Smart sustainment

Virtual twin experiences help NATO improve aging aircrafts’ mission-readiness

Tony Velocci
22 September 2021

6 min read

Frequent deployments of aging defense systems have taken a toll on the NATO allies’ military mission-readiness, sending government officials in search of smart strategies for improving uptime. Some have turned to virtual twin experiences – interactive, scientifically accurate 3D computer models that enable rapid testing and refinement of different strategies – to plan updates that will extend the assets’ useful lives and lower maintenance costs for legacy airframes.

Keeping aging aircraft flying long past their originally intended retirement dates is a growing challenge for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries concerned with unacceptably low mission-readiness rates – the percentage of time that defense assets are in adequate condition to perform at least one mission.

In the US, for example, only three out of 50 aircraft types met their mission-capability goals of 70% for most of the fiscal 2011-2019 period, the US Government Accountability Office recently reported.

Frequent deployments of decades-old aircraft over the past 20 years have taken a toll, particularly on American, British and French airplanes and helicopters. Heavy demands, combined with aging aircraft, requires more maintenance, upgrades and enhancements – also known as sustainment – for the aircraft to remain operational beyond their expected lifespans.

In contrast, commercial airline operators consider anything less than 98% ready-to-fly performance of their aircraft fleets unacceptable.

53%

The B-1B aircraft’s mission-readiness rate in 2017; but the target for US defense systems is 80%.

Adding to the pressure to extend the life of existing defense assets: NATO-member countries’ static defense budgets, exacerbated by the high cost of new technology. The combination makes it extremely to replace aging equipment with new systems, which can then take 10-15 years or more to develop and put into operation.

One increasingly popular strategy for troubleshooting, repairing or upgrading aircraft? Using virtual twin experiences, which allow crews to visualize issues in interactive 3D and simulate the results of different approaches, to enable quick identification of optimal maintenance strategies.

“We’re building a blueprint for a unique approach to improving mission-readiness of critical defense systems – a blueprint that will become prevalent across the military – while helping the government to develop the requirements needed to standardize what we’re doing,” said Melinda Laubach-Hock, director of sustainment at Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR). “When other contractors follow in our footsteps, government customers will understand the level of fidelity they need in these computer models.”

Boosting mission readiness with virtual twins

NIAR, for example, is spearheading a project to demonstrate how virtual twin experiences can improve the sustainment of legacy airframes.

NIAR’s goal, which it is pursuing in cooperation with industry and government partners, is to help boost mission readiness of certain defense systems, including the B-1B Lancer bomber and the UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter, while reducing maintenance costs.

The B-1 Bomber is one key aircraft being disassembled, scanned,and reassembled as 3D models at the NIAR-NEST facility to demonstrate how virtual twin experiences can improve the sustainment of legacy airframes. (Image courtesy of NIAR)

Both aircraft were designed and manufactured mostly from paper drawings decades ago, but planned retirements for the B-1B and the UH-60L are now 2040 and 2050, respectively. Converting those drawings to interactive virtual twin experiences that enable rapid analysis of various sustainable strategies should greatly accelerate maintenance teams’ ability to identify, simulate, test, verify and implement maintenance strategies and upgrades.

Additional US Army and Air Force equipment will undergo the same process. The F-16 Falcon – more than 2,200 are deployed by air forces around the world – will be the next program targeted for virtualization. No retirement date has been set for the F-16, which entered operational service with the US Air Force in 1980. 

A memo from then-US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, establishing a goal of 80% mission capability for certain defense systems, prompted the NIAR initiative. For example, the B-1B’s mission capability was less than 53% in 2017. Congress responded to Mattis’ call to action by authorizing funding to employ technology to improve readiness.

“We’re building a blueprint for a unique approach to improving mission-readiness of critical defense systems.”

Melinda Laubach-Hock, Director of Sustainment, NIAR

While NIAR’s work may not bring the B-1B and UH-60L fleets’ readiness up to Mattis’ 80% target, the institute and its partners are confident of achieving significant improvements, said Laubach-Hock.

NIAR and its government partners strategically selected airframes for the program, targeting those where the addition of virtual twin technology will have the largest impact in extending the platforms’ service life. As a result, “now we’re starting to see military leaders include funding for digital engineering,” Laubach-Hock said.

Forecasting the future

The two current programs involve reverse engineering both aircraft, beginning with disassembling them down to the nuts and bolts and digitally scanning nearly every part to create 3D models. Using the scan data and legacy engineering drawings as a template, the NIAR team will then create manufacturing-quality, 3D computer-aided design (CAD) models. These models will be digitally reassembled to create the airframe’s virtual twin, an exact digital model of the airplane as it exists in the physical world.

In addition to the geometrically correct virtual twin, the team will develop high-fidelity engineering models and validated them, using stress and strain data obtained either through structural tests or airframe operation. Once validated, virtual “loads” can be applied to these models to forecast structural failures, fatigue, corrosion and cracking under different flight conditions over time – a predictive maintenance capability that largely eliminates the age-old approach of only repairing something after it breaks.

As of mid-summer 2021, NIAR is about halfway through the two-year UH-60L program and was digitally reassembling the rotorcraft. In parallel, a NIAR technical team is about 18 months into the six-year B-1B program and preparing to complete the digital modeling of its wing structure.

The UH-60L Black Hawk, with horizontal stabilizer, tail rotor pylon and tailcone are being disassembled, scanned and 3D-modeled to create a virtual twin of the aircraft. (Image courtesy of NIAR)

By producing a physics-based virtual twin, engineers can capture the digital heartbeat of entire defense systems. Each one will serve as a living record. People who service these aircraft will be able to use predictive analytics – the “experience” portion of virtual twin experiences – to devise and validate appropriate maintenance schedules and processes to optimize mission-readiness – including predicting when a specific part should be replaced, based on the mission profile and flight hours.

“We’re using digital technology to look at potential problems that could occur 10 or 15 years from now, so the Army and Air Force can become very proactive when it comes to sustaining their assets instead of having to be reactive,” Laubach-Hock said. “The virtual twin provides a single authoritative source of truth for all the data needed to maintain legacy systems.”

France’s 10-year plan

The concept of coupling virtual twins with the power of big data and analytics to achieve smart sustainment isn’t unique to the US Department of Defense.

In France, a business innovation platform for creating and managing virtual twin experiences is the centerpiece of a 10-year maintenance agreement between airframe manufacturer Dassault Aviation and the Aviation Maintenance Division of the French Ministry of Armed Forces. The project’s goal: to optimize the availability of 152 French Air Force and Navy Rafale fighter aircraft, whose readiness hovers around 70%, a Paris-based defense industry consultant said. The RAVEL (RAfale VEticalLise) contract covers most of the airframe of the multi-role aircraft, which is expected to remain in service beyond 2050, GIFAS, the French aerospace industry trade organization, reports.

Long term, Dassault Aviation expects to improve the availability, or “Maintenance in Operational Condition” (MCO), of the Rafale fleet to at least 76%. In addition, the ministry reports that extended logistics services will enable the fleet to carry out more operational missions. Predictive maintenance is considered the key to achieving this level of mission readiness, so the program’s integrated data environment is built on a common data model covering a defense system’s entire lifecycle, with all data relationships managed by the platform.

Using scanned parts and legacy engineering drawings as a template, the NIAR team creates manufacturing-quality, 3D, computer-aided design (CAD) models of the aircraft. (Image courtesy of NIAR)

The platform collects all Rafale usage across the fleet, which enables monitoring of RAVEL contract-stipulated performances, collects lessons learned and enriches predictive maintenance algorithms. It also can securely process data from the fleet and generate individual aircraft “health records.”

Thus far, France is the only European NATO member that has implemented the virtual twin approach to improving mission readiness. NATO’s other European members understand the concept but are not yet prepared to implement smart sustainment. As one European aerospace and defense consultant with close ties to NATO put it: “They’re still trying to figure out the art of the possible.”  

Future uses

In service, every aircraft behaves differently and requires specific maintenance based on its operational history. Therefore, a virtual twin experience may be integrated with individual vehicle health and usage monitoring systems to provide fleet operating insights. On-board sensor data and usage information for each aircraft provides a rich cache of data for analysis, to better understand system performance and reliability.

“A virtual twin allows the development team to perform more detailed analyses earlier, ensures a perfect fit during initial production and allows testing to begin earlier. This reduces risk.”

Dina Halvorsen, Program Director, Sikorsky Aircraft

Beyond sustainment, many defense contractors now employ virtual twins to develop new aircraft.

“The payoff of a virtual twin manifests itself across the entire lifecycle of the product – design, production and sustainment,” said Dina Halvorsen, program director at Sikorsky Aircraft, which manufactures the UH-60L. “It manifests itself in design with lower development costs and reduced time to field the product. A virtual twin allows the development team to perform more detailed analyses earlier, ensures a perfect fit during initial production and allows testing to begin earlier. This reduces risk.”

For NATO in general and the US Department of Defense (DoD) in particular, the use of virtual twins represents a new paradigm for extending the operational life of complex hardware.

“It’s not a matter of whether we’re going to apply this technology to more platforms, including ground vehicles, but rather what are we going to do next, based on the greatest need,” Laubach-Hock said.

Read more about the challenges and opportunities facing the defense industry today.

Being human

Natural language processing helps organizations to take a human-centric view

Elly Yates-Roberts
22 July 2021

4 min read

Modern organizations generate vast amounts of data, in multiple forms, from human beings – customers, employees, suppliers and more. Getting a balanced view of what it all means requires more processing power than humans can manage, but involves nuances that have been beyond the understanding of computers. At last, natural language processing promises to bridge the gap.

The biggest fans and fiercest critics of an organization usually have the greatest impact on decision-making. Why? With too much feedback to process, humans tend to listen more to those who talk the most or the loudest.

Even relatively small businesses can have vast amounts of human input in multiple forms, including telephone conversations, social media, survey results, incident logs, product specifications and RFPs. Analyzing that data should help deliver a balanced view of all stakeholder feedback, allowing businesses to understand customer needs and industry trends faster, guiding new product development, improving operations, minimizing risk and accelerating research and development. But humans don’t speak binary, and computers haven’t been adept at the nuances of human speech.

Natural language processing (NLP), a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) dedicated to converting human language to binary code for search engines, translation services and voice assistants, promises to solve the dilemma. After decades of development, and with billions of words written by humans to learn from, NLP has gradually advanced to the point where it is ready for a particularly difficult task: business communications.

“When you bring together mathematics, computing and linguistics, it enables you to teach computers how to understand human languages,” said François-Régis Chaumartin, founder and vice president of data science at NLP software company Proxem, now a part of Dassault Systèmes. “Using NLP, we can create a multi-dimensional world in which each word is associated with a vector. We can then do mathematics on these vectors. For instance, if you take the vector for ‘king,’ remove ‘man’ and add ‘woman,’ you produce something that is very close to the vector for ‘queen.’ NLP makes the language computable so we can handle words as mathematical concepts.”

