A new healthcare reference

Virtual twins of humans are a catalyst to achieving personalized medicine

Patrick Johnson
18 February 2021

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.

Design for life

Designing for sustainability integrates humanity with nature

Anne Asensio
3 February 2021

2 min read

 Design aims to improve our lives by connecting us more closely with the world and everything in it. As we face the vulnerability imposed by the pandemic, human-driven design has never been more relevant. We need tools, processes and the environment to readily connect technology and innovation in sustainable design.

We anticipated an environmental crisis of the future, but the pandemic brought it immediately home to us. We faced vulnerability, and suddenly had to act to sustain our lives now.

We thought that we had the technology and knew how to use it. However, the pandemic turned that belief upside down. Extremely personalized human issues of survival and comfort presented themselves. To address them, we needed the perspective from the real, natural world, not from our artificial human-crafted one.  For designers, that means their empathetic, human-centered approach is more relevant than ever.

Design’s purpose has always been to improve people’s lives by humanizing technology and the built environment; not just the physical, but the emotional, psychological and symbolic, too. The designer’s journey is a deep dive looking closely at our humanity, contradictions and complexities. In designers, people are the material of transformation.

The Design Studio I lead has an initiative called Design for Life. It consolidates design research, insights and best practices to allow a new form of design practices to emerge – more sustainable ones.

We seek to forge a new perspective with tool kits, methodologies and social guidance, and apply this new perspective using a collaborative virtual design platform to facilitate the transformational journey of designers. With a rich and inclusive space for collaboration, the platform creates effective dialogue between design and science and reinforces a human-centered design approach for more sustainable impacts.

Design already incorporates substantial methodology; but designers like to experiment with new tools and prove the value to themselves. Designers also engage collectively in co-design activities with others, requiring a more diverse workflow, and that often leads to new, unexpected outcomes.

What is missing today are easily accessible, everyday tools that show designers the impacts of their designs on society and the environment. With its focus on people and collaboration, the platform for virtual design pulls us into an environment for sense-able (based on attributes of our human senses) and sustainable design. It accesses the emotional through tools that include emotional mapping and mood boards, along with science and engineering – which empirically prove if the senses are accurate.

Wherever gaps or disconnects appear when we connect technology and humanity, we must use human behaviors to guide those moments – how people think, feel and act. When we do that, it opens up surprising new intersections that turn imprecise inputs and fuzzy logic into well-defined actions for smart, creative design decisions.

This is the new domain and playground of the sustainable design practitioner, the role of someone who brings together the concepts of human-driven design, but also thinks about “If?” and “Why?” a design should be done from multiple perspectives. Those are very important questions – more than the foundation of creating a design, and never more relevant a tool kit and a methodology for the sustainable journey of design.

Anne Asensio is Vice President, Design Experience at Dassault Systèmes

Space, commercialized

Private industry pushes into space, aiming to reinvent everyday life and interplanetary travel

Tony Velocci
27 January 2021

4 min read

Space was once the exclusive domain of national governments. Now it is fast becoming an arena for private enterprise, ushering in a new era forged by visionary, risk-taking entrepreneurs. Welcome to the New Space.

The commercial space industry – a field that industry players refer to as New Space – has expanded more than 70% in the past decade. Space Foundation, a US non-profit advocate for the global space industry, estimates its current value at more than US$425 billion. By 2040, it could be a US$1.5 trillion industry, a recent Morgan Stanley study estimates.

One indicator of the rapid growth curve in New Space: at the beginning of 2020, dozens of companies were manufacturing “smallsats”— satellites about the size of large kitchen refrigerators — with hundreds of additional startups exploring opportunities across the multifaceted domain.

“Although entrepreneurs, strategic partnerships and venture capitalists have been leading the charge on funding, the long-term success of the space economy will require a self-sufficient ecosystem,” said Adam Jones, Global Head of Auto and Shared Mobility at Morgan Stanley.

To illustrate the trend, Compass has charted a visual, virtual journey through the New Space universe. All aboard! Liftoff!

Click here to discover solutions for accelerating and improving developments in New Space.

Parts on demand

How Xometry leveraged a B2B marketplace to backfill disrupted supply chains

William J. Holstein
6 January 2021

5 min read

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced manufacturers worldwide to find new suppliers for crucial parts, many of their online searches led to on-demand, custom-manufacturing specialist Xometry. Compass spoke with Bill Cronin, chief revenue officer, and Hunter Guerin, product manager, about how Xometry’s involvement in an online B2B parts marketplace helped the six-year-old company meet the global challenge.

Compass: How did Xometry get started?

Bill Cronin (Image © Xometry)

Bill Cronin: Our cofounder, Randy Altschuler, is a serial entrepreneur who got very interested in the world of manufacturing and how to help product designers get custom-manufactured parts while helping small manufacturers build their businesses. Xometry is all about helping connect supply and demand in custom manufacturing. Engineers and designers upload a CAD file of their part and we give them an instant price. Then, the part is delivered by one of the thousands of manufacturers on our network. It could be delivered by a machine shop in Idaho or one in China, based on the customer’s desired specifications.

How big a company is Xometry now?

BC: Our headquarters is in Maryland and we have offices in Los Angeles, Munich and Lexington, Kentucky. We are now close to 400 people and we continue to grow quickly.

This year, Xometry became “certified” by that online marketplace you mentioned. What does that mean?

Hunter Guerin (Image © Xometry)

Hunter Guerin: It means that it’s even easier for people to get an instant price quote from within the marketplace. They don’t even have to leave the platform where they design their part models to request a quote. We meet the customer where they are.

Because of our model, we have a wide range of services, including 3D printing, machining and sheet metal work, plus injection molding for plastics. We have customers that include BMW, General Electric, Bosch and Dell. Aside from automotive, we’re also active in the aerospace and medical fields.

BC: The other practical effect of becoming certified was that previously, customers could get instant pricing only for 3D printing or additive-manufactured parts. But, by adding our Computerized Numerically Controlled (CNC) capabilities, we were able to offer subtractive manufacturing as well. That’s important to many manufacturers. They’re looking for either metal or plastics for a certain job.

If designers and engineers can get prices on parts so quickly, what does that mean in practical terms?

HG: Everybody’s speed to market is getting faster. We spend a lot of time helping our customers understand the price of something while they are still designing it. That can be incredibly valuable knowledge. They can get feedback on manufacturability and go through different iterations of the part until they get it right. Then they click on a button and the part can be delivered as early as the next day.

And they’re better able to respond to disruptions like the pandemic?

BC: Yes. Xometry’s distributed manufacturing approach has been well-suited for a year of supply chain disruption. We first saw the disruption in China during January and February when many companies were unable to get the orders. So companies in Europe and the US were looking to quickly reshore a significant amount of work.

