Posted by Steve Hooper, Lynelle Cameron | Feb 12, 2018 | Factories of the Future, February 2018 ML Journal

Systems thinking and a digitally connected design and manufacturing process are the keys to building more products better, and in a sustainable way.

Change and growth in the world of design and manufacturing are fast paced. The speed of disruption is accelerating due to ongoing trends in consumer demands, technology advancements, and workforce transitions.

As the future of making things evolves based on these developments, we are also beginning to better understand the manufacturing sector’s impacts on people and the planet—and the implications those impacts will have on our customers’ businesses.

While at first overwhelming, these disruptions, if properly leveraged, can be good for both business and the environment. But there’s work to be done in three primary areas:

1. We need to make more things.

The global population is expected to increase by over 30 percent in 30 years, reaching a staggering 10 billion by 2050, with half of those people in the middle class. This means many more people with expendable income demanding more products to suit their urbanized lifestyles.

Consumers are already demanding far more and different types of connected and personalized goods than ever before. Keeping up with this demand is challenging, as is managing the tremendous user data it generates, which is expected to reach 600 zetabytes by 2020. 1

2. We need to use technology to make things better.

Hardware and software technologies are getting more sophisticated. Design is being democratized with low-cost software, and advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are enabling product designers to leverage mountains of customer data to innovate at a faster pace. Production is also seeing more connected hardware with the industrial Internet of things and new automated techniques.

Together, these advanced technologies are yielding higher levels of product quality, variance, and performance. All the while, new digital marketplaces are shrinking the globe, enabling even the smallest
companies to compete in nearly any market, taking competition to a new extreme.

3. We need to make things with less of a negative impact on people and this planet.

Simply put, we need to use fewer resources. The manufacturing sector is responsible for 1.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in the United States,2 about a fifth of the country’s total emissions,3 and about the same portion of global emissions.

Sixty percent of the world’s 8.3 billion tons of plastic is now in landfills or in the natural environment4. There are currently 1345 Superfund sites on the U.S. EPA’s National Priorities List5. These are the unintended consequences of responding to market growth and change during the past 100 years.

As a result, we are seeing markets, governments, and employees react, and there are compelling reasons to respond. In this sector especially, we know that inefficiency means money left on the table.

The Opportunity Ahead

The confluence of these trends can spell chaos or opportunity. To make the most of these shifts, manufacturers need to set a new goal and reexamine our means of production and delivery.

We need to make more things for our growing customer base, make those things better, and make them with less negative impacts. Accomplishing these compounded goals will require us to use the data we are creating to
better anticipate changing customer needs, act on those changes, and more tightly link our design and manufacturing processes. In short, we must connect our end-to-end processes with data to realize the goal of making more, better, with less.

A connected design and manufacturing process is critical because it links formerly disparate operations to uncover new opportunities. Sustainable design and engineering practitioners emphasize the importance of systems thinking and evaluating products’ impacts early and often in the design process.

Rather than a linearly connected approach, the rationale for systems thinking and connectedness is to find unlikely opportunities hidden across the entire process and allow flexibility to capitalize on those opportunities before it becomes cost prohibitive. The best way to facilitate systems thinking is by understanding all parts of the system, end-to-end. And the best way to create this understanding is by connecting data from every part of the design-to-make process.

For example, by connecting fabrication processes to design, implications of advanced manufacturing techniques—such as hybrid additive and subtractive processes— can uncover potential design options or constraints that would not have otherwise been explored. Going a step further, machine learning can be leveraged to link these processes.

The software can use fabrication data to generate new designs that optimize for complex design goals and tradeoffs, such as maximizing part sustainability, ensuring regulatory compliance on material choice, and controlling costs from production.

An early example of connecting end-to-end processes is Airbus’s “bionic”design of lighter-weight cabin partitions for its airplanes6. Air travel is now responsible for about five percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions7. With $1.3 billion spent on fuel annually, every ounce responsibly shaved off planes means significant positive impact for both the bottom line and the planet.

“A connected design and manufacturing process is critical because it links formerly disparate operations to uncover new opportunities.”

Airbus Connects
Fabrication and Design

The key to reducing the weight of Airbus’s bulky partitions turned out to be in connecting fabrication and design with data and machine learning through a process called generative design. Generative design considers design goals and constraints to generate myriad design options across a solution environment, and it can help weigh the implications of new manufacturing techniques.

Airbus generated more than 10,000 design options with the goal of reducing weight while maintaining structural integrity and safety. Thanks to new additive manufacturing processes, the generative-design software was able to produce design options that would previously be impossible to fabricate. In the end, by virtue of thinking about fabrication early in the design process, Airbus was able to reduce the weight of its partition by 45 percent.

Last year, Airbus won a Manufacturing Leadership Award for its accomplishment. How else can connecting disparate parts of a product’s lifecycle enable cost and environmental savings? An important emerging trend that will be accelerated by connecting end-to-end processes with data is circularity. Circularity is the concept of “up-cycling” resources repeatedly by connecting supply chain and resource streams to the end-of-life of products. Extracting and processing virgin raw materials is costly and subject to swings in commodity prices, creates large volumes of waste, and degrades local environments.