IMPROVING SATISFACTION

Fortune Business Insights reports that the global NLP market stood at US$16.53 billion (€14.04 billion) in 2021 and is expected to reach US$127.26 billion (€108.09 billion) by 2028.

As these technologies evolve, they are delivering effective human-to-machine communication and providing a greater ability to center decision-making on the needs and desires of humans.

Multinational energy provider ENGIE has more than 24 million customers worldwide. Each customer interaction ends with a questionnaire to generate feedback.

“When you bring together mathematics, computing and linguistics, it enables you to teach computers how to understand human languages.”

François-Régis Chaumartin
Founder and vice president of data science, Proxem

“Being able to analyze their comments is essential to allow us to understand the reasons why a customer is satisfied or dissatisfied and act to re-engage the customer,” said Florence Bigeard marketing project manager in customer experience at ENGIE.

By deploying a semantic analysis tool that uses artificial intelligence and NLP, ENGIE has been able to identify strong signals – a topic that everyone is talking about- but also “weak signals” that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Weak signals seem irrelevant on the surface, but can add up to a significant pattern. “This can help feed the design loop for new products and prevent further problems,” Bigeard said.

For instance, NLP helped ENGIE quickly detect customer irritation over deployment of the company’s smart “Linky” meter, which transmits usage data and receives orders electronically. Customers did not understand why they had to pay a commissioning fee when the work is done remotely, without a technician visit to the home.

By deploying a semantic analysis tool that uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing, companies can identify strong signals – a topic that everyone is talking about – as well as ‘weak signals’ that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. (image © NETVIBES)

“It is also a matter of dealing with the dissatisfaction before it becomes too great by explaining these costs are charged by the [utility] distributor,” Bigeard said. “There are few customers who complain about paying these fees, but they are the ultra-detractors.”

Following that success, ENGIE is planning to implement new sources of feedback and analyze speech-to-text data from telephone conversations, in addition to written responses. “We also want to collect customer opinions on social networks through daily monitoring, and hope to better detect customer emotions following our interactions with them,” Bigeard said.

ENHANCING OPERATIONS

Another broad energy company, France-based TotalEnergies, is using NLP in multiple ways, including improvements in the relevance of search results on its website and safety analysis of equipment breakdowns at industrial sites.

“This analysis was previously done manually on a very small sample of data,” said Pierre Jallais, who is responsible for innovation at TotalEnergies. “We wanted to implement NLP to analyze all these unstructured mini reports and check if the equipment is working properly.”

NLP has enabled TotalEnergies to analyze nearly 400,000 reviews linked to breakdowns or maintenance reports. As a result, the business was able to calculate the failure rates of its equipment and develop strategies to improve them.

TotalEnergies intends to expand the use of its NLP solution by collecting all the information on breakdowns for improved visibility on maintenance costs, create action plans for quality checks, compare performance at different sites to identify best practices, and review the equipment purchasing strategy.

“Evaluating the quality and safety of our equipment on a large scale is the goal,” Jallais said.

THE NEXT BIG THING

NLP is demonstrating its value at improving customer experiences and ensuring high standards in operational performance and safety. But its potential – especially when paired with technologies like virtual twins that show data in the context of scientifically accurate 3D equipment models – could be significantly greater.

Natural language processing can create a multi-dimensional world in which each word is associated with a vector. We can then do mathematics on these vectors. (image © NETVIBES)

A big step in the industrial field would be using NLP to communicate the design requirements of physical products. An airplane’s requirements, for example, might include that it must take off within 300 meters, or that ice accumulations on a plane wing must not exceed 12 kilograms.

“You could express thousands of requirements in language that is technical but also natural,” Chaumartin said. “By filtering these requirements through NLP, the technology can start to produce mathematical formulas that are equivalent to what is expressed in natural language. In other words, NLP can help with the virtual development of physical products.”

Chaumartin said he has been "amazed" by the language capabilities of computers equipped with advanced NLP, and has even found it difficult to distinguish some NLP-generated texts from those produced by humans. But we should not to mistake this for intelligence, he said.

“It is incredible what we can do with NLP, but the machine is not intelligent,” Chaumartin said. “It has no deep understanding of what a sentence means. It is a very good imposter, but it is just pretending to understand. Machines are not yet intelligent enough to understand language like humans do. That is still something for the science fiction movies.” 

Learn more about NLP

Read one industry executive's view on using NLP to improve information intelligence.

Natural language processing helps computers understand people


2 min read

In the real world, business operations generate data continuously and exponentially. In the virtual world, artificial intelligence translates real-world data into actionable evidence, but nuances of language are easily lost in translation. If we can teach computers to understand syntax, can we improve information intelligence?

A colleague of mine likes to say that understanding language is easier said than done. It’s an idea I’d find easy to dismiss, if not for the fact that his catch phrase itself is evidence that the spoken and written word often is more than meets the eye – or the AI.

“We have forgotten this as adults, but we spent several years at school learning how to read and write,” François-Régis Chaumartin, founder of natural language processing (NLP) software company Proxem told me when I first met him in 2020. “Why is it so difficult? Because ambiguities are omnipresent in human language. A single word can describe many concepts, and a given concept can be described by many words.”

Human language is beautiful, but its intricacies—the slang, clichés, turns of phrase, ironies and homonyms, just to name a few—have proven difficult for computers to comprehend. Around the world, each language and dialect also has its own nuances, leaving room for error with every translation and interpretation. That’s why NLP has been an elusive achievement in data science and AI for many years.

As much as 80% of company’s knowledge is implicit and hidden behind text documents, including regulations, requirements, contracts, emails and social media. Without proper semantic analysis, weak signals are easily overlooked. Misspellings, industry-speak and internet shorthand lead to miscategorization or, worse, disregard of valuable data. Being able to turn mountains of textual data into accurate sets of related concepts and actionable insights at lightning speed is a key business advantage.

Strong semantic intelligence that combines natural language and machine learning technologies enables knowledge interpretation to be automated, transforming it from implicit to explicit. When explicit knowledge is available to everyone, closer connections between the business and its consumers, patients, partners or employees are generated, capturing and contextualizing insights from their experiences and expectations. Because NLP translates huge information flows into clear, sharp insights and trends, individual experiences become collective, reusable knowledge. These insights and trends can be used not only to improve operational excellence, but also to help identify opportunities for innovation. Innovation, in turn, increases customer satisfaction and loyalty and, thus, improves business performance.

Historically, NLP has been used for analyzing reports, responding to customer feedback and improving search results. But now we’re seeing advanced applications that enable predictive maintenance of equipment, improve operating efficiencies. For example, the ability to identify automatically similar customer claims enables early detection of quality defects in any industry.  Thanks to NLP, we can layer unlimited knowledge and know-how as part of virtual twin experiences – the accurate 3D experiences that allow designers and engineers to create and test new products and processes without breaking them – leading to endless possibilities.

We’re in the age of Big Data. But all the information we need is not quite at our fingertips. As we inch closer to teaching AI to truly understand human language, we also begin to unlock the potential for businesses to be even more intelligent, innovative and customer-centric.

Morgan ZimmermannChief Executive OfficerDassault Systèmes NETVIBES

Learn how companies are using NLP to improve business intelligence and customer experience

Engineering exciting marketing experiences with interactive 3D


7 July 2021

2 min read

Something big is happening in retail, but it’s not what you may think.

Yes, we are making more purchases online. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated e-commerce to about 20% of retail sales, but even bigger shifts are coming. Experts predict that online purchases will account for 95% of all retail by 2040.

In the digital age, however, we no longer need to own something to benefit from it. Uber has taught us that owning a car to travel reliably and affordably isn't a requirement any longer.  We "order" a car when we want to go somewhere. If we can order a car, why not order different vehicles for different purposes: a minivan or SUV for a family vacation, a sports car for a weekend drive, a compact car for a quick errand?  Voila! We can have whatever we want, whenever we want it.

For marketers, this has profound implications for selling users on personalized-mobility-experience value. In ride services like Uber, a specialized app could offer passengers control of stereo settings and temperature levels. It could offer customized routes, beverages, additional stops and other amenities during the trip. You see where this is going.

Selling experiences presents a different challenge than selling a car. Consumer interactions will skyrocket, and the content itself will change. Product sales are driven by features and functions, and consumers live with their choices for months or years. An experience sale is driven by convenience, personalization and immediacy. Content must become more rewarding, always on and cloud-based.

The people driving these sales will be service packagers; they will acquire content from the product makers and build experiences for different types of consumers in varying situations.

If coders – not marketers – are creating content, it should be easier to develop and publish, but it needs to be more compelling. As with online commerce, technology is driving the change, but this time through powerful, interactive, mobile-accessible 3D content.

The emerging GL Transmission Format (glTF™) has laid the groundwork for a 3D marketing revolution. Much like the jpeg revolutionized the way we view images online, glTF is making it possible to view rich 3D material quickly and consistently across many different applications. This is poised to revolutionize how marketers introduce new products and experiences. Thanks to glTF, it’s possible to create 3D digital marketing assets directly from the design and engineering source data. This means new products, services and experiences will move from concept to marketplace faster than ever before.

glTF makes online demos both possible and powerful, using light 3D assets that look and act like the real thing. Unlike physical items, users can turn and even “explode” them on the screen to see the inner workings. This content is employable online months before manufacturing begins. The value is immediately evident. Soon, interactive 3D models will be on every ecommerce website and viewable on every mobile phone, making life better for consumers.

Public interactions with these models also provide product-makers and experience packagers instant insights to improve their offers. With a photograph or video, marketers can’t “see” which features draw consumer’s attention – or send them to a competitor’s offer. They can’t know which demographics respond to which offers. glTF 3D models give marketers precise “digital exhaust” to hone in on exactly what consumers want.

That’s key, and it opens the door to an understanding of how a product creates value for consumers. Which in turn is a boost for sustainability. If distributors, retailers and consumers don’t like a concept, it won’t be made. Pointless products will disappear. We’ll create satisfaction with fewer resources. And that’s a good thing.

Tom Acland, Chief Executive Officer, Dassault Systèmes 3DEXCITE

Read more about how companies are already starting to create realistic 3D marketing assets with glTF

Marketing becomes interactive

glTF transforms engineering data into maneuverable, online 3D marketing assets

Lindsay James

6 min read

Firms no longer need to manufacture their product before they create assets to promote it. New, digital technologies are poised to transform engineering and design data into easy-to-share visualizations for powerful online product experiences. The result? Realistic 3D marketing assets that, thanks to a fast-developing open standard asset format called glTF, can be viewed and manipulated on any device.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world’s biggest trade shows to cancel their physical events, many exhibitors reacted by putting their marketing efforts on hold.

“The industry really scrambled to figure out how to stay relevant,” said Darrin Hill, director of marketing for R&D and intelligence at Canadian automotive technology firm Magna International. “We noticed that many of our peers were not going all-in on digital at the time.”