We had aerospace companies, for example, trying to gear up to work on COVID-related projects like temperature-measurement devices or ventilator parts or masks. We worked with a company called ClearMask. It got started with a woman who couldn’t understand doctors speaking to her through masks during surgery, so she designed a mask that would allow her to hear them better. They’re now selling millions of these masks.

“Everybody’s speed to market is getting faster. We spend a lot of time helping our customers understand the price of something while they are still designing it. That can be incredibly valuable knowledge.”

Hunter Guerin, Xometry

To do things like this, companies had to rapidly build new supply chains for high-demand products and learn to manufacture them very quickly. They needed immediate access to capacity. In some cases we even used multiple manufacturing facilities to maximize speed.

We’ve also helped our small manufacturers survive by helping them with their cash flow. This summer we started providing a payment card to provide payment for 30% of a job upfront when one of our manufacturers takes a job. This gives them the flexibility to buy needed materials to do the job without affecting their cashflow. It’s been very well received by our manufacturers.

Sounds like Xometry’s presence on the marketplace was exactly the right concept at the right time.

BC: Distributed manufacturing, flexibility of supply chains and being able to buy things online are all trends that were already happening, but they have accelerated in a massive way this year.

What other examples can you cite of things you’ve been able to achieve recently?

HG: There was a big trade show recently, and the organizers wanted to unveil special wheelchairs for children that were dressed out like superheroes. The chairs were souped up to become experiences that brighten someone’s day. The project was called Magic Wheelchair. But 24 hours before the show was scheduled to open, on a Sunday, the wheelchair maker realized a supplier was not going to be able to make the delivery date. So we got the specs and put it out on our network and had the parts printed and delivered the next day, before the wheelchairs were scheduled to be presented. We got it done over a weekend.

How can you do this so quickly? A great amount of technical detail must be exchanged among a customer, yourselves and a manufacturer to get a real, binding price quote, right?

BC: The communication between customers and Xometry for file exchanges is seamless. The marketplace has a tool, a communications section, on every request. We are able to reach out to a customer to ask questions about their order. You can exchange screen grabs of a model. If you need to collaborate on design changes to make the model manufacturable, you can do that easily in the comment thread.

HG: We have a team of dedicated engineers we call customer-happiness and customer-success representatives, who work with customers through that tool on the marketplace. Then, after the order is placed, the customer receives status updates, such as a tracking number when the parts ship. We’ve connected all that seamlessly to our own internal processes to automate the transfer of status updates from our internal system into the marketplace.

Roughly 20 years ago, automakers talked about creating a common computerized platform where they could source parts. And now it sounds like you and the marketplace are making that concept of a “frictionless marketplace” actually work.

BC: That’s fair to say. Our head of operations came from Magna [a Canadian automotive parts company]. When he first saw what we were doing, he said, “Wow, this is the type of stuff we’ve been trying to do for years.” He was amazed at the speed we were able to add to the process.  What used to take days and weeks took only seconds, and the prices were very low.

HG: We’re addressing issues that have been there for years. Our ability, via the marketplace, to help condense those time periods and bring pricing into the process earlier makes designers even smarter about the ultimate cost of what they are designing. We’re not just providing the price. We’re going to find the capacity within our network. There may be a lot of people who can make the part, but can they start on it today?

How does machine learning fit into what you’re doing? Have advances in the artificial intelligence field helped advance what you’re doing?

BC: We have highly sophisticated machine learning that chooses which suppliers a project is presented to, based on their capabilities and behavior. We are, in effect, predicting the price that we expect from our network based on a range of data, including the behavior of manufacturers who have done parts like this in the past. We are constantly improving our algorithms. Every time people come in and use us, our process is getting smarter and smarter.

Click here to read online marketplace expert Benoit Schildknecht explain how the experiences of industrial buyers during the COVID-19 pandemic may change sourcing forever.

A better way to buy

How online marketplaces have won fans during the pandemic

Benoit Schildknecht

3 min read

When industrial buyers ventured online in search of new suppliers to replace those shut down by the pandemic, they discovered benefits that exceeded that limited goal. Online marketplace expert Benoit Schildknecht explains how their experiences may change sourcing forever.

Online consumer marketplaces – the Amazons and Alibabas of the world – helped keep many households going through the early months of the pandemic. Even people who had never shopped online gave it a try, and most were pleasantly surprised by the ease of the experience.

But what of businesses? When companies’ default suppliers of widgets and ball bearings shut down, where did their purchasing agents turn? Like neophyte consumers, many went online. And what they found was far more valuable than temporary replacements for shutdown suppliers.

Consider the case of an online business marketplace geared to companies that design and manufacture products. Many studies have shown that 80% of the cost of a product is determined during the design stage. Typically, though, designers don’t know how much the parts they are designing will cost to make or buy. Unless they are incorporating parts they have used before, they must wait until Purchasing can collect quotes from suppliers to know if they have hit the target on cost.

“When the pandemic struck many buyers flocked to online marketplaces, searching for new suppliers to replace those forced to shut down. What they found, however, was a better way to buy.” 

If, as usually happens, the quotes submitted to Purchasing show that the product will cost more to make than the market will bear, it’s back to the drawing board to re-design the product and lower the cost. The minimum delay in such cases is at least two weeks – more if hitting the right price targets requires more than one re-design and re-bid. Suddenly, a new-product introduction schedule that once seemed reasonable becomes impossible, jeopardizing the product’s market potential.

Instead, what if a designer’s CAD software were connected to an online marketplace that could quote the cost of a part design in real time? Then the designer would know immediately if the design would exceed the target cost, and could begin exploring cost-saving measures. Whatever the answer to the design challenge, the designer could know before releasing the design that the cost was on-target.

Digital 3D designs, online connectivity, and AI-powered estimating algorithms not only make this scenario possible – they have made it real. In many cases, those manufacturers who are providing the estimates will even suggest design changes to bring down the cost – online, in real time, and free of charge.

(Image © Dassault Systèmes)

Purchasing still plays its role, of course, negotiating the best possible price for the final design from a number of suppliers or manufacturers. Buyers can even use the marketplace to streamline that process, posting the part models and requesting quotes from multiple suppliers with a few simple clicks.

In fact, many business buyers discovered during the pandemic that they could have been buying their parts pre-pandemic at substantially lower prices via an online marketplace. How is this possible? A marketplace puts hundreds of vendors at a buyer’s fingertips, many more than a typical buyer can search out on their own. When a buyer can receive dozens of quotes in less time that it takes to get three the old-fashioned way, price savings often result.

The best marketplaces also will conduct much of a buyer’s normal due-diligence, pre-certifying the capabilities of each vendor, along with their reliability, financial health and legal status. Once a buyer receives bids and identifies a short list of potential vendors, they can conduct further reviews and negotiations, securely and privately, via the marketplace.

