“The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles.”
More companies are combining the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Generative Design and 3D printing into platforms that bring design and manufacturing closer together and transform these functions into a digital process. A number of companies are moving in this direction, including Siemens, PTC, Dassault Systemes, and Autodesk.
The recent Accelerate Conference from Autodesk focused on this trend of connecting design and manufacturing into a single, seamless process, emphasizing the goal of enabling anyone to make anything. As guest presenter William Bridgman, Chairman, Warren Services, said, “We must stop treating design and manufacturing as separate things. Digitization is not a choice for manufacturers. It’s a must.”
The usually stated goals of cutting costs are actually a small part of the digital transformation. The real goal is to drive innovation, to enable companies to create unique products that will deliver competitive advantage.
Generative design (GD) is a major engine in driving such innovation. (Generative design, as viewed here, is the process that delivers hundreds of possible solutions based on design parameters. It differs from topology optimization, which delivers one solution based on defined constraints.) A common result of using GD is the exclamation, “I never would have thought of that.”
Thanks to 3D printing/additive manufacturing, these innovative designs can be made. Designer-engineers are not limited to just machining, casting, or injection molding.
The Autodesk strategy is to build a platform, which it has been doing with the purchase of many CAD-based tools like NetFabb and combining them with Fusion 360 and others, and then connect all the components. Then, build a pipeline than automates as many tasks as possible. The next step is to build a community around all of these elements; hence, the Accelerate Conferences. Ultimately, the goal is to move from a task-focused approach to one that shifts resources to those with the best value.
AI, the cloud, GD, and other tools will automate design for automated manufacturing processes. These tools help the individual designer-engineer to expand the problem space rapidly and explore a solution they may never have envisioned.
The cloud will play a key role in this transformation too. Despite concerns expressed by presenters, the next trend will be to share your data among customers and competitors. It will help everyone push ahead faster. Plus, the cloud, as of now, is being viewed as a secure, hack-free zone for data.
In one example, Vincent Wegener, co-founder of RAMLAB, discussed his goal of developing warehouses in the cloud instead of at sea ports. RAMLAB uses robotic-based additive wire welding to make large-scale metal parts on demand. He’s addressing spare part storage at places like the port of Rotterdam, which is filled with containers filled with parts. According to Wegener, 60% of the contents of these containers will never be used within a 3-year period. Thus, manufacturers are making parts that essentially will be thrown away as waste. Wegener hopes to eliminate some of that waste.
The tools of the IoT, AI, Generative Design and 3D printing open the doors to potentially truly innovative developments.