In fact, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reported in late March 2020 that 50% to 80% of the 2,500 business-to-business events scheduled for March 1-May 15, 2020 were canceled – a situation that has continued for 18 months. The loss of just the first 2.5 months of events cost the exhibits industry as much as $22 billion, CEIR estimated. By the third quarter of 2020, 97% of events were canceled.   

Magna, however, was determined to turn the challenge into an opportunity.

“We were still doing research and development activities and had things we really wanted to shout about,” Hill said. “For us, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is our most important and probably our largest public event that we do every year – and it’s where we gain a tremendous amount of ground with our target audience. When the physical show got canceled and replaced with a digital version, we decided to really push forward and find a different, better, more impactful way to communicate what we offer.”

But how could Magna communicate effectively to virtual attendees in an online environment? By leveraging advances in 3D digital technology, using data from its engineering teams to create an extensive portfolio of digital marketing assets in just eight weeks.

The results far exceeded the company’s expectations.

“We developed a 3D photo-realistic generic Magna vehicle on which we were able to showcase our full product offering,” Hill said. “We were really looking for a platform that could offer a similar impact to a physical environment and help increase our reach digitally. Along the way we realized that this was the first time we’ve been able to demonstrate the complete power of Magna in an intuitive and manageable way.”

EXPEDITING DIGITAL SUCCESS

Interactive 3D digital assets provide a differentiated experience for customers. Quite apart from traditional video assets – where the marketer dictates the story that is told – 3D digital assets offer a highly personal approach. Customers can interact with them at their own discretion, zoom in on the key product features that interest them most, experience product operation in a hands-on way and even explore the finer details via 360-degree rotation.

These benefits appealed to Hill and his team. Using the 3D digital model, they showcased Magna’s entire portfolio, from its autonomous driving offering to its electrified power train, doors that open and close by themselves, innovative lighting solutions and more.

mousse over
In Magna’s glTF presentation of its concept truck at CES 2021, visitors could explore each Magna system in detail. Here, viewers can choose each of the five sensor systems to interactively explore details of their benefits and operation. (Image courtesy of Magna)

“We were able to incorporate many more technologies than we had originally thought possible,” Hill said. “Working with a completely digital canvas allowed us to do things that would be impossible with a physical property. It allowed us to do more, to show more, and to be more of a storyteller. We were able to showcase all of our innovations in context, and in coordination with one another.”

The approach proved so beneficial that Hill doesn’t expect a complete return to the traditional way of exhibiting. “I expect we will take a hybrid approach in the future, using 3D to add a new dimension to physical events,” Hill said.

A GROWING COMMUNITY

Although Magna is a trailblazer in the online 3D marketing space, it isn’t alone.

Tobias Brode, head of business unit medical engineering and biotechnology at Fraunhofer IPA, a research development organization based in Germany, reports similar benefits.

Brode and his team have created a mobile lab robot called KEVIN®, designed to automate repetitive, manual laboratory work and assist humans with work that must be done overnight or on weekends. Creating digital marketing assets from design data allowed Brode to expedite KEVIN's development and garner interest from the market – before the design prototype robot has been built.

Creating digital marketing assets from design data allows Fraunhofer IPA to search for investors for its mobile lab robot KEVIN before the prototype is built.

“We are able to create a virtual showroom for KEVIN, where we can demonstrate to key stakeholders his key functions and features, showcase potential use cases and enable 360-degree interaction – all in an incredibly realistic way,” Brode said.

The approach has saved Brode and his team a significant amount of time and money.

“Traditionally, we would have had to either ship KEVIN across the world so that customers can see him in the flesh, or bring them to our lab,” Brode said. “We don’t have to do that anymore – it’s a far more sustainable approach.”

A NEW STANDARD FOR SUCCESS

For both Brode and Hill, the forced plunge into digital 3D marketing coincided with growing adoption of an open standard for 3D assets called the GL Transmission Format (glTF™). glTF converts heavy digital engineering files – sometimes measured in terabytes – to a light format that even mobile phones can run. The breakthrough gives marketers’ access to a much larger audience – virtually the entire world, in fact – while giving that audience the freedom to examine any aspect of the model from any angle, a significant improvement over demonstration videos.

“glTF has been designed by Khronos, an open, non-profit, member-driven consortium of over 150 industry-leading companies, to enable 3D models and scenes to be efficiently transmitted and loaded at runtime into diverse 3D engines, viewers and applications,” said Neil Trevett,

Khronos Group’s president. “glTF’s superpower is that it is carefully designed to be usable everywhere on the web and on mobile devices.”

Although most online sites cannot host glTF models yet, major online retailers, search engines and social media sites are working with Khronos to enable the capabilities on their platforms. By enabling their users to interact with virtual products in virtual scenes, their efforts promise to transform the online experience.

“The 3D Commerce working group at Khronos is working very closely with glTF to enable 3D in e-commerce at industrial scale,” Trevett said. “They have realized that in parallel to glTF’s technical advancements, they need to solve the current process friction of hundreds of companies trying to cooperate over the design, manufacture and presentation of thousands of products across multiple platforms.”

The 3D Commerce Working Group has been instrumental in inspiring a series of glTF extensions for more flexible model deployment, including metadata for integrating 3D models into enterprise-level asset management systems.

“3D Commerce has also worked on best practice asset creation guidelines to help 3D artists and tool vendors understand how to create 3D assets that can be reliably and easily deployed across multiple companies and platforms,” Trevett said. “And finally, Khronos is launching a 3D Commerce Viewer Certification Program to ensure that assets created using best practices will be correctly displayed by diverse platforms and devices.”

EXPANDING REACH

Thomas Rilke, managing director at the Deutsche Messe Technology Academy in Germany, believes that the glTF standard – along with advances in technologies that help companies create 3D digital assets quickly and effectively – will lay the groundwork for the future of industry trade shows.

To this end, Rilke has created a new business it calls Media Factory, which enhances the value of the company’s trade shows, including the world-famous Hannover Messe, by offering Deutsche Messe customers access to the tools they need to create effective digital marketing assets.

“Add the glTF standard to the mix, and . . . digital assets can be accessed from even the most basic mobile phone, instead of a high-performance computer. This is truly game-changing.”

Thomas Rilke, Managing Director, Deutsche Messe Technology Academy

“Our future is undoubtedly hybrid events, where we fuse the physical with the digital,” Rilke said. “Through our Media Factory, we will be able to ensure that more of our customers are equipped to succeed in this new reality.”

The benefits are compelling.

“It’s important to recognize that 90% of our events are for really technical industries,” Rilke said. “Our typical exhibitors are machinery companies, or manufacturers of complicated pieces for machinery. They seldom build single products – they may have 30 or 40 different models, and many of these models can be customized, resulting in an almost infinite number of variations. So, you see, it’s impossible to showcase their entire offering at a physical event, which may mean they miss out on potential business.”

By having engineering-quality, 3D digital assets and simulations to exhibit at physical events, Rilke’s customers can present their entire product offering in a realistic way.

“Add the glTF standard to the mix, and the benefits are even greater; it means these digital assets can be accessed from even the most basic mobile phone, instead of a high-performance computer,” he said. “This is truly game-changing.”

Magna’s Hill shares Rilke’s excitement about what can be achieved, both now and in the future. “Because we touch so many parts of a vehicle, it is very difficult to quickly create a unique experience for our diverse audiences,” Hill said.

That challenge is now just a memory.

“With our new digital marketing assets, everything fits together properly,” Hill said. “It belongs. There’s a logic flow which we can supplement with stories to explain our technologies in a way we’ve never been able to do before. It’s compelling, it’s impactful, and it’s really changing the game for us.”

Experience glTF-enabled interactivity at the “damaged helmet” demo on Khronos’ glTG page

Learn more about how to create gITF assets

Read one industry executive's view on the potential impact of gIFT on the future of marketing

Editor’s Note: The Fraunhofer IPA spin-off project, KUTOA, is supported by the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab through its incubator partner Industrial Future Hub, operated by Deutsche Messe Technology Academy.

Fostering inclusivity to close the gender gap

Women’s initiative networks are helping firms to attract and retain a more diverse and inclusive workforce

Lindsay James
16 June 2021

6 min read

Today’s most successful businesses are making gender equality part of their DNA through the formation of women’s initiative networks. Acting as a mechanism for inclusion on all fronts, these networks are helping to close the gender gap – and delivering a raft of business benefits in the process.

For the first time in history, more than 30% of senior roles around the globe are filled by women, professional services company Grant Thornton International found in a 2021 research study.

Having been stuck at 29% during 2019 and 2020, this is at best a small sign of a move in the right direction. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, it will now take over 135 years to reach gender equality. That’s because the pandemic delayed  parity by about 36 years, meaning another generation will miss out.

Experts agree that it’s never been more important for businesses to take action to close the gap. Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum, said that if we want a dynamic future economy, it is vital for women to be represented in the jobs of tomorrow. “Now, more than ever, it is crucial to focus leadership attention, commit to firm targets and mobilize resources,” she said in a press release. “This is the moment to embed gender parity by design into the recovery [from the pandemic].”

Francesca Lagerberg, Grant Thornton International’s global leader of network capabilities, said that the firms that are succeeding at supporting women in the workplace are the ones that make it part of the DNA of their business. “Allowing everyone to reach their full potential in an organization requires an ongoing commitment,” she said. “Put simply, it needs to be more than a tick-box exercise. Behavioral change takes time.”

Grant Thornton International’s global leader of network capabilities, Francesca Lagerberg, leads about discussion as part of the firm's ongoing commitment to creating a gender-balanced workplaces where men a vital role in helping to shape a culture that understands why gender diversity is important. (Imager courtesy of Grant Thornton International)

For many organizations, the creation of women’s initiative networks (WINs) is proving to be an effective way of putting gender equality front and center.

“By providing structured support and mentorship, WINs allow women to address workplace issues in a safe space and find inspiration and motivation from role models,” said Debbie Forster, CEO of UK-based industry collective Tech Talent Charter. “As well as making a direct positive impact on its members, these networks have the indirect benefit of creating a culture where employees feel recognized and encouraged to bring their whole self to work.”

MEN MATTER TOO

To have the most impact, these WINs need to be as inclusive as the future workplace they hope to inspire. This means that they need to involve men as allies, champions and sponsors.

“Gender diversity is not a ‘women’s problem’,” Forster said. “A lack of diverse talent affects everyone, so men are a crucial part of the puzzle here. Men can – and must – play a vital role in supporting women’s networks. They are part of the structures, policies and practices needed to change the culture in a company so they can be well placed to convince those who don’t get  why gender diversity is important.”

It’s not about attracting women to a networking group; it’s about highlighting that gender-balanced teams outperform those teams without gender balance.