Custom design isn’t the only way a marketplace can help manufacturers. Just like Amazon, a B2B marketplace can offer massive selections of standard parts – in virtual form, as 3D CAD models – from hundreds of suppliers. Searching via key specifications for the part make it quick and easy to find just the right design. A designer can even add the 3D model for a part directly into their design, at no cost. If the part becomes part of the final design, Purchasing contacts the design owner to request a quote, or posts it for competitive bids.

When the pandemic struck, many product designers and B2B buyers flocked to online marketplaces out of necessity, searching for new suppliers to replace those forced to shut down. What they found, however, was a better way to buy, with more choice, closer proximity, and improved visibility into and control over the 80% of cost baked into a product at the design stage.

Discover how custom-manufacturing specialist Xometry leveraged the 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace during the COVID-19 pandemic to find new suppliers for crucial parts.

The power of purpose

Why purpose-driven brands achieve greater business success

Lindsay James
23 November 2020

3 min read

Organizations that build their businesses around a clear purpose achieve far more than financial performance. They also can foster greater workforce and customer satisfaction, and ultimately help build a better world for everyone.

In 1960, Colorado inventor and president of Herman Miller Research Robert Propst declared that “today’s office is a wasteland. It saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment. It is the daily scene of unfulfilled intentions and failed effort.”

Propst went on to spend the next eight years developing the Action Office system – the world’s first open-plan office system of reconfigurable components, embodying his purpose to create a healthier, more innovative and more productive workforce.

The system was an instant hit, transforming the design of workplaces worldwide and securing Herman Miller a leading position in the furniture industry. By the middle of the 20th century, the name Herman Miller had become synonymous with modern office furniture. Working with legendary designers George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames, the company produced pieces that became classics of industrial design.

In the 1960s, Herman Miller developed the Action Office system as the world’s first open-plan system of reconfigurable components, to create a healthier, more innovative and more productive workforce. (Image © Herman Miller)

Gabe Wing, director of sustainability at Herman Miller, credits the company’s ongoing success to its continued commitment to purpose. “Our purpose is to design for the good of humankind,” he said. “Being a purpose-driven company means you know why you come to work every day. No matter what your job title, you’re all working toward a common ‘why’.”

"Being a purpose-driven company means you know why you come to work every day. No matter what your job title, you’re all working toward a common ‘why’."

Gabe Wing, Director of Sustainability, Herman Miller

Purpose also fosters greater loyalty – from employees and consumers alike, Wing said. “When your employees are connected to a bigger purpose and are engaged, they give you their discretionary effort; they are willing to go above and beyond when called on. And your customers are buying more than product; they are choosing to support a brand and the idea of helping to create a better world.”


Canadian apparel business tentree also believes in the benefits of a purpose-driven approach. Described by CEO Derrick Emsley as “a tree-planting company first and an apparel brand second,” tentree commits to planting ten trees for each product sold.

The tentree message has resonated with consumers, helping company plant more than over 51million trees to date – and the response has been as beneficial for the company as the environment. “Our team tripled in size. In just five years we moved from printing a few t-shirts to more than 500,000 annually,” says Emsley in a case study.

Canadian apparel business tentree committed to plant ten trees for every single product sold. (Image © tentree)

Herman Miller and tentree aren't alone. A recent Deloitte study reports that purpose-driven companies benefit from higher market share gains and grow three times faster, on average, than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce satisfaction. In fact, a separate survey conducted by Deloitte found that 73% of employees who say they work at a purpose-driven company report being engaged by their work, compared to just 23% of those who don't.

In addition, 55% of consumers believe businesses today have a greater responsibility to act on issues related to their purpose. “If you couple that with data from our 2019 Global Millennial Survey, telling us Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to patronize and support companies that align with their values, you realize that customers and clients truly care about what a company and their brand stands for,” said Suzanne Kounkel, CMO of Deloitte (US).


of consumers believe businesses today have a greater responsibility to act on issues related to their purpose.

Purpose-driven firms also are more likely to thrive during challenging times – such as the COVID-19 pandemic. “One of my favorite quotes is from novelist James Lane Allen," Kounkel said. "He said ‘adversity does not build character, it reveals it.’ I think that rings true when it comes to purpose, and something we’ve seen play out during this global pandemic. In our current environment, companies needed to decide what their role should be, in both how they help and how they position themselves. The companies that get this right have really stood out as the ones who stayed true to their purpose.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Herman Miller manufactured PPE, including face masks and face shields, for its employees, so as not to impact the global supply. (Image © Herman Miller)

Indeed, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Herman Miller's purpose of design for the good of humankind led the company to provide frontline healthcare workers with immediately needed personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks and face shields. “We are also making PPE for our own employees to use, so we don't take away from the global supply,” said Wing.


With many companies demonstrating the power of purpose, Kounkel believes more firms than ever before are realizing that business success today depends on more than financial performance.

“In conversations with clients and peers, I’m observing a clear shift of stakeholders demanding action,” she said. “More and more. leading organizations are starting to embed purpose into their business strategies – and seeing greater success as a result. They are realizing that, at the end of the day, their job is to leave the world better than how they found it.”

Wing agrees. “I think we are in the midst of an exciting new journey,” he said. “As our family of brands grows and evolves, we will walk alongside our partners to lean on one another for the knowledge and insights that help us design something incredible: a better world for everyone.”

Facilitating a revolution

Data-driven integration transforms facilities management

Nick Lerner
13 November 2020

4 min read

While spectacular cityscapes demand attention, the almost invisible facilities management (FM) industry that maintains them – which Frost & Sullivan estimates will be valued at US$1 trillion by 2025 – is experiencing a quiet revolution. Compass spoke with François Amman, co-founder and co-president of Aden Group, one of Asia’s largest FM businesses, about how the industry is evolving.

COMPASS: Tell us a bit about Aden Group’s history, objectives and current work.

François Amman, Co-founder and Co-president, Aden Group

FRANÇOIS AMMAN: Since Aden was founded in 1997, we have grown to be a big player in China and Southeast Asia. We have a staff of 26,000, more than 2,000 customers and an extensive business and partnership network. Aden manages our clients’ non-core business aspects, helping them optimize operations, meet regulations and reduce environmental impacts of their built assets.

How would you recommend that building owners should view facilities management?

FA: The capital lifecycle cost of a building counts for 80% of its total cost, with 20% for initial construction. Clients often focus on design and construction and less on capital lifecycle. However, environmental regulations and market forces are pressuring building owners to reach more efficient energy and utility usage and improve their operational strategies and systems. This is a huge opportunity for FM and especially for Aden. We have been innovating with digitalization, using a connected and integrated enterprise platform.

Which aspects of FM tend to deliver the greatest benefits?  