It’s also a highly energy- and carbon-intensive process. For example, the extraction and production of virgin aluminum alone accounts for one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions8. Pair this with the growing amount of electronic waste, expected to reach 50 million tons annually by 20189, and the problem becomes clear. The circular economy is gaining momentum with specific mandates in Europe and China and is estimated to contribute E1.8 trilion to the global economy by 2030.

Recently, Apple pledged to use only renewable or recycled material – ending mining altogether. One key way the company will attain this is by connecting customer product takeback and end-of-use products to the start of the supply chain. Apple has developed a robot, named Liam10, that can disassemble an iPhone into its component parts in only 11 seconds, translating to approximately 1.2 million iPhones per year.

Those components are then recycled and remanufactured to create new iPhones, mitigating the need to process new raw materials. Identifying and validating these opportunities requires connecting processes endto-end by sharing and making sense of data effectively, akin to connecting PLM to disassembly machinery to design systems.

An important emerging trend that will be accelerated by connecting end-toend processes with data is circularity, the concept of “up-cycling” resources.

Apple could even take this further by taking lessons extracted from use and disassembly and applying them to redesigns for enhanced durability and reduced takeback speed. It could also enhance design for disassembly to speed the work of its Liam robots.

Connection is All in the Data

Let’s look at an example of connected design and manufacturing that puts advanced platform technology to work. Over 100 million people globally have upper-limb differences, often due to losing a limb. Unfortunately, many people can’t afford costly prosthetics. Enter LimbForge, a nonprofit that provides tools and training that help clinicians deliver high-quality and cost-effective 3D-printed prosthetics, many for children. To deliver the level of personalization that is required for kids at different stages of development, LimbForge uses advanced technology to quickly make parametric adjustments to its designs, based on data collected from patients, and render its work in real-time—connecting processes that were once disconnected.

The race is on to connect design and manufacturing processes. The good news is that many manufacturers are planning to do so. The results of the latest Manufacturing Leadership Council survey on Factories of the Future, published in the February issue of the Manufacturing Leadership Journal, show that while only 7% of respondents report “extensive” connectivity between their design and production processes today, over the next five years, 53% expect to have that level of connectivity.

And future workflows hold a promise well beyond that of the Airbus generative design or LimbForge examples. New design and manufacturing capabilities, brought on by the explosion of data in our sector and combined with machine learning and AI, will soon enable manufacturing at the push of a button. The key to attaining push-button manufacturing lies in delivering insights from across your entire workflow; uncovering unlikely solution sets; and connecting supply chain, design, manufacturing, product use, and product end of life in innovative, highly optimized ways. Airbus connected its design and manufacturing processes. Apple connected waste streams with material streams. LimbForge connected customer use data to design. None of these would have been possible in a traditional, linear process or without technology to bring this data together.

The Influence of Government

Although technology is evolving quickly, there are other pressing reasons—from competition to demand to government mandates—to start connecting your processes and data now to make more, better, with less.

Government initiatives have long been striving to curtail the environmental impacts from manufacturing, such as the European Union’s mandates around recycling and toxicity through WEEE, RoHS, and REACH. More recently, the historic Paris Agreement saw countries around the world pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent catastrophic climate change by preventing temperatures from increasing more than two degrees Celsius.

While many countries focus on energy suppliers and transportation for reductions, China explicitly identifies resource and energy-efficiency measures that have implications for manufacturers. These governmental trends are also influencing market demand. We see this in everything from personal electronics to automobiles to household goods. Recent studies have shown that one in three consumers prefers to buy from more sustainable brands 11 and almost three out four millennials will pay more for sustainable options. 12 Companies are taking notice.

Walmart recently announced that it will eliminate a gigaton of carbon dioxide from its supply chain by working with its manufacturing partners, necessitating the connection of processes and data across companies. Auto manufacturers are competing to go all-electric. This challenge is harder than just swapping out an engine; it requires these manufacturers to redesign cars from the ground up to squeeze out range-robbing weight and enhance the efficiency of their electric drivetrains—challenges that are going to require a systems approach to their overall processes. Serving growing populations, expanding to new markets, and increasing throughput by making more means fundamental growth to our bottom lines.

Increasing the performance, customization, and quality of our products and improving our processes will enable us to compete and survive. Finally, making the right decisions about the things we make and how we make them will enable us to achieve more with less of a negative impact on people and the environment. This is the future of making things, and it is enabled by new technologies and powered by data from connected processes. Companies are already taking advantage of connected workflows today, and the opportunity for more of them to make more, better, with less is here.

For more information from Autodesk about the Future of Making Things, click here.



Steve Hooper

Steve Hooper

Stephen Hooper is Senior Director, Business Strategy & Marketing, Design & Manufacturing, at Autodesk, Inc. where he is responsible for all aspects of go-to-market and the continued commercial growth of the business within the manufacturing industry. After working for a manufacturer of industrial machinery, he joined Autodesk 18 years ago and has since occupied a variety of leadership roles across sales, marketing and product development. Autodesk is a member of the Manufacturing Leadership Council.

Lynelle Cameron

Lynelle Cameron

Lynelle Cameron is Vice President of Sustainability at Autodesk and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation. She leads a team transforming the design, manufacturing and construction industries to capitalize on the business opportunities of a low-carbon economy. Cameron brings over 20 years of experience helping large and small companies leverage market opportunities related to sustainability and climate change.