Mia Mends
Global chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Sodexo

Mia Mends, global chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at French food services and facilities management company Sodexo, agrees. “The name of our global advisory board at Sodexo is not gender-specific, and that’s no accident,” she said. “It’s not about attracting women to a networking group; it’s about highlighting that gender-balanced teams outperform those teams without gender balance. As a business, we can perform better and improve culture when we have gender-balanced teams. That’s good news for everyone – our employees, our clients, consumers, suppliers, partners, the communities in which we operate and, of course, our shareholders.”

In fact, Forster said that the most successful WINs benefit all employees, resulting in a more transparent and authentic culture. “Instead of creating an ‘us and them’ feeling as some people fear, it actually often has the opposite effect – it helps to nurture a greater understanding of the issues and encourages everyone to be part of the solution. Allies and champions feel strengthened and better equipped to make a positive difference. These initiatives work best when driven by employees but reinforced with clear and vocal support from senior management.”

TACKLING KEY ISSUES

Businesses can use WINs as a mechanism to address the biggest gaps in gender equality, both external and internal.  

External factors include what the World Economic Forum refers to as ‘the growing double shift of work and care’. “Women still bear the majority share of caring responsibilities and costs, meaning that childcare, supporting elderly relatives, or even the costs of before- and after-school care, make standard working hours a challenge,” said Forster. “Flexibility is key in retaining female talent, so companies need to create a broader definition and acceptance of flexible work – including meaningful part-time work, remote work and split roles.”

Internal factors, meanwhile, include occupational segregation, stereotyping and unconscious biases. “While over 30% of senior roles across the globe are filled by women, what this really means is that 70% are still filled by men,” Forster said. “Most industries still have few senior female leaders. Ingrained bias related to a lack of diversity within organizations can make it harder for women to imagine themselves as successful and valued employees.”

BETTER BY DESIGN

Successful WINs are solving these challenges – and with impressive results.

Sodexo, for example, has created a global advisory board to improve gender equality. Called SoTogether, it is made up of 40 members – both male and female – representing every part of the business, including 20 nationalities and 72% from operational roles, which are the people delivering services to clients.

“Through the leadership of SoTogether, we are influencing people processes such as recruitment, development and employee retention,” Mends said. “We are also encouraging local gender networks to take action to drive the gender balance agenda locally, empowering women in our local communities and acting as a thought leader on gender equality.”

Surrounding myself with strong leaders at work, in my community or within my circle of family and friends has been an integral part of my journey.”

Meena Bajwa
Schneider Electric

Its actions are paying off. “We have already made progress towards three objectives which we aim to achieve by 2025,” Mends said. “We want to see women represent 40% of our senior leadership community, we want 100% of our employees to be working in entities with gender-balanced management teams and, overall, we want to foster a culture of inclusion.”

Grant Thornton’s network is also creating significant opportunities through its WIN.

“Grant Thornton is a global network and we have over 130 firms, all of which are working on diversity and inclusion,” Lagerberg said. “Our key aim is to use a variety of methods such as diversity and inclusion activation workshops to intentionally increase diversity, with a particular emphasis on gender balance.”

Women in Schneider Electric (WiSE) is an inclusive group open to all employees, designed to highlight and support women in the workplace. (Image courtesy of Schneider Electric)

Participants in these types of networks report that the support they receive is invaluable. Meena Bajwa, for example, who leads the marketing team for Canada at multinational energy and automation company Schneider Electric, said that women’s initiative networks have been instrumental to her success.

“Surrounding myself with strong leaders at work, in my community or within my circle of family and friends has been an integral part of my journey,” she said.

Women in Schneider Electric (WiSE) is one of the company’s many employee resource groups. While focused on women, it is an inclusive group open to all employees, designed to highlight and support women in the workplace. “It facilitates panel discussions, where we share career journeys and challenges,” Bajwa said. “We then act on these challenges through recruitment events, workshops and partnerships with various external women in STEM networks to provide meaningful development. All of this has ensured I bring my best self to work, while reinforcing the need to do the same for others. These networks also build camaraderie, recognizing that we are all stronger when we come together and build each other up.”

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

Ultimately, those firms that prioritize women in the workplace now will be better positioned for the future, WIN proponents agree.

“You only have to look at the statistics to know that achieving gender balance is good for business and future growth,” Mends said. “Currently, one third of small to medium enterprises are owned and operated by women. And only 5% of the S&P 500 – the 500 largest companies listed on stock exchanges in the US – have a female CEO. However, women make 75% of spending decisions globally. Representing 40% of the world’s workforce, they are the largest under-utilized talent pool in today’s global economy. And, guess what? That talent pool is getting larger, with women representing 60% to 70% of new university graduates.”

In fact, management consulting firm McKinsey estimates that if every country in a region matched that region’s leader in gender equality, they could add $12 trillion a year to global GDP by 2025. “These facts compel us to embed the right kind of gender balance strategies that drive results,” Mends said.

Quite simply, those companies that prioritize diversity will thrive, Forster said. “They will have better access to talent, better staff retention, greater creativity and will better understand and reflect the communities they serve. There’s no excuse not to address inclusion and diversity in your own organization, and those that ignore this will find themselves falling behind.”

Learn about Dassault Systèmes women’s initiative network, 3DS WIN, and new global leadership and management development program, Rise Up!

Innovative energy storage

German startup tackles renewable energy storage and industrial waste heat with single system

Jacqui Griffiths
9 June 2021

5 min read

The world’s shift to renewable energy needs a solution to one central challenge: how to store excess solar and wind power for later use. Meanwhile, energy-intensive industries have a challenge of their own: what to do with all of the excess heat they generate. Kraftblock CEO Martin Schichtel, a chemist by training, believes his German-based company has the answer – a thermal-based storage system.

Chemistry, concrete, curiosity – and a passion for sustainability – inspired Martin Schichtel to develop a groundbreaking thermal energy storage solution.

Martin Schichtel, CEO, Kraftblock

“Years ago I studied chemistry at university, focusing on nanotechnology before taking a couple of jobs in different industries, most in sectors like steel or ceramics, which wasted a lot of energy,” he said. “Then in 2008 I saw a TV report about ‘high temperature’ concrete heat storage. Concrete is cheap, widely available and you can shape it into any form that’s required. But I knew that concrete could store materials up to a maximum of 500 degrees Celsius [932 degrees Fahrenheit], while the industries I had worked in describe 1,000 to 1,500 degrees Celsius as high temperatures. So I caught up with the developers to figure out ways to optimize concrete so it could take a broader range of temperatures.”

What began as an intriguing chemistry puzzle grew into a game-changing sustainable energy system as Schichtel developed his idea and looked at its potential uses. In 2014 he co-founded Kraftblock with economics expert Susanne König, now the company’s CFO. Its mission: to design and build high performance, sustainable energy systems that enable different sectors – including high-temperature industries and power generation – to decarbonize.

“Our ultimate vision is that the world will live with a totally sustainable energy system in the future,” Schichtel said. “Our team and our investors strongly believe that storage systems will be essential to achieving that goal.”

COMMITTED TO DECARBONIZATION

Kraftblock’s story starts with the development of its core technology: a material that combines the thermal conductivity and large capacity needed to capture and reuse thermal energy for high-temperature industries.

“Worldwide, a tremendous amount of energy is wasted in the form of heat,” Schichtel said. “Industries like ceramics or steel require extremely high temperatures. In every furnace, kiln or thermal process there is wasted heat that is usually blown directly into the atmosphere. If that heat can be stored and reused, it becomes a climate-neutral energy source.”

“Our ultimate vision is that the world will live with a totally sustainable energy system in the future. Our team and our investors strongly believe that storage systems will be essential to achieving that goal.”

Existing storage technologies didn’t have the energy density or the ability to handle the high temperatures these industries need – so Schichtel and his team created it.

“Kraftblock’s industrial waste heat ecosystem has been designed to recover energy by capturing excess heat and gases before they are released and recycling them for use in a range of scenarios,” Schichtel said. “Heat can be recycled internally, for instance, to preheat a furnace or generate steam, or it can be used to create electricity. Because our storage is modular and portable, the stored heat can also be transported for use by external third parties. In both cases, it helps businesses to save primary energy and avoid generating CO2.”

High temperatures are not required to create the material – a factor that builds sustainability into the very fabric of Kraftblock’s products.

This virtual twin schematic demonstrates the flow of electricity from a solar array to the Kraftblock storage system, where it is captured as heat. The system releases only cool air to the atmosphere. (Image courtesy of Kraftblock)

“Sustainability for us has different facets,” Schichtel said. “One is to look at how our customers will use our system to become more sustainable in the future, and the other is to bring more sustainable efficiency to an energy system. We use a lot of recycled materials in our system, and it takes less energy to manufacture than competing products because it’s produced at room temperature with simple processes.”

RENEWABLE ENERGIES IN EXISTING TECHNOLOGIES

In the long term, Schichtel and his team want Kraftblock to enable totally renewable energies – a path that will see the company storing and distributing excess power produced by large wind and solar farms. Today, Kraftblock is pursuing a “transition path” to that world of energy sharing. Dubbed REET (renewable energies in existing technologies) by the company, the strategy enables customers to create a green energy storage ecosystem using existing infrastructure. 

Schichtel sets the scene: “Imagine a food company that is using gas-fired boilers to produce steam,” he said. “To decarbonize, it must replace the gas for those boilers with green energy. A heat pump cannot deliver enough thermal energy to produce the steam. A renewable power-to-heat system, such as a wind farm, can – but not always when the company wants it. Creating a storage system enables the company to transfer green electricity to heat, with the storage itself becoming a buffer and distribution station for renewable heat at the company’s factories. This is the system we’re creating for a customer, to store green electricity and enable a 24/7 supply. That’s REET: the customer only has to replace its gas-fired boiler and it can keep the rest of its infrastructure alive and working.”

Kraftblock’s storage technology sits at the heart of this green energy story, combined with various technologies to collect energy for storage and distribute it using the customer’s unique infrastructure. “We’ve designed different storage units to provide huge levels of freedom for our customer,” Schichtel said. “The company can charge one unit with energy while discharging another to enable 24/7 operation, or it can join two modules together for higher performance when needed.”

POWERING THE FUTURE

Virtual twin technology is central to Kraftblock’s design process.

“Every company has its own, site-specific requirements for charging and discharging the storage unit,” Schichtel said. “So for each project we must design a complex set of charging and discharging devices that are unique to that customer’s needs and can be linked together in a modular system. Using a business experience platform enables us to combine the various aspects of product development, from thermal and mechanical stress simulation to building a virtual twin of the whole system. We can also use the virtual twin to show interested customers or potential partners different scenarios in a more-or-less live application, including potential issues and how to resolve them.”

This virtual twin schematic demonstrates the flow of stored heat back to the industrial company that generated it, for reuse in its processes. Alternately, the heat can be converted to electricity and fed to the power grid or used to operate the factory’s machinery. (Image courtesy of Kraftblock)

Creating a virtual twin of the system before physically building it has been invaluable to the company and its pilot customer.