FA: Integration, which very importantly includes the combination of services and technology. You can create huge value by digitalizing, linking and optimizing the many aspects of a building’s daily operations. Instead of putting every component into its own box – energy usage, asset performance, space management, employee and visitor comfort – you can use tools like our platform to get a much more comprehensive view of what is happening in the building, backed by hard numbers and data. That’s when you can really start creating workspaces that are more productive, efficient and sustainable.

“Making a 3D virtual twin at the conception stage lets us simulate the whole building and fine-tune operations before construction.”

How does a platform improve building maintenance and operations?

FA: We digitally integrate every asset and function of a building, but that only becomes useful when it is brought together on a single, unified platform that delivers the big picture and all its details.

Making a 3D virtual twin at the conception stage lets us simulate the whole building and fine-tune operations before construction. We can specify, optimize and maintain very efficient and productive systems and operations, while understanding exactly how it impacts energy consumption and maintenance productivity for the whole life of the building. For existing buildings, we retrofit.

Which types of customers see the greatest benefits?

FA: We work across many sectors, including commercial and government property, manufacturing and healthcare. Energy savings alone can be 20% up to 80%. For poorly built or badly managed situations, savings can be even higher. Each system that is integrated and optimized brings similar productivity and efficiency gains.

Aden Group uses dashboards to create data-driven facility monitoring cockpits like this one to follow operations and make adjustments as needed in real time. (Image © Aden Group)

Which data do you collect and reference?

FA: All equipment, such as elevators, pumps and other technical assets, is monitored, along with energy consumption, temperature, airflow and waste output. We also track people to understand where task optimization could save time and reduce worker fatigue. This enables streamlined workflows and better use of machines and assets to reduce costs.

How does data enhance predictability of maintenance and operations?

FA: Lifelike 3D simulations comprehensively reveal the often hidden or unknown reality of buildings – equipment age, maintenance history and condition. This lets us accurately predict and plan maintenance, because when data equals intelligence it points to requirements. Where previously maintenance was often random, we add efficiency and greater productivity because we know what needs fixing and when and how to efficiently carry it out.

Which processes can be automated?

FA: Automatic monitoring and control can be added to all equipment; and robots and drones can take over many tasks previously done by people.

In hospitals, for example, supplies and medical consumables can be non-contact delivered by robots deployed through the Internet of Things (IoT). These also collect data on the status of disinfecting, stock levels or building condition. This is of great value in lowering COVID-19 transmission through reduced human interactions. Monitoring and treating airflows to neutralize the virus is also of huge benefit.

What other lessons from the pandemic are being put into practice?

FA: A digital twin of two hospitals that were built in 10 days during the pandemic in Wuhan, China, in February 2020, incorporates all hospital equipment, workflows and associated team knowledge. The technology enables 3D simulations to demonstrate and prove long-term hospital operational concepts and practices and provide them to 25 governments around the world that are interested in rapidly building and running healthcare facilities. Each new hospital will take 150 days to build, with the first completed in 2021.

What other benefits can FM offer to society?

FA: Taking a human-centric approach to FM, we can make buildings better for people. Controlling the internal environment, noise reduction, adaptive lighting, as well as precise temperature and airflow, mean that we can make buildings safer, healthier and more comfortable. These technologies also immediately reduce environmental impacts by cutting water and energy use.

How do you see the future of FM?

FA: Bringing advanced simulation to FM is a game changer. By adopting the same established processes and data manipulation used by manufacturing industries, we are in partnership with a digitally driven revolution.

Adopting a single unified enterprise platform that handles the massive data that buildings generate brings a conservative industry into the modern age. In coming years, we will see further visibility and integration of FM processes, accelerated by technology that finally delivers the integrated thinking, decision making, and actions that this industry has needed for so long.

Enormous promise, daunting challenges

To realize 5G’s world-changing potential, only sophisticated 3D simulation can manage its design complexities

Alex Smith
4 November 2020

4 min read

5G cellular networks will drive a wide range of innovation, from smart energy grids and digital factories to autonomous vehicles and the internet of things – and 3D simulation is key to accelerating their arrival. By enabling designers to develop smart devices compatible with 5G, and helping telecom engineers build a reliable 5G network backbone, simulation helps competitors be first to market with disruptive innovations.

Governments and the telecommunications industry are investing billions into a dramatic upgrade to mobile connectivity: the new generation of cellular technology known as 5G. The technology’s ability to support great numbers of connected devices with faster response times has created a world of possibilities for new mobile applications, from more sophisticated digital factory capabilities to remote surgeries in real time.

“At 10 milliseconds latency, 5G is 10 times faster than its predecessor at the upper end of home Wi-Fi networks, and on par with most wired connections,” said Ajay Chavali, managing director at Accenture Strategy & Consulting. “With the ability to support 1 million devices in a square kilometer, and with speeds up to 20 gigabytes per second, 5G offers the first viable alternative to wired connections, with the ease of use and deployment of a wireless network. These capabilities will transform manufacturing, transportation, logistics and warehousing, healthcare, and public services with new products and services leading to several trillion dollars of economic gain in coming years.”

But designing those applications requires developers to simultaneously manage a massively complex set of requirements. The chances of getting everything right on the first try and beating their competitors to market are very low – unless developers have the ability to simulate the performance of their offerings before they build them. The answer? Digital 3D simulation technology, which enables developers to test, troubleshoot and redesign the products in record times, without the high cost and long lead times required for physical prototypes.

“Multiple layers of the technology stack have to come together to commercialize internet of things driven by 5G,” said Chavali's colleague at Accenture, senior manager Sanjay Keswani. “These include sensors and electronic components, wireless devices and network equipment, network and connectivity providers, IoT cloud and heterogeneous network integrators, software platform players, and end-user application providers. Integration of these layers will be challenging and expensive. High levels of investments will be needed from various players in the value chain, and aligning value propositions to investments will prove to be complex.” 

That complexity, Keswani said, significantly increase the risk of design errors, especially when factoring in the challenging environments in which 5G will operate. Original equipment manufacturers and suppliers will need to create designs that can withstand all of the outside influences that could affect and disrupt a signal, and they will have to meet strict – and highly different – regulatory standards in every country in which they operate.

Furthermore, they will have to do so at an acceptable cost. In a recent survey by Infosys of industry leaders who might be likely buyers of 5G applications, 60% said that cost and effectiveness were the primary criteria for their adoption of 5G for a particular use case.


At 10 milliseconds latency, 5G is 10 times faster than its predecessor at the upper end of home Wi-Fi networks, and on par with most wired connections


To meet these challenges, developers need to deliver optimized, high-performance designs at attractive cost-value ratios. For Jay Gillette, senior RF and antenna engineer for wireless module and antenna manufacturer Laird Connectivity, effective simulation tools are an integral part of achieving this balance.

