Creating an Innovation Platform
Co-author: Erin Green
In today’s world, engineers must be smart and connected. This is also true of the products they design. The products of yesterday may have worked well, but too often they sat still and kept to themselves. Now those products are considered obsolete. The products of today must include computing and communications – put together in a nice package, they could be the next big thing.
We had a chance to speak with Gian Paolo Bassi on the subject of innovation. The ever-passionate CEO of Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS is on a roll about how we need a platform for innovation—and how he is going to provide it. Bassi points to amazing successes with innovative products and he is determined that SOLIDWORKS users will have everything they need to create the next big thing when the inspiration hits them.
The “Nest” Big Thing
“Take the thermostat,” said Bassi. Invented in 1985, Honeywell bought the patent in the early 1990s. It sat on walls for an entire century, doing nothing but running the furnace. The only change came relatively recently with a programmable schedule.
Then Nest added WiFi to the thermostat. Now it programs itself, sensing the needs of the house and its inhabitants. The thermostat has at last been reborn and it’s suddenly fun to use. The true measure of its success? Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion and hundreds of thousands of units sell every month.
Withings Weighs In
Just like the thermostat, the bathroom scale was anything but fun. For some, it was even the enemy.
Then came the Withings Smart Body Analyzer. It can of course measure weight, but then it connects to smartphones with the Health Mate app. It is smart enough to distinguish which member of the household is using it. It can compare a person’s body metrics (body fat, BMI, heart rate) to others of similar ages.
It will plot these metrics over time and provide reports. It even claims to sense air quality and give weather reports to encourage you get out and get moving. It’s not a scale anymore; it’s a tool to manage your health.
The Nest thermostat and the Withings scale haven’t just differentiated themselves from the competition. They’ve changed the game altogether.
More Than the Shape
Bassi is not content that SOLIDWORKS has become the standard language for mechanical design. The way he sees it, engineers are just defining a product’s physical shape in 3D – but SOLIDWORKS can do more. It can provide data management and simulation. It provides tools through an ecosystem of partners, including some for manufacturing. If that wasn’t enough, DS SOLIDWORKS is always acquiring new technologies. Does an engineer have everything necessary to produce the next big thing?
We don’t have enough, according to Bassi. The current version of SOLIDWORKS is a design platform but the future SOLIDWORKS will be a true innovation platform.
“An innovation platform has all of these little things that are necessary to make your innovation happen magically […]. You will be faster, more imaginative,” he said.
Innovation can happen during a conversation. Engineers are known for grabbing a pen and sketching on whatever is handy – even napkins.
“The tools need to be [minimally] intrusive because you need to let your creativity and ideas flow,” said Bassi.
Sketching has to occur naturally in the preliminary stages. Drawing with a pen doesn’t provide a complex mathematical representation of the drawing; it just helps capture a gesture easily. That’s all you need.
Once the idea is captured, engineers need to be able to share it easily. Sending an email to a friend or posting on a social network – this is the kind of communication needed for an innovation platform. It is vital to innovation. It needs to be built in. It needs to get people involved and connect them.
The key is that a design innovation platform is much more than messaging or email or even PLM. When you share a design, you need embedded tools that let you interact with the design, analyze it, animate it and put it into context.
“An innovation platform will need to take a holistic view of a product,” said Bassi. “Yesterday’s engineer may have said, ‘Wow, this is a nice shape. It can be injection-molded. Done.’ But there are many aspects of innovative designs that also must be considered.”
One of these aspects is aesthetics. The immediate visual impact and simple good looks of the Nest thermostat have no doubt contributed to its success. The importance of a product’s appearance is something that consumers and market researchers know only too well, but it can be overlooked in the engineering stage. Without any tools to simulate or improve a product’s appearance, engineers can be prone to dismissing aesthetics as just “pretty pictures.”
DS SOLIDWORKS doesn’t just recognize the need for aesthetically appealing products: it has acquired Bunkspeed to get it done. Bunkspeed, used for photorealistic rendering and ray tracing, was rebranded as Visualize in SOLIDWORKS 2016 and relegates CAD images without the bright colors.
Can’t Ignore Electronics
For a design that includes electronics and circuits (and what doesn’t these days?), SOLIDWORKS Electrical includes a host of electrical design and analysis products along with wire harnesses.
“A” Is for “Aided”
Part of being an innovation platform is harnessing the power of today’s computers.
Bassi reminds us that the “A” in CAD stands for “aided.” This started back in the ‘80s when CAD moved the industry from hand drawings to computer renderings, but Bassi means to raise the bar much higher.
“The computer should really aid you—it should really read your mind,” Bassi said.
SOLIDWORKS has a very futuristic technology that lets the computer design for you. You can give SOLIDWORKS two configurations for a mechanism—for example, a locking latch or even a robotic arm with multiple degrees of freedom—and the software will determine the optimal path for all parts of the mechanism.
SOLIDWORKS also aims to provide geometric search functions, which Bassi compares to a Google search.
“You know how Google fills in your search term even before you are done typing?” he asked. “We want to make it like that for parts you are making in SOLIDWORKS.”
The concept is that as a user creates a bracket in SOLIDWORKS, the software will search through libraries of parts to find anything similar and then suggest it to you. It could be a part that already exists within your company or a similar part that can be ordered from another manufacturer. This would help reduce the time wasted in making parts that already exist, which happens maddeningly often at all companies. Bassi estimates his customers have 20-30 percent part duplication.
This parts search is based on EXALEAD technology. Dassault Systèmes currently offers EXALEAD OnePart, which finds parts based on similar shape and can already be used by companies to reduce part inventory.
An innovation platform should enable engineers to experiment with variations of a design and cycle through permutations either virtually or physically.
“Innovation is about a very rapid round-trips of ideas,” said Bassi. “You want to develop something, show it to somebody, make sure that it fulfills the needs of your target audience and then you go back to do it again.”
“What makes an innovation platform is the extreme simplicity when going from ideas to visual things,” Bassi said.
The innovation platform shouldn’t just do visual prototypes, though. It should also aid in physical prototypes. This means supporting 3D printing, waterjet cutting, laser cutting, CNC and more.
MySolidWorks.com, an online hub for SOLIDWORKS, has a