“We do a lot of simulations of the system and processes, including predictions of how it will operate,” Schichtel said. “Our system’s efficiency in transferring energy to heat is essential in helping customers improve their sustainability, as even a 1% loss in efficiency could cost them a lot of money. Building a virtual twin has enabled us to keep the efficiency of creating the whole system at a high level. It helps us easily explain and demonstrate efficiency issues and improvements to our customers.

“Using a business experience platform enables us to combine the various aspects of product development, from thermal and mechanical stress simulation to building a virtual twin of the whole system.”

“It has been invaluable in enabling us to demonstrate to customers that everything will work as planned under different scenarios. With virtual twins of the energy system in operation we can also do things like predictive maintenance and building an artificial intelligence control system.”

Kraftblock’s vision of sustainable energy for all may lie in the future, but Schichtel sees opportunities to begin making it real today.

“Renewable energy generation and storage markets are developing rapidly,” he said. “In industrialized countries, more than 50% of the total energy demand across industry and private homes is for heat, and the technologies that deliver it always have to be adapted to the next step. As a result, we are seeing a growing number of requests for REET systems. Being able to monitor market developments through channels like social media is valuable, and virtual twin technology helps us to adapt to those movements.”

Editor’s Note: Kraftblock is supported by the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab through its incubator partner Industrial Future Hub, operated by Deutsche Messe Technology Academy.

Transition to net zero

Traditional oil-and-gas and mining companies transition to net zero by including renewables into long-term strategies

Dan Headrick
14 May 2021

3 min read

U

nder growing societal pressure, rising regulatory mandates and investors who increasingly expect companies to direct more significant investment toward net-zero emissions, the energy and materials industry faces a delicate balancing act of reducing its carbon footprint while meeting growing energy demand and reinventing itself for a lower carbon future.

A decade ago, it would have been a challenge to find oil-and-gas and mining companies that prioritized decarbonization and included renewable energy in their long-term strategic objectives. Today, however, many of those companies are committing to reducing their carbon footprint.

BP says it wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Royal Dutch Shell, France’s Total and Norway’s Equinor are diverting massive amounts of capital into renewable energy. Under pressure from its shareholders, ExxonMobil Corporation in March announced a US$3 billion (€2.5 billion) investment by 2025 in carbon-capture technology, and Vancouver-based Teck Resources, which mines copper, coal and zinc, announced plans to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

“Many oil-and-gas majors are already in a good position to get into offshore wind markets,” said Shalom Divekar, senior research analyst for Energy and Power at MarketsandMarkets Research. "They are already present in that space. In terms of next steps, it’s going to be interesting to see what role they want to play in the larger renewable energy space – acquire wind farms, for example, or build new technologies.”

40%

Directly and indirectly, the oil-and-gas industry accounts for more than 40% of all human-made greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions.

The shift reflects the industry’s new reality. The accelerating rush to decarbonize risks weakening the industry’s old business models and eliminate its customers. Meanwhile, investors are stepping back just when energy and materials companies most need capital to reinvent themselves.

The trick now? To succeed at a difficult balancing act: serving a world that still depends on them for power, transportation and minerals in a cleaner way, while repositioning themselves for the day when their old business models are no longer welcome in a world destined to run on renewables.

To make the transition, oil and gas companies are “critically important” Eric Toone, technical lead for Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a sustainability-focused investment firm founded by Bill Gates, said in a recent Fortune interview “because those are some of the only people on Earth that understand how you build things at scale.”

Using carbon know-how to decarbonize

The oil-and-gas industry accounts for more than 40% of all human-made greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. About 40% of that total comes from the industry’s own operations – for example, flaring excess gas from oil wells and undetected methane leaks from pipelines; the rest comes from the burning of fuel in power plants, factories and transportation.

Reducing those emissions are the single most effective way the industry can reduce its  environmental impact in a meaningful way and offers an opportunity for the industry to demonstrate positive progress on its legacy operations while continuing to build a clean-energy future, as McKinsey & Company outlines in its report “The future is now: How oil and gas companies can decarbonize.”

Modern digital technology, McKinsey found, plays a critical role to improve energy efficiency. For example, the report notes that digitally monitoring for leaks at compression stations in upstream (production) operations, and in mid-stream crude transport could allow operators to repair leaks quickly, minimizing losses. Digital monitoring of pipelines and equipment in refineries could do the same for downstream operations.

Such preventive measures are so effective, McKinsey reports, that one onshore oil-and-gas producer found that about 40% of its emission-preventing activities had a net present value at current oil-and-gas prices.

Exploration never stops

On the innovation front, companies have launched wide-ranging initiatives, from power import and electrification to renewable micro-grids, integrated energy storage, facility monitoring and control, remote operation and digital transformation of design and operations. These efforts reflect the difficulty of the low-carbon transition, a lesson that the entire movement is realizing.

"We see companies focusing on monitoring and control, power generation and transmission and distribution automation. For now, a major threat to transition is lack of investments. That’s the biggest restraining power right now."

Shalom Divekar
Senior research analyst for Energy and Power, MarketsandMarkets Research

“You can’t reduce carbon emissions simply by doing less,” said Leon Saunders Calvert, head of research and portfolio management at London Stock Exchange Group and leader of Refinitiv’s sustainable investing research business. “We’ve learned a very important lesson, which is what you require is more technology, not less; more capital, not less; and mass mobilization of that capital toward decarbonization outcomes.”

Traditional oil-and-gas companies are responding by doing more and trying more, though the industry’s new shape has yet to reveal itself.  

Oil-and-gas companies are developing new business models and next-generation technologies 10 to 15 years out. They include onshore wind, offshore wind, bladeless turbines, hydrogen, flow batteries, electrolysis technology, biomass and fuel cells. But they face obstacles, analysts say. “We see companies focusing on monitoring and control, power generation and transmission and distribution automation,” Divekar said. “For now, a major threat to transition is lack of investments. That’s the biggest restraining power right now.” 

Nevertheless, experiments with new technologies not only help the industry prepare for tomorrow, but they also address the sustainability challenge laid out by Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment firms, in his 2021 annual letter to the world’s CEOs:

“As the transition accelerates, companies with a well-articulated long-term strategy, and a clear plan to address the transition to net zero, will distinguish themselves with their stakeholders – with customers, policymakers, employees and shareholders – by inspiring confidence that they can navigate this global transformation.”

Natural resource companies – from oil-and-gas to mining – seem to have received the message.

Discover how Kairos Power accelerates clean energy development with next-gen nuclear technology

Smarter factories

5G networks hold the key to usher in a new era of manufacturing

Alex Smith
22 April 2021

5 min read

5G networks provide an unprecedented level of speed and reliability in wireless connectivity. As 5G service becomes more widespread, these characteristics will enable the Industrial Internet of Things, allowing connected devices to make factories smarter and establishing a network infrastructure to support cutting-edge applications. The result? More dynamic and automated manufacturing processes.

As manufacturers look toward a digital future, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) looms as a crucial building block. The next era of manufacturing – often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – hinges on reliable, real-time insights, made possible by analyzing and controlling the physical production line in real-time with digital technology.  

“The first step of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is about connecting all assets,” said Guilherme Pizzato, head of ecosystem partners for manufacturing & logistics at telecommunications and consumer electronics giant Nokia. “Once connected, manufacturers can collect and analyze all available data and use that knowledge to make better, actionable decisions. This enables capabilities such as asset monitoring, predictive maintenance and advanced robotics.”

So far, however, IIoT’s potential for transformation has been unrealized due to the limited capabilities of previous generations of wireless communication networks – 2G, 3G and even 4G – which cannot offer the low latency (transmission delays) and security required for many of the IIoT’s most valuable applications. Neither can older-generation wireless technology support the high number of devices needed to enable a smart factory.

Therefore, while some aspects of manufacturing have been digitalized, most manufacturers still rely on hard-wired cabling to gather data about shop floor planning and operation, blocking their ability to reconfigure networks as requirements change. As a result, manufactures have not been able to fully exploit the potential of IIoT to optimize their operations – but 5G may soon change that picture forever.

A DAWNING REVOLUTION

With far greater speeds, lower latency, more reliable connectivity and the capacity to support a high number of connected devices, 5G should make possible a wide range of applications for individual consumers and entire industries.

While 5G is being touted to consumers for high-quality streaming and faster downloads, its implications for industry could be much more significant.

“5G is not just an evolution, but more of a revolution,” said Andreas Mueller, general chair of industry association 5G-ACIA, based in Germany. “In contrast to previous generations, where development was focused on connecting phones, 5G has a very strong focus on connecting all kinds of IIoT devices to deliver new capabilities across many different industries. While we will get higher data rates with 5G, it will also provide very low latency, very high reliability and very high efficiency, enabling it to offer advantages over previous generations of wireless systems.”

“With 5G’s capacity to support a very high density of devices, enterprises can realize different use cases with very diverse requirements at the same location at the same time."

Guilherme Pizzato
Head of ecosystem partners for manufacturing & logistics, Nokia

5G’s improved speed and bandwidth will allow manufacturers to process more data from an advanced network of sensors, facilitating the easy, precise and secure collection and analysis of the massive volumes of production data that will pour from sensor-rich factory floors. By utilizing this additional information, manufacturers can make more informed decisions to increase operational efficiency.

“With 5G’s capacity to support a very high density of devices, enterprises can realize different use cases with very diverse requirements at the same location at the same time,” Nokia’s Pizzato said. “There’s a lot of potential in augmented and virtual reality, for example. These can be used for monitoring production, for training, for remote support, and for other features that can provide immediate benefits. If you have 5G, you can wirelessly connect to get real-time information from assets and production lines and avoid having a cable that prevents you from moving around freely.”

REAL-TIME CONNECTIVITY

5G also will let manufacturers combine the internal workings of their smart factories with external elements, including production-relevant data from logistics companies, suppliers, products-in-use and maintenance data. Simulating the supply chain and ensuring end-to-end traceability across the entire business lifecycle will allow manufacturers to react more quickly to changing circumstances, helping them manage disruption and miss fewer deadlines. 5G also will give manufacturers more insights into their supply chains, helping them to identify areas of waste and forecast demand more accurately, while reducing the costs of excessive inventory or unexpected shifts in production volumes.

Vodafone is among the telecommunications companies setting up 5G networks across the world, which will give manufacturing companies unprecedented levels of wireless capabilities in their factories. (Image © Vodafone)

To understand the potential for 5G in enabling IIoT applications that extend beyond the factory floor, Erik Brenneis, IoT director at Vodafone Business  suggests imagining a fleet of autonomous forklifts or transport vehicles.

“You need real-time connectivity to achieve a consistent view of your operations,” he said. “IoT, powered by 5G, allows you to connect both your control centers and your vehicles to the outside logistics chain so you can oversee and efficiently manage different elements of your factory. When are my goods coming? Where are my automated vehicles in the factory? What’s the status of my machines? You can monitor and control that in real time, and that’s a game-changer compared to what you could do with previous network technologies.”