© Laird Connectivity

“Today’s 5G antennas just require simulation,” he said. “Manual optimization might be fine for really simplistic antenna types, but I don’t think that’s feasible for the pattern and bandwidth requirements of modern antennas. You may find a solution in the lab, but it could be sub-optimal, and it’s difficult to predict its functionality with the limited data set you can produce in the lab.”

Working in the virtual world allows engineers to identify the many factors that can interfere with the strength and reliability of a 5G signal, helping them to optimize the design for these variables. Due to some of the delicate use cases under consideration – remote surgery, for example – 5G networks will need to deliver constant up-time and reliability in all weather conditions in complex environments ranging from city streets to factory floors. Achieving these goals with a huge number of small antennas that relay signals back and forth will be significantly more complicated than today’s relatively small network of looming cellular towers.

“If we’re working to develop a 5G antenna for an OEM, then we’re trying to make sure whether or not our design will conform to their requirements,” Gillette said. “You don’t want to move ahead with designing a full prototype, given the time frame and expense involved, with the risk of having that product not conform to the customer’s requirements.

Sophisticated digital simulation capabilities, however, allow engineers to virtually test their designs in virtual models of the actual conditions where a 5G network will be deployed – and it allows them to do so early, before detailed design work begins.

“Simulation software gives a very accurate estimate of realized performance, enabling you to know where you are in terms of compliance. Time is money, so being able to solve these simulations quickly and avoiding multiple iterations is huge. Everybody’s found that to be truly competitive in the market, you need to move to simulation.”


Solving these challenges will be more than worthwhile, given the new capabilities 5G will deliver. Consumers will be enabled with reliable streaming of 4K video and better network coverage for smartphones, but they will also feel the benefits as entirely new products and services such as telemedicine and autonomous vehicles enter the market.  For businesses, these advantages can be leveraged across different industries to deliver huge improvements in efficiency and output, and to unlock previously inaccessible forms of innovation.

“With its low latency and reliability, 5G has shown clear benefits in many areas,” said Fawad Noory, associate engagement manager at digital services and consulting company Infosys. “Examples include the reimagining of large agile workflows in manufacturing to enable the new digital factory. Use of automated guided vehicles is rising, and with 5G they can perform services such as on-demand technician requests for inventory or the movement of heavy equipment. Meanwhile, in utility there has been the rise of smart grid and distributed energy resources such as solar-generation or wind power fields, where 5G can be used in order to provide control, support operations and enhanced reliability in real time.”

And when these wonders become available, consumers will be able to thank sophisticated computer simulations for making it possible. Companies that master these technologies and deliver fast, successful 5G implementation will gain a crucial competitive advantage, setting them up as market leaders for the years and decades to come.

Virus mechanics

How visualizing COVID-19’s molecular structure helps to understand its vulnerabilities

Anne Goupil-Lamy
14 October 2020

3 min read

Say the word “scientist,” and many people will imagine researchers with wild hair and white lab coats, stirring beakers of bubbling chemicals. Trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing. Then, one day, eureka! The scientist makes an accidental discovery and changes the world.

Even as a child, I disliked this cinematic image of science as discovery-by-mistake. I wanted a dependable, methodical process for moving from a clear goal to an anticipated outcome. As a math-based, rational science, physics attracted me, but so did medicine. No surprise, then, that my PhD is in molecular biophysics, which involves understanding how diseases and their treatments work not solely through observation, but also at a molecular level.

Today, thanks to predictive, physics-based software, modeling of molecular biophysics has made great advances. These advances are accelerating the race to find a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, more commonly known as COVID-19.


Since the virus became a pandemic early in 2020, I have closely watched the publications and social media posts of scientists who are proving every day that the answers to this scourge lie not in trial and error, but in a deep understanding of the virus’s molecular structure.

3D molecular modeling has helped many of these scientists accelerate the journey from hypothesis to drug design by allowing them to visualize the virus’s structure, helping to move promising treatments to the clinical trials stage in record time.

Image © JHDT Productions / stock.adobe.com

The most important features of the virus structure are too small to be visible, even with an electron microscope, so the software models the virus’s key constituent proteins and displays those results as scientifically accurate 3D models. The models help scientists visualize the mechanics of how the virus attaches to its host and replicates, causing infection. Armed with this insight, scientists can then use data on known molecules to identify the compounds or biologics most likely to prevent infection.

Because scientific evidence is compelling, I often seek to re-prove to myself that the algorithms that drive these models are as good as they can be. COVID-19 has provided a powerful opportunity to test their prowess.


By January 2020, the virus had been sequenced, and several research institutes quickly provided experimental structures of some the COVID-19 proteins.  I read every scientific paper I could find on what scientists know about SARS, the class of viruses that includes COVID-19, looking for clues to attacking the protein at the heart of how the virus works.

3D molecular modeling has helped many scientists accelerate the journey from hypothesis to drug design by allowing them to visualize the COVID virus’s structure.

My goal was to write a blog that would demonstrate how 3D modeling could help scientists who do not have access to structure-based drug design better understand key protein targets involved in the infection process, and how these insights could be used to identify existing drugs with potential to be rationally repurposed against SARS-Cov-2. Like many scientists in pharmaceutical, biotechnology and university research labs worldwide, I focused on the main 3C-like protease, a protein that is key in virus replication. Introducing a small molecule-inhibitor that could bind to the protease, at what is known as its “active site,” would prevent the virus from replicating. Protease inhibitors have played a similar role in HIV and HCV therapeutics, so this is a well-established strategy.

From a library of all 2,684 FDA-approved drugs, the software quickly identified a small number of potentially effective compounds; several of the top scoring compounds are currently undergoing clinical trial as COVID-19 treatments.


The pandemic has created a unique scientific collaborative environment, where scientists are quickly sharing their results. Before this, I might have waited years to see my hypothesis proven or disproven. A few weeks after publishing my blog, however, several pre-prints and papers were published, documenting promising experimental results on some of the same compounds identified by my virtual experiments.

In science, a few weeks is a remarkably short time, demonstrating the amazing speed at which progress against the virus is advancing.

Beyond treatments for those who have contracted COVID-19, developing a vaccine to prevent infection is critical to controlling this pandemic. Here again, structural biology has proven that it can play a central role in developing a vaccine that can induce broadly neutralizing immune responses.

The sequence of the spike protein that enables the virus to enter human cells was published in January by Chinese scientists, which enabled scientists from around the world to build 3D atomic-level models in impressively short amounts of time. These structures were then used to rationally design stable mutants that could be used as a vaccine. These atomistic models also are crucial in understanding which antibodies could prevent the virus from entering human cells.

As I dreamed all those years ago, these treatments are being developed by collaborating scientists who started not with a theory and a blind hope, but with a solid understanding of the virus protein’s molecular makeup.

