacturers and designers are beginning to use TactoTek’s technology to develop innovative new products and high-value, differentiated user experiences.

“The dominant use cases from our customers are control panels: touch buttons, linear and circular slider controls, proximity sensors to ‘wake up’ a device, lighting to illuminate icons, show status and for styling,” Rice said. “From coffee machines to dishwashers, industrial controls to vehicle overhead control panels, these man-machine interfaces are very popular.”

Finnish sports watch maker Suunto, for example, uses TactoTek’s IMSE technology in its Movesense activity tracker – a sensor that is 36.576 millimeters (1.44 inches) in diameter, weighs 9.92 grams (0.35 ounces), and can be embedded into clothes, shoes, sports equipment and even dog collars to track movement. Suunto chose IMSE for its thin structure, durability and cost effectiveness.

“Suunto specified that the part had to withstand 10,000 flex cycles – our test fixture broke after the part survived more than 70,000 cycles – and 50 washing machine cycles,” Rice said. “It shows some of the creativity engineers are bringing to the technology.”

Soon, a TactoTek customer in the automotive market will reveal an IMSE part slated for millions of vehicles. “That use case, and several others that are very different, will likely be seen in production vehicles in the next two to three years,” Rice said. “The vast majority of these solutions are man-machine interfaces that include lighting for function and styling, capacitive touch controls, circuitry and, in several cases, printed antennas for connectivity.”

ENCOURAGING FUTURE

Look for even more IMSE designs in the near future. CAD developers have begun to build support for the technology into their design software, making it easier for designers and engineers to incorporate IMSE into their products and further raising awareness of the technology.



IMSE technology brings surfaces to life with capacitive touch control and illumination on a wooden surface. (Image © TaktoTec)

PassiveBolt, for one, continues to explore how IMSE can help it disrupt the smart home market and differentiate its products.  

“IMSE allows us to easily customize the smart surface with our customers’ branding without any tooling change, which saves time and money,” Maiga said. “We also plan to leverage smart surface designs in several upcoming products. IMSE makes for simpler designs and improved user experience.”

Learn more about 3DS ISME solutions

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