CREATING VIRTUAL TWINS

Once high-tech manufacturers have successfully combined 5G with IIoT, creating intelligent plant ecosystems, the next challenge will be using the insights from those ecosystems to improve operations. While smart factories have the potential to be significantly more efficient than existing methods of production, manufacturers will need to focus on maintaining and extending their competitive advantages by quickly extracting insights from massive volumes of data. Modeling and simulating both the supply chain and physical assets will help transform both the business model and production processes, increasing efficiency, output and quality.

Virtual twins of their production lines will help manufacturers to understand what the data means in context and act on it quickly. These dynamic, multi-physics digital models of the elements and operations of any physical object or process transform data into quick-to-interpret visuals. Virtual twins therefore help manufacturers assess, share and validate different scenarios and production opportunities by aggregating data from the production line, manufacturing equipment, people and production plans – enabling products experts to run “what if” scenarios to identify, test and execute improvements.

"While we will get higher data rates with 5G, it will also provide very low latency, very high reliability and very high efficiency, enabling it to offer advantages over previous generations of wireless systems."

Andreas Mueller
General chair, 5G-ACIA

Because they incorporate AI and machine-learning, virtual twins can also learn from and react to real-time data relayed by a 5G-IIoT ecosystem in the context of pre-set parameters, dynamically adjusting shop floor activities or offering their human partners suggestions for improvements to material and product flows. Virtual twins also can flag performance, quality and maintenance issues so that they can be addressed quickly, before they shut down production. Furthermore, enabling everyone within an organization to access shared 3D visualization opens new paths for collaboration.

Through its 5G enabled smart factory in Oulu, Nokia has reported a 30% increase in productivity and a 50% decrease in “time of product delivery to market, and an annual cost savings of millions of euros.” (Image © Nokia)

“5G-IIoT is an enabler for change in the ways in which we produce, so that we can get away from the very static production lines that we still have today,” Mueller said. “We can adapt to a very flexible type of production in which the production line can be quickly reconfigured. In extreme cases, you could reconfigure several times a day in order to resolve an issue, because 5G-IIoT makes it so much easier to do so.”

ESTABLISHING TRUST

While few significant technological barriers remain in bringing 5G-IIoT to factories, most industry players have not yet embraced the technology, with the amount of testing in the real world remaining limited Much work remains for manufacturers, machine and equipment providers, platform providers and wireless connectivity infrastructure suppliers to demonstrate the reliability of 5G and IIoT for industrial settings and establish trust within the wider industry.

“It's a journey,” 5G-ACIA’a Mueller said. “We have a vision now of where we want to go, but there are more things to be done. What is still missing is an extensive validation of the [5G] performance in real-world environments. You need a certain level of trust in the technology to rely on 5G for your production. We have to establish that trust, and that’s why we need extensive test beds and trials in the real world.”

Despite this, Mueller is convinced that those who lead the way in adopting more flexible models of production stand to gain the greatest advantage.

“I can personally see the market start really taking off in 2022,” he said. “But it’s important that companies don’t wait until this happens to develop a 5G strategy, because by then it might be too late. It's important that everybody understands the developments that come along with 5G early on and adopts an effective strategy to take advantage of it. Be a pioneer and not a follower of the trend.”

Equipment as a service

Is the traditional ‘make, sell, ship’ business model a thing of the past?

Lindsay James
14 April 2021

4 min read

Against a backdrop of continued digital transformation and rising customer expectations, the business model of industrial equipment manufacturers is changing – and fast. Now they are not only expected to make, sell and ship great products, but to own and sometimes even operate them, too. Vele Galovski, Vice President of Support and Field Services Research at the Technology & Services Industry Association (TSIA) explains the challenges and opportunities that this shift will bring.

COMPASS: How are the business models of industrial equipment (IE) manufacturers changing, and what has brought about this change?

Vele Galovski: IE manufacturers’ business models have always revolved around making a product, selling the product, and then shipping the product. With the exception of the occasional support and maintenance contract to keep the product running, anything after the sale has always been the customer’s responsibility. The customer was generally responsible for owning, operating and using a product to achieve their business outcomes.

But this is now changing. Customers are increasingly wanting IE firms to not only make, sell and ship great products, but to own and sometimes even operate them, and to assist them in achieving the return on investment that was promised in the original sales call. This is what we mean by ‘equipment as a service’ (EaaS).

Customers don’t care about the product or the features anymore, they care about the outcome. A new generation of IE manufacturers is realizing this. The rules of the game are changing thanks to the ubiquity of new technology such as sensors, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), analytics and the cloud.

How does EaaS differ from traditional lease offers?

VG: Equipment as a service means many things to many people. Some people incorrectly define it as any type of subscription offer where the customer pays for access to the technology as an operating expense [OPEX}. A standard lease would fall into this category and should not be considered EaaS.

To create a true ‘as a service’ offering, you must go beyond the OPEX payment method and focus more on the value-added service provided. For instance, a company that traditionally sells air compressors as a capital expense [CAPEX] purchase can now offer ‘compressed air as a service’, in other words, cubic meters of compressed air consumed. Included in the ‘as a service’ fee, the original equipment manufacturer [OEM] provides the compressor, on-site maintenance services, remote services, air treatment systems and logistics services. This fits the longer-term industry trend of OEMs shifting from selling units to selling consumption.

What challenges does this present to IE manufacturers?

VG: Running a business according to these new rules is fundamentally different from the traditional capex model that IE manufacturers have been used to. In fact, there’s an exhaustive list of challenges.

Customers are increasingly wanting IE firms to not only make, sell and ship great products, but to own and sometimes even operate them, and to assist them in achieving the return on investment that was promised in the original sales call. This is what we mean by ‘equipment as a service’ (EaaS).

The old way of working saw IE manufacturers receive at least 80% of their revenue from the customer upfront. But now the whole economic engine is changing. The risk is shifting to the manufacturer, and now they have to install their product and provide demonstrable success before there’s any chance of getting paid.

Ultimately, this is a change of huge proportions, which will have a significant financial and cultural impact.

What are the key areas of focus for IE companies looking to succeed with this new way of working?

VG: First,IE manufacturers need to put a greater onus on ensuring their products are of the highest quality. After all, if something goes wrong, it’s now on them to fix it.

But that’s not all. Perhaps most importantly, they need to embrace owning technology and get to grips with everything from sensors and telemetry through to data analytics – key things which are imperative to their success.

It’s the evolution of these digital technologies that is both enabling transformation and driving disruption all at the same time. Low-cost sensors, for example, have opened the door to getting greater value from EaaS, since they offer a way for IE firms to monitor, track and measure what their equipment is doing. As a result, equipment manufacturers are rushing to incorporate sensors in all of their products, primarily with a focus on monitoring product performance.

Does the change from sell to sense-and-respond change the challenge and the opportunity?

VG: The hard part is connecting these sensors, not only with the cloud, but with each other, allowing devices to communicate with one another within a single operating environment, or to ‘home base’ [the manufacturer] to report performance in real-time. This enables suppliers to move beyond monitoring of the physical product and create value-added services based on insights gathered from device usage data.

Utilizing these insights effectively will be the key to success. The advent of low-cost storage allows companies to collect and store more data, which can then be used to help identify equipment failures, predict when a failure will occur and provide insights on the optimal operating environment.

These monetization opportunities are the reason why the data collected from sensors will ultimately become more valuable than the physical product itself. With this in mind, I believe that those IE manufacturers that will experience the biggest success will be those that implement a digital platform so that they can close the gaps on digital transformation and manage everything all from one place.

How do you see EaaS evolving in the future? Will the traditional product-selling model disappear?

VG: Unfortunately, I think IE manufacturers will need to do both – essentially, they need to meet the demands of their customers, whatever they may be. Some customers will always want to own their own equipment, but I definitely see a time where EaaS becomes a more favorable option for many. It’s also possible that we will move toward a hybrid model, where vendors sell their product for a lower fixed price and then they get additional revenue on usage.

Vele Galovski, Vice President, Support and Field Services Research, Technology & Services Industry Association (TSIA)

For more than 30 years, Vele Galovski has driven business model transformation in a diverse set of industries, including technology, financial services and business services. At California-based TSIA,  the world's leading research organization dedicated to helping technology companies achieve profitable growth and solve their top business challenges, he enables companies to transition from traditional capital expenditure (CAPEX) to annual recurring revenue (ARR) business models based on value realization and improved customer business outcomes.

Discover how to keep your operations running smoothly and expand after-sales revenue potential,

Next-gen nuclear

Analyzing real-world data in virtual twins helps Kairos Power accelerate clean energy development

Dan Headrick
31 March 2021

3 min read

Microsoft cofounder-turned-sustainability-advocate Bill Gates recently called nuclear power the world’s best hope for generating enough net-zero-carbon power to meet global energy demand by the UN target date of 2050. Compass talked with Lou Martinez Sancho, executive vice president of Strategy & Innovation for Alameda, California-based Kairos Power, about the company’s work to commercialize a new generation of nuclear technology – fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactors – using rapid prototyping and iterations alongside virtual technology to accelerate the demonstration of real hardware.

Compass: KP-FHR advanced nuclear reactor technology entails completely novel design-build models. Please talk about the scale and scope of innovation required for that kind of undertaking.

Lou Martinez Sancho: We have observed that the conventional nuclear development cycle is very long and slow, and very capital intensive. The conventional cycle is ‘plan, design, build, test,’ which is common for other industries. But what is very difficult in nuclear is that you create kind of an endless cycle between ‘plan-design, plan-design,’ and at the end we have a lot of paper-designed reactors. In the industry we call them ‘paper reactors,’ because we have never built them.

So, at Kairos we asked, ‘How can we move forward from that plan-and-design cycle into really building?’ When we begin construction and manufacturing, that is where the real problems become visible, allowing us to solve problems while building solutions.

We learn from testing on pieces of hardware that we have designed and built, and introduce those learnings in the next iteration. This is a huge disruption in the nuclear industry. We are mirroring SpaceX, as we have looked closely at how they improved and accelerated their development phase.

Kairos Power’s technology includes never-before attempted features that demand rapid feedback testing and experimental evidence, proving they work as expected. How do you use virtual modeling in that process?

LMS: Fail fast so you learn fast. That’s the philosophy of rapid learning.

We are in a game-changing situation on the innovation side, and those [virtual] tools have improved tremendously in recent years. We find value in virtual models when coupled with physical hardware. If you want to avoid that cycle of ‘plan and design,’ our approach of leveraging multiple design-build-test cycles with nuclear and non-nuclear systems allow us to link real data into the virtual models. Linking real-world demonstrations with virtual models allows us to develop physical systems that are parallel with their digital counterparts.