Anne Goupil-Lamy is a Science Council Fellow with BIOVIA, the molecular modeling and simulation brand of Dassault Systèmes. She received her doctorate in molecular biophysics from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris. At BIOVIA, she was in charge of contract research for many years, and today, she helps scientists apply BIOVIA’s software to their work. She also is involved in her own research projects, collaborating with academic teams and regularly publishing in peer review journals.

Clearing the air

Plans for dramatically cleaner aircraft aim to meet aggressive carbon-reduction targets

Tony Velocci
23 September 2020

4 min read

Commercial aviation has made significant gains in reducing emissions, and research to identify more improvements is ramping up. However, advances may not be happening fast enough to meet long-range carbon-reduction targets. So how will industry pick up the pace?

Fifty years ago, the aviation industry focused on speed and capacity, both of which guzzled fuel and produced high volumes of greenhouse gases. Today, however, the industry’s focus has shifted 180 degrees – to sustainability and fuel economy.

Jetliners built by Airbus and Boeing have reduced fuel burn by 70% over the past 50 years. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have dropped by 80% in that time, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 90%. Airliners also are 75% quieter, due largely to advanced engine and materials technologies.

As a result, large passenger aircraft are more ecofriendly per passenger mile than almost any other mode of transportation, even with a massive increase in travel demand. Today, aviation CO2 emissions account for about 2% of total global carbon dioxide emissions.

“The industry is moving faster than many people thought possible, especially when it comes to new technology,” said Amanda Simpson, vice president of research and technology for Airbus Americas.

If aviation is to do its share in reducing emissions under the Paris agreement on climate change, however, it must cut carbon emissions by another 80% by 2050. That would bring the industry to half of its 2005 emissions. Although air traffic is anemic in the wake of COVID-19, demand is expected to resume in three to five years and then continue growing, meaning reduced emissions must be achieved despite adding thousands of new aircraft – albeit much greener ones – to the global fleet over the next 15-20 years.

Our target is to have a carbon-neutral airplane in 2035 instead of 2050

Bruno Le Maire
Minister of Economy and Finance, France

All of the airframe manufacturers are chasing solutions. Between 2012 and the end of 2019, for example, Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator initiative – part of the company’s accelerating focus on securing long-term sustainable growth – used a 777-200 aircraft to test 50 discrete fuel-efficiency technologies.

“We remain committed to the ecoDemonstrator program and will conduct additional testing across multiple platforms to help further innovation that makes flying more sustainable,” a Boeing official said.


Although such initiatives are helping the industry to achieve average pollution-reduction rates of 1% to 1.5% per year, it’s not good enough, Rolls-Royce Chief Technology Officer Paul Stein said. “Right now, we are not keeping pace with reducing net CO2 emissions,” he said. “More must be done.”

Airbus’s Simpson agrees: “Looking at the long-range growth curve, the industry is not on a path to meet the 2050 goal. We’ve got to stay focused on innovation.”

With the downturn in air travel due to COVID-19 and travel bans, the French government announced a plan for the development of hydrogen-powered aircraft in a dozen years. (Image © Bruno Saint-Jaimes, courtesy of Airbus)

To step up the pace, sustainability solutions now in development will span a combination of technologies. These include lighter, more aerodynamic airframes and deployment of next-generation air traffic management systems that will permit commercial carriers to fly the most direct routes, burning less fuel and generating fewer emissions per passenger mile.

New fuel sources, in particular, are getting significant attention. In fact, collaboration on fuel development is part of a sustainability agreement struck in 2009 by airframe and engine manufacturers Airbus, Boeing, Dassault Aviation, General Electric, Rolls-Royce, Safran and United Technologies (now Raytheon Technologies after merging with Raytheon).

“We must start growing the use of sustainable fuels, and we must encourage their use at a greater pace than ever before,” Stern said, speaking at the International Society for Air-Breathing Engines conference in Canberra, Australia.

Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop added: “From the fuel perspective, we have to get incentives in place for the oil industry, and we have to get that going now.”

Also in the early stages of development: hydrogen fuel cells that could power some segments of a passenger jet’s flight.

The French government, for example, plans to invest 15 billion euros (about US$17 billion) over three years to support research into environmentally friendly technology, with the goal of developing a hydrogen-powered successor to the Airbus A320.


The percentage reduction in carbon emissions that the aviation industry must achieve by 2050 to do its share in reducing emissions under the Paris climate change agreement.

“Our target is to have a carbon-neutral airplane in 2035 instead of 2050,” said Bruno Le Maire, France’s Minister of Economy and Finance. For their part, industry executives doubt that a radical switch from conventional jet engines could be ready for service by the mid-2030s. However, more R&D spending is being funneled into decarbonizing commercial aviation than ever before, and momentum is building.

Following a six-month study on the use of hydrogen as a primary aviation fuel, research analyst firm McKinsey concluded in June 2020 that developing a carbon-neutral airplane by 2035 is within reach, though the quest will be challenging. The study focused on liquid hydrogen, which it deems better suited to most of aviation.

The German government also believes hydrogen could play an important role in the greening of civil air transportation. It is investing 6.8 billion euros (about US$7.7 billion) in what it calls its “national hydrogen strategy,” which supports the use of hydrogen in aircraft propulsion and hybrid-electric flying.

The initiatives in both France and Germany align with the European Commission’s plan, announced earlier in 2020, to launch a Clean Hydrogen Alliance as a centerpiece of a new strategy to accelerate the decarbonization and digitalization of Western European industries.


Developing more sustainable fuels isn’t the industry’s only focus. Major players are focused on electric and hybrid-electric propulsion of light aircraft and large-scale demonstration vehicles, which have made the most progress.

In 2017, for example, Airbus and Rolls-Royce recognized that emerging technologies for the future of flight – including batteries and electric motors – could lay the groundwork for exponential development of non-traditional propulsion. As a result, they launched a project called E-Fan X. It was phased out in early 2020, but Simpson believes the knowledge that came out of the project was invaluable and will serve as a mid-term solution to the challenge of sustainable aviation. “Our goal is zero emissions by the mid-2030s,” she said.

While Simpson is optimistic, she is quick to emphasize that Airbus won’t rush to deploy new technology. Safety must come first:  “It’s at the core of everything we do,” she said.

A brighter future through shared innovation

Frédéric Vacher
16 September 2020

2 min read

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world, it quickly became clear that PPE and ventilator manufacturers alone could not deliver enough of the vital medical equipment in time to fully manage the size of the crisis. The industry needed more hands on deck – and the open innovation community had them in plentiful supply.

Open innovation enables makers, innovators and other skilled individuals and volunteers to collaborate to solve specific problems collectively. While the concept has shown tremendous promise over the past two decades, that potential has gone largely untapped. In the face of a global crisis, however, open innovation’s full potential was put to the test.

The Open COVID-19 Community is just one example of what can be achieved with this collaborative approach to problem solving. In a matter of days, a global network of engineers, fab labs, makers, hospitals and medical professionals cooperated and collaborated to address the medical supply gap in new and creative ways via a cloud-based platform – and with remarkable effect.

The open network platform connected a Fab Lab network of more than 300,000 designers, makers and engineers, experts and professionals who could provide these teams with advice and guidance, and medical professionals who could share specific wants and needs. This collaboration among different professionals in different industries to solve a shared challenge was truly unique: for doctors to be able to voice their requirements in seconds to makers and innovators located half a world away was exciting and inspirational. Usually, the paths of these people do not cross; bringing them together through open innovation unleashed a collective intelligence that was quite extraordinary.

As well as facilitating collaboration, the Open COVID-19 Community made cloud-based design, 3D modeling and simulation software available to its participating makers and startups, enabling them to verify accurate representations of their designs in simulated real-world environments to ensure optimal performance – before putting them into production. This resulted in an agility that bridged a gap and delivered life-saving equipment to those who needed it most.

Indeed, while the globe’s biggest manufacturers were hampered by legacy processes and procedures, the open innovation community was free to try new ways of working, to take risks, and to act fast. These freedoms result in unprecedented speed in design and fabrication, with some makers working all night to fabricate parts for the front lines.

While the success of the Open COVID-19 Community is a proud achievement, the doors that this experience has opened to a brighter future are its most exciting aspect. There has never been a better use case for open innovation, and the success that followed demonstrated exactly how collective intelligence can enable breakthrough innovations for the greater good.

As we look forward to the years ahead, open innovation will bring even more makers and startups together, while providing fast but steady mentoring from experts and professionals. From the launching pad of a global disaster, these self-appointed problem-solvers will bring to life more innovative ideas than ever before, tackling and solving some of humanity’s biggest challenges. When the only “rule” is for each participant to contribute knowledge and expertise for the common good, everything is possible.

Discover more about the collaborative efforts of the Open COVID-19 Community

Frédéric Vacher is the Head of innovation, Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, and creator of the Open COVID-19 Community

Open innovation in a pandemic

COVID-19 has proven the worth of open innovation, paving the way for a collaborative future

Lindsay James

5 min read

Despite causing unprecedented levels of chaos, the COVID-19 pandemic also demonstrated that collective intelligence – shared and developed through open innovation communities – can deliver capabilities that span far beyond what any one firm can achieve on its own.

While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc around the globe, it also demonstrated exactly what can be achieved when passionate teams of experts and makers from around the world come together virtually to solve a problem. 

Neil Gershenfeld, director of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reveled in seeing the volunteer community of online innovators and makers he helped establish rise to one of the biggest challenges they were ever likely to face.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges, but has also significantly accelerated longer-term trends,” Gershenfeld said. “One has been to fill in the essential gap between individual rapid-prototyping – which can respond quickly, but not scale – and mass manufacturing – which can scale, but not respond quickly – by coordinating distributed production for PPE [personal protective equipment] and respiratory assistance. This has led to an appreciation of the mutual value of collaboration among groups that had never before worked together, from community activists to basic researchers.

“Perhaps even more important has been the essential role in the economic recovery of democratizing access to means of production through the rapid development and deployment of digital fabrication tools.”


Open innovation – a rising trend that involves independent innovators and makers joining together, often online – played a pivotal role in facilitating these collaborations. The Open COVID-19 Community, for example, is a platform designed to unite designers, engineers, manufacturers and medical experts from around the globe, using their collective intelligence and capabilities to source, qualify, design, engineer and manufacture rapid solutions during the pandemic.

To date the community has helped expedite more than 120 projects, including several innovative ventilators. For example, Indian startup Inali tapped into the Open COVID-19 Community to rapidly design, engineer, simulate, manufacture and validate a prototype of its “DIY Smart Ventilator” – all in fewer than eight days.

Other projects facilitated through the Open COVID-19 Community include:

  • the OpenBreath ventilator, built by a team of makers in Italy. The fully functional ventilator needs only electricity to be fully operative. It is made of sheet metal parts and off-the-shelf components that are accessible worldwide and can be assembled anywhere.
  • a ventilator designed in collaboration between Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) part of the national Center for Industrial Engineering and Development (CIDESI), and the Automotive Cluster of the State of Mexico, was the first ventilator approved for mass production in that country by Mexico’s Ministry of Health.
  • and, in Brazil, the Ventivida ventilator was designed around a windshield-wiper motor.

“The Open COVID-19 Community has been incredibly important in expediting the development of products for those on the frontlines.”

Nicolai Rutkevich
Master’s degree student, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro

“We wanted to create something that could be delivered quickly to developing countries, using very basic components,” said Nicolai Rutkevich, a master’s degree student at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, who led the project. “Our ventilator has been created using a basic mechanical concept which relies on harmonic motion to deliver air. Its parts could be scavenged locally. And it could be mass-produced very cheaply and supplied to ambulances and local health centers, who could use it for patients waiting to receive urgent medical help.”

The Ventivida ventilator was designed around a windshield-wiper motor so that it could be delivered quickly to developing countries, using very basic components. (Image © Ventivida Group)

Such efforts, Rutkevich said, helped many communities manage the worst days of the pandemic. “The Open COVID-19 Community has been incredibly important in expediting the development of products for those on the frontlines,” he said.


Other Open COVID-19 Community makers looked to meet the urgent calls for PPE.

When the pandemic canceled all on-campus classes at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, David Planchard – an active faculty member in the institute’s Mechanical Engineering department – decided to provide his students with an experience in solving COVID-19 problems.

The project proved to be a perfect exercise for applying the students’ engineering design skills in a remotely connected team environment.

“I’d heard about the Open COVID-19 Community and thought my students could learn a great deal from it, while also doing their bit for the pandemic,” Planchard said. “I created eight teams, each made up of three or four students. Each team was tasked to design their own 3D-printable face shield band. I asked them to consider design parameters, assembly, safety and strength, comfort, size, material, and [3D] print time.”

To aid students, Planchard also shared a scientifically accurate 3D simulation of a sneeze, demonstrating the trajectory of the various mucus particles and where the particles land on the surfaces of a shielded individual.

“This was a real eye-opener for students,” Planchard said. “It greatly influenced their designs.”

Working remotely in a connected team environment, students at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute applied their engineering skills to design their own 3D-printable face shield band. (Image © David Planchard)

Each student team joined the Open COVID-19 Community to post their creations and obtain global community feedback from industry engineers and medical experts.

“Students used this invaluable feedback to enhance the quality of their designs,” Planchard said. “Once the students submitted the designs, I printed them off at home using my personal collection of 3D printers. A winning design was chosen, which we have actually mass produced and delivered to a local hospital that did not have any face shields at all at the start of the outbreak.”


Without the Open COVID-19 Community, Planchard said, many products that proved helpful would not have reached those in need.