In my experience, if there is not a strong connection between the building you are doing and its virtual or digital counterpart, you don’t get the benefit of either.

Top image: The Engineering Test Unit Demonstration Experiment (ETUDE) test stand in Kairos Power’s Alameda Rapid Analysis, Prototyping and Iterative Design Laboratory (R-Lab) validates integral hydrodynamics performance and pebble fuel recirculation methods. (Image © Kairos Power)
The Engineering Test Unit Demonstration Experiment (ETUDE) test stand in Kairos Power’s Alameda Rapid Analysis, Prototyping and Iterative Design Laboratory (R-Lab) validates integral hydrodynamics performance and pebble fuel recirculation methods. (Image © Kairos Power)

What about shifting market factors? How does that enter into the rapid iteration process?

LMS: The data virtual twins receive from our physical systems allow us to shorten the design duration, the qualifications, the reviews, the manufacturing and operating costs, and they support the licensing. And, of course, it helps us to understand the market requirements.

"For me, virtual twins and simulations are the perfect tools for leveraging the most out of rapid iterations and rapid prototyping.”

Right now, we are seeing a huge growth in renewable energy as the movement towards a more distributed and decarbonized energy system continues gaining traction. Therefore, small modular reactors – and the KP-FHR – will fit neatly with intermittent renewable energy systems. The fact that we are utilizing a rapid iterative approach allows us to keep introducing requirements into the design. For me, virtual twins and simulations are the perfect tools for leveraging the most out of rapid iterations and rapid prototyping.

LMS: Data is an asset, and it is for any company. But for us even more so because a key part of Kairos Power’s future success is our ability to learn, retain and transfer knowledge efficiently and effectively. The only way to do that is by building a learning organization, and that’s why data is critical for us. SpaceX generates terabytes of data a day. That’s why they were able to develop their programs in such a disruptive way.

Right now, we are constructing very big pieces of hardware. What we are able to learn from that construction phase, we can introduce into the next iteration.

That’s where we are currently. Everything is linked to the real hardware Kairos Power is building and manufacturing. It is very important to build things, and those [virtual] tools help us to be more agile and accelerate quickly. The real strength of virtual twins come from data provided by a physical build.

Lou Martinez Sancho, Executive Vice President, Strategy & Innovation for Kairos Power

For more than 20 years, Lou Martinez Sancho has led teams in various industries including biotech, energy, automotive, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC). Her goal at Kairos Power: To enable the world’s transition to clean energy with nuclear-generated power that is clean, affordable and safe.

Read more about how the energy and materials industry is aiming to reduce its carbon footprint

Virtual humans

Clinical care is ripe for transformation – and a 3D human model could provide the spark

Lindsay James
18 February 2021

6 min read

Virtual models of the human heart, brain and lungs have advanced to a point that life sciences innovators now believe it is possible to take the next step: a full virtual twin of the human body. Compass examines how such a model could launch a renaissance in clinical care.

What if it were possible for physicians to virtually analyze their patients’ health and simulate treatments or surgery using the same advanced technology that automotive engineers use to crash-test cars before they are built? What if medical devices and pharmaceuticals could be designed and safely tested virtually, at a fraction of the time and cost required by safety considerations in the real world?

These scenarios could be possible – and sooner than you might think – thanks to the advancement of virtual twin technology, applying knowledge developed in the non-organic world of manufacturing to the challenges of organic life. In fact, significant progress has already been made in creating virtual twins of humans, starting with a variety of major human organs.

At the heart of the matter

The Living Heart Project, for example, launched in 2014, has brought together cardiovascular researchers, educators, medical device developers, regulatory agencies and practicing cardiologists to develop a highly accurate and fully functioning digital model of the complete human heart – and apply it to improving outcomes for actual human patients.

Dr. David Hoganson, a doctor of medicine, assistant in the Department of Cardiac Surgery and director of the Computational 3D Visualization Program at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, is already seeing huge benefits of the project. “We are able to create patient-specific models from the segmentation of actual 3D images, either from CT scans or MRIs,” he said. “Using these models, physicians can simulate the blood flow under different conditions – during anesthesia, or after food and/or exercise for example.”

Parents of a child with a ventricular septal defect are helped to understand his upcoming surgery through a 3D model of his heart on a holographic 3D screen. (Image © Boston Children’s Hospital)

Surgeons at Boston Children’s Hospital also have used the technology to plan an operation virtually – ensuring the right approach is chosen prior to actual surgery. “And that’s not all: the models are proving to be incredibly useful for education,” Hoganson said. “Paper drawings do not do justice to the complexity of heart diseases but, until recently, these are what we have used to teach a patient’s family about their condition and necessary procedures. It is much easier with a 3D model. Now parents can even put on 3D glasses and interact with holographic representations of their child’s heart.”

Meanwhile, Cristina Pop, a clinical research assistant at McGill University in Montreal, is using the living heart model to understand the impact of COVID-19 on people with heart conditions.

“COVID-19 presents a higher risk of severe cardiovascular complications, such as cardiac arrhythmia and heart failure,” Pop said. “At the same time, people with existing cardiovascular diseases are at higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. To understand disease progression, and identify patients at higher risk of cardiac complication, we modeled a number of patients with underlying conditions. The beauty of 3D modeling is that this can be done in a non-invasive way, and with great accuracy. We have been able to simulate, with acceptable accuracy, heart failure progression and develop a better picture of patients’ cardiac status.”

“We are able to create patient-specific models from the segmentation of actual 3D images, either from CT scans or MRIs."

Dr. David Hoganson, Boston Children’s Hospital

Belgian digital health tech firm FEops, meanwhile, developed a digital twin-based pre-operative planning platform for structural heart interventions.

“Physicians traditionally rely on medical imaging to make decisions on where to place implants and what size to use,” said Matthieu De Beule, FEops’ CEO. “This is an inefficient process, requiring time-consuming preoperative planning – and potentially resulting in sub-optimal implant size and position. There’s logically a big risk of complication if things go wrong. Our solution, using virtual representations of individual patients’ hearts, has far greater accuracy and has the potential to reduce both pre-operative planning and procedure time.”

FEops pre-operative planning platform for structural heart interventions is based on a virtual twin. (Video © FEops)

Building on success

The Living Heart Project demonstrated the power of the virtual twin to combine and apply cross-disciplinary experience – creating a path to virtually model other organs and systems in the body, starting with the brain and then moving to the lungs.

Successful modeling of the brain has facilitated work by India-based technology company BrainSightAI.

“Using virtual representations of individual patients’ hearts has far greater accuracy and has the potential to reduce both pre-operative planning and procedure time.”

Matthieu De Beule, CEO, FEops

“One in six people suffers from brain-related disorders around the world – at a projected cost of $16.3 trillion between now and 2030,” said Laina Emmanuel, BrainSightAI’s CEO and co-founder. “That’s a higher cost than cancer and even chronic respiratory diseases. Brain-related disorders are often a race against time, and long-term hospitalization rates are high.”

Virtual brain models, however, offer significant possibilities, Emmanuel said. “Using resting-state MRI scans, we can design, calibrate and validate brain models to explore the interplay of structural and functional contributors to brain disorders. It’s non-invasive, so very apt for non-cooperative patients such as those in a coma. When teamed with artificial intelligence, we are building a new paradigm for diagnosis and treatment.”

Mona Eskandari, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and the BREATHE center at the University of California, Riverside, sees potential in creating virtual models of the human lung.
 
“COVID-19 in particular has revealed the vulnerable underbelly of lung mechanics; but even before that, lung fatalities were a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide,” Eskandari said. “Diagnoses of lung conditions often come down to trial and error, despite early prevention and intervention being key to improving patient outcomes. Moreover, lung diseases cost billions in the US alone.”

Building on the Living Heart Project by replicating its success with human lungs could save lives and significantly reduce these burdens, she said.

“By mirroring the Living Heart Project to focus on the lungs, we can understand where particles from inhalers land, for example. We can understand the pressures put on the lung by ventilators – helping us to devise optimal ventilation strategies informed by tissue mechanics. And as in our recent investigations, we can also understand the continuous evolutionary behavior of a lung and compare local measures with global mechanics.”

Toward the virtual human

Great strides also have been made in using virtual twins to model other parts of the body, including kidneys, feet, skin, cells and the digestive tract. Researchers hope that, over time, these separate models could be combined to create a complete virtual human. They also dream of cohort models – an approach that follows a selection of patients with a shared characteristic over a period of time – defined at the population level. When combined with machine learning, these models could inform novel approaches and help patients get the best available treatment for their specific genetic makeup.

Virtual clinical trials for new medical device designs are just one possible application for such a “system of systems.” The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is beginning Year Two of a five-year project that will culminate in an in silico clinical trial using the Living Heart model to create a focus group of virtual patients.

Their goal is to define a new, more efficient method to achieve regulatory approval, while reducing the burden on animal and human testing,” said Hoganson of Boston Children’s Hospital. "It has the potential to reduce human trials from years to days. It has been a tremendous effort so far – and we are excited about the future.”

A 3D cardiovascular reconstruction (Image © Boston Children’s Hospital)

The result is a new digital process, which is intended to be more efficient and less expensive than current ones – which involve lengthy patient selection, recruitment and retention together with cumbersome managing and monitoring processes, and often result in delays and costs which can impede patient access to novel treatments – without losing rigor or confidence in a device’s safety and efficacy.

“Modeling and simulation can help to inform clinical trial designs, support evidence of effectiveness, identify the most relevant patients to study, and assess product safety,” said Tina Morrison, Deputy Director in the Division of Applied Mechanics, Office of Science and Engineering Labs, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, FDA in a press release. “In some cases, in silico clinical trials have already been shown to produce similar results as human clinical trials.”

And this is just the start. The experts believe that the sum of these projects has become a showcase example for the transformative power of the virtual twin for healthcare. No longer do they question ‘if’ it is possible to create realistic virtual physiological human models, they ask ‘how’ and ‘when.’

The transformational power of digital

The ultimate goal? To bring a renaissance to clinical care.

“The vision behind creating a virtual twin of a human is to advance the development of personalized medicine,” said Natacha De Paola, professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Digital Medical Engineering & Technology Research and Education Center at Illinois Tech.

The logic is clear. Current methods for analyzing a patient’s health and planning the best therapies and surgeries are time-consuming, error-prone and expensive. They often involve several specialists and technicians across many sectors to plan, execute and manage the patient’s care. In most cases, those experts are limited in their ability to share a full picture of the patient’s situation. By bringing all these stakeholders and key components together in the virtual world, via a virtual human, silos will fall and  collaboration will improve.

“We are heading for a fully digitalized healthcare system that sees a virtual twin complementing electronic medical records and serving as a guide for precise and individual treatment,” De Paola said. “To get there we will need to continue to bring together research communities, device and drug development companies, clinical care teams and citizens. We need a skilled and agile workforce, teamed with multi-scale, multidimensional and multifunctional systems.”