“The community helped our team gain access to the latest and greatest efforts underway globally to serve the high demand for face shields,” he said. “In a time when traditional manufacturing methods and supply chains could not respond fast enough, it was wonderful to see how distributed digital fabrication was leading the way. Makers, designers and engineers in fab labs and in their personal garages and basements were cranking out innovative ideas using 3D tools and refining their designs using the additive manufacturing tools available to them. This knowledge, provided through the Open COVID-19 Community, has inspired teams and given them sufficient information to get started.”

“The Open COVID-19 Community has been instrumental in filling the gap between demand and supply in these incredibly stressful times. I’m certain that this is just the start of a very exciting – and far more collaborative – future.”

David Planchard
Faculty member, Mechanical Engineering department, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Brazilian ventilator innovator Rutkevich emphasizes the deep knowledge of those who assisted his team through the Open COVID-19 Community.

“People who have never met before are all helping each other, providing their own ideas and expertise,” he said. “I’ve connected with engineers from Bosch, Embraer, Cefet-RJ, universities in Sao Paulo and more. I also have access to medics who can give us first-hand information about what they need, and to service engineers from hospitals who can explain the specifics of equipment. In normal circumstances, I’d never have access to these people. But thanks to the Open COVID-19 Community, it is now possible.”

Each student team received global community feedback from the Open COVID-19 Community before 3D printing their face shield band design. (Image © David Planchard)

With these examples of successes achieved in the midst of a pandemic, open innovation advocates hope that this new, collective way of innovating will stick, facilitating new approaches to the world’s biggest design challenges. 

“The Open COVID-19 Community has been instrumental in filling the gap between demand and supply in these incredibly stressful times,” Planchard said. “I’m certain that this is just the start of a very exciting – and far more collaborative – future.”

Discover the Open COVID-19 Community

Read more from the founder of the Open COVID-19 Community

Tires that talk

Insights from IOT-connected sensors can improve automotive safety and service

William J. Holstein
9 September 2020

4 min read

Tire manufacturers are already creating new types of tires optimized for emerging forms of mobility such as all-electric and fully autonomous vehicles.  But by incorporating sensors, tires can add both value and safety to drivers by developing intelligence about driving behavior, tire status and road quality.

In Clermont, affectionately nicknamed “the Akron, Ohio, of France,” Pascal Zammit is creating the future of the tire.

As vice president of connected mobility for Michelin, the world’s largest tire company, Zammit is focused on helping Michelin connect millions of tires on vehicles on the road. By 2023, the company plans to expand the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) communications technology to link all its millions of new tires to the Internet of Things (IoT), which would ultimately enable drivers to be informed of their tires’ health and other crucial information.

The company already provides trip planning through its ViaMichelin service and can alert drivers if it senses a slow leak in a tire. But armed with new data, the company plans to introduce predictive maintenance services by asking, for example, does the driver need new tires before embarking on a journey?

“In the future, we will understand your driving behavior, we will understand the status of your tires and we will understand the quality of the road,” Zammit said.


Michelin's connected mobility team demonstrates RFID contactless reading on tires at TireTech International in Frankfurt, February 2020. (Image @ Michelin)

Half a world away, in Blacksburg, Virginia, researchers at the Center for Tire Research (CenTiRe), have even more ambitious plans. CenTiRe, a global consortium of tire makers and two universities – Virginia Tech and Ohio’s University of Akron – study tires mostly in a laboratory setting. Saied Taheri, founder of CenTiRe, said his researchers use sensors in tires to collect a wide range of data: whether the tires are operating on asphalt or concrete roads, whether the roads are covered by snow or ice, whether tires are at risk of hydroplaning or skidding. That information can be communicated to the driver to help keep them safe and to other vehicles in the area. Information about road conditions and traffic can be communicated among vehicles on one hand and bridges and tunnels on the other.

This revolution in tire intelligence will be enabled by the advent of IoT-powered, fifth generation (5G) wireless, expected to enable communication speeds 100 times faster than 4G. Tire innovators are preparing for the day when tires loaded with sensors develop a central role in vehicle-to-driver, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.

Tires already have sensors that detect tire pressure and heat, but many more, including accelerometers, are on the way. These sensors capture the friction of the tire on the road. Companies have devised a sensor “patch” that is 20 centimeters (8 inches) wide and extends from one sidewall of the tire to the other. Each of these patches can place as many as 64 sensors in touch with the road when the wheel is turned, immediately informing the entire “ecosystem” about health and safety issues.


The transition is happening so fast that it may outstrip the capacity of governments to create regulatory frameworks for smart tires and for auto manufacturers to fully incorporate the technology into their vehicles.

To realize the vision of a fully interconnected system of roads, cars and drivers, governments and other stakeholders must first agree on the communications standards and legal framework for who bears responsibility if a component of the system fails. Regulators may also decide who will own and control the data that tires generate – drivers, car companies (OEMs) or the tire makers themselves.

For their part, automakers are signaling that they need time to incorporate the new technologies into complex systems based on with years of engineering development. In many cases, integration will require five years of planning. But “in five years, most of this technology will be obsolete,” CenTiRe’s Taheri said. “There will be new sensors and new forms of communication.”

That friction is yet another example of the race between fast-developing technology and humanity’s ability to manage and incorporate it.

Michelin also has staked out a clear position on who owns the data: the owner/user. “Respect for user data is fundamental, and Michelin’s conviction is based on the freedom for owner/users to choose the data they wish to share and the third-party service providers who will use it,” Zammit said.


How much faster 5G communication speeds are expected to be over 4G, enabling a revolution in tire intelligence

This month, Michelin plans to demonstrate one tangible example of what the future holds, unveiling a   predictive maintenance service relying on in-vehicle data to the European Authorities in Brussels. Michelin envisions a completely standard, secure, hacker-resistant system – another key concern for those trying to build vehicles of the future.

Their efforts mean that tires may ultimately play a key role in the development and adoption of autonomous vehicles. CenTiRe’s Taheri said his researchers can already tell – from thousands of miles away – whether tires are operating on a road with potholes or cracks, and then feed that information back into a vehicle’s advanced chassis control or stability control systems so that the vehicle automatically slows down or adapts to road conditions.

The problem, from the perspective of OEM manufacturers, whose products are developing into mobile communication platforms, is: What if one of the sensors fails or the information is not properly fed into one of the systems controlling the vehicle’s stability? How could a vehicle’s systems be engineered so that, if a tire-generated information flow suddenly stopped, traditional safety systems would automatically kick in without compromising the driver’s safety?

“It’s a complication they haven’t really figured out,” Taheri said. “It’s not fail safe yet.”

But, like most of the questions that invariably surround new technologies, solving it is only a matter of time.

Stay up to date

Receive monthly updates on content you won’t want to miss


Register here to receive a monthly update on our newest content.