While the goal is ambitious – almost daunting – De Paola is confident the medical profession has enough determination to reach it.

“2020 was a transformational year, engineering a number of huge breakthroughs,” she said. “The Living Heart Project opened the door to not only the Living Lung and the Living Brain, but to models of many elements of human physiology. But it’s just the beginning. Now it’s time to open the door to the digital human.”

Discover more about the potential of virtual twins of humans

Read how Dassault Systèmes Patrick Johnson believes virtual twins of humans will help usher in an era of personalized medicine

A new healthcare reference

Virtual twins of humans are a catalyst to achieving personalized medicine

Patrick Johnson

2 min read

Improving human health relies on gaining new levels of understanding of the human body. Nearly 50 years after the dawn of the digital revolution, the power of the virtual world is now reaching the realms of biology and medicine with the objective of delivering personalized treatments, cures and patient care.  

The promises of personalized medicine are numerous and very ambitious: therapeutics tailored to target a specific disease for a specific patient, surgery and interventions designed to fit their specific anatomy, devices and prosthesis engineered or printed on demand.

Personalized medicine is about smarter treatments for individuals. Healthcare is a lifelong matter; we stand in the age of multiple, targeted experiences of medical practices that evolve and vary as we age. We are now getting closer to personalized healthcare, thanks to the rise of virtual twins: a holistic and integrative representation all facets of an individual’s health that, over time, is tuned by observations and measurements performed in the real world, also factoring in that person's medical history and environmental exposures.

For more than 40 years, digital mockups and virtual twins have profoundly transformed the industrial world of engineering and production, revolutionizing how manufacturing companies in aerospace, automotive and shipbuilding design, optimize and produce complex products. Now, those same deep scientific and technological disruptions are being applied to the living world, creating an integrative reference of personal health information for citizens, patients, cohorts and health systems.

As our understanding of human biology, physiology, biomechanics and pharmacology improves, virtual twins will become more precise, predictable and usable 

As our understanding of human biology, physiology, biomechanics and pharmacology improves, virtual twins will become more precise, predictable and usable with modeling, simulation and information intelligence allowing common understanding between professionals, enabling an easy way to run "what if" scenarios and leading to precision medical decisions. Many therapeutic areas (cardiology, neurology, orthopedics, pulmonary systems) are already starting to showcase these major innovations, with patients being treated in unique and unprecedented ways.

The virtual twin paradigm represents a new approach to combatting complexity, connecting knowledge and know-how from various disciplines and enabling new levels of medical collaboration and practices. Indeed, more then ever, modern healthcare needs to rely on cooperation between many fragmented therapeutic domains and siloed medical expertises. In its current state, it fails to entirely capture the patient condition as a whole, with a person's complete diseases and treatments history. Care teams have limited means to share information, and research discoveries rarely fully connect with observational insights from bedside care. By going beyond document-based heterogeneous health records, virtual twins intend to address these challenges, by offering a 360-degree experiential view of a patient’s health and finally enabling true collaboration within the medical community. This has the potential to evolve practitioners' standard of care practices (precision and personalized surgery, medicine, prevention) but also to radically streamline patients’ journeys, which are today the suboptimal result of many disconnected segments.

These advancements deliver on the promise of patient-centric digital health and have the power to transform all aspects of the current healthcare system. By providing a 360-degree view of a person’s condition, virtual twins' ambition is to be the catalyst of a fundamental societal shift: from a document-based, fragmented health records practice to an experiential, integrative and collaborative care practice; from one size-fits-all medicine to precision medicine; from siloed segments of a patient journey to a “follow the citizen” / continuous health journey; and from a cure-oriented approach to a care-oriented, citizen health-centered and prevention-based approach.

Patrick Johnson is Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy & Research, Dassault Systèmes

Discover more about the promise of virtual twins in revolutionizing healthcare.

Allies for good

Companies discover that collaborating multiplies their sustainability progress

Jacqui Griffiths
10 February 2021

5 min read

To meet the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, businesses are setting ambitious targets. Increasingly, however, businesses are realizing that while solitary efforts are good, combining their efforts delivers outsized results.

Environmental sustainability is a core commitment for Amcor, a global packaging provider, and Veolia, a French transnational specialist in waste, water and energy management. As part of its work to enable a circular economy, for instance, Amcor is using virtual modeling to devise and test packaging materials that work best for consumers and recycling systems around the world. Meanwhile, to accomplish the same goal, Veolia is applying artificial intelligence and launching packaging design collaboration services to help manufacturers design ecological products and optimize end-of-life sorting and recyclability.

The companies’ shared goal of a circular economy is one example of accelerating progress toward meeting UN SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, along with SDGs targeting climate change, sustainable cities, ecosystem protection and economic growth. And, as Amcor and Veolia demonstrate, aligning efforts across the entire product lifecycle will help achieve the SDGs faster.

“Responsible packaging is part of the answer,” said David Clark, vice president for sustainability at Amcor. “But there also needs to be a recycling infrastructure and support via consumer and societal attitudes and behavior.”

One major obstacle is the lack of communication channels among companies and industries that have not interacted before. Amcor and Veolia, for example, traditionally operate at opposite ends of the product lifecycle. While both companies are seeking to create a more circular model, each company has approached the sustainability challenge exclusively from its own perspective.

“We need to connect the design of a product to its end of life but, at the moment, those two worlds don’t interact much,” said Sébastien Flichy, innovation and valorization vice-president at Veolia France. “Questions about the product’s end-of-life management, such as its composition and size, which affect how it can be sorted through the recycling process, are not clearly examined during product design. We need a co-construction approach in which the end of life is considered during product design.”

But Amcor and Veolia are not alone in rising to the challenge. Both companies partner with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a nonprofit network based in the UK that brings together organizations and resources from different disciplines to promote a circular economy. In fact, in every industry and for every sustainability challenge, a nonprofit organization like this exists, focused on facilitating multi-disciplinary collaboration to get real results.

Creating a common understanding

Frontrunners among these nonprofit networks include Circle Economy, Business for Social Responsibility and the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI). Each is focused on bringing together multiple perspectives and empowering businesses to develop and work toward shared sustainability goals.

“No individual company can meet their sustainability goals alone,” said Luis Neves, CEO of GeSI, an organization based in Brussels that connects information and communication technology companies to collaborate on social and environmental sustainability. “After all, the world’s services, systems, data, software and people are interdependent. From recognizing the wants and needs of customers to being sharply aware of one’s value chains and supply chains — understanding one’s role in the larger ecosystem is key to minimizing risks and working efficiently.”

Collaborating with competitors, and with industries they would not normally interact with, can be a major hurdle for companies – especially when each participant has different views on what sustainability means for their business. By establishing standards that work for each link of the value chain, GeSI provides the neutral dynamic companies need to contribute toward shared objectives and create smarter solutions.

“Our biggest challenge lies in avoiding duplication and unnecessary competition between organizations,” Neves said. “This requires a clear understanding from them that it is in the interest of all parties to work together with a clear vision for the common good. We work to set out the vision and the rules in order to align on our common purpose and individual roles early on in the process, laying the foundations in a collaborative, transparent and inclusive manner. We work hard to ensure that everyone is kept accountable and the standards remain ambitious, keeping our organization credible and transparent.”

Amplied efforts

By embracing the interconnectivity of issues and benefits, GeSI and similar organizations empower businesses not only to work toward shared goals, but also to create feedback loops that continually inform and inspire their innovation toward a sustainable future.

“Having a single environment for collaboration, such as our member-driven working groups focused on sustainability-oriented projects, can act as an amplifier,” Neves said. “It can take the ideas, strategies and ambitions of different companies and synergize them for greater impact. Because there is no single large stakeholder, it provides an opportunity to focus on thought leadership and strategy work that benefits all.”

"Understanding one’s role in the larger ecosystem is key to minimizing risks and working efficiently.”

Luis Neves, CEO of GeSI

A recent GeSI project points to the power of those feedback loops in action. The organization joined the Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP), which includes the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the Green Electronics Council, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) and the World Economic Forum to develop a unified vision and roadmap toward circularity for information and communications technology companies (ICT).

“Our relationship with CEP has enabled our members to engage in productive discussions with members of other organizations around the world, to compare their circularity programs, share knowledge to address sector-wide challenges and raise sustainability ambitions,” Neves said. “As a result of our initial work with CEP, our members took the initiative to develop an internal report and explore the activities of GeSI companies in order to support their individual strategies. It’s an example of how our external work can influence our internal programs.”

Tackling complex challenges

Sustainability presents increasingly complex challenges for businesses. Facilitating the communications agreements and activities that will bridge the gaps among industries that have never before interacted requires a combination of human and technological capabilities.

“People will request more traceability throughout the product lifecycle to ensure quality and regulatory compliance, and we’re likely to see technologies like blockchain playing an important role in enabling that,” Veolia's Flichy said. “Another key challenge is the need to share more data. Today’s collaborative efforts are just the beginning. There is a growing need to increase collaboration and co-construction and to think about the complementarity of different solutions so we can find a path toward sustainability.”

“Our biggest challenge lies in avoiding duplication and unnecessary competition between organizations,”

Luis Neves, CEO of GeSI

But there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Knowledge architecture for a circular economy, a 2020 article by Circle Economy, a US-based organization that works with businesses and cities to drive transition toward a circular economy, identified a delicate balance that must be struck to ensure that systems and processes apply equally well in different contexts and for different regions.

“As global appetite for circularity grows, efforts to translate circular knowledge, frameworks and data into digital tools can increase access for a wider audience,” the report states. “This can aid analysis, decision making and progress monitoring. We see the volume of such tools and databases for circularity growing. [However,] if the digital tools are going to realize their full potential, then we need a common understanding of what those frameworks represent, even in different languages.”

While achieving sustainability collaboration across disparate industries is a daunting goal, sharing knowledge across industries is contributing toward progress.

“The big change that’s required, and which we’re starting to see, is a shift toward systems thinking, whether it’s in terms of product design, how we use products or supply chain,” Amcor’s Clark said. “The switch we’re seeing from a linear system where everyone plays their own part, to everyone thinking in a circular manner, is really going to be the cultural and knowledge change that enables true sustainability.”


Five leading nonprofit sustainability organizations

Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)

A global network of member companies, cross-sector collaborative initiatives, and grant-funded partnerships, BSR seeks to ensure that no company is alone in addressing sustainability challenges.

Circle Economy

Works with a global community of cities, businesses and governments to accelerate the practical and scalable implementation of the circular economy.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Works with business, academia, policymakers and institutions around the world to develop and promote the idea of a circular economy and mobilize systems solutions at scale.

Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)

Facilitates collaboration toward solutions to real-world issues within the information and communications technology (ICT) industry and the greater sustainability community.

United Nations Global Compact

The world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative encourages businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation. It brings companies together with UN agencies and other organizations such as labor groups, NGOs and community and faith-based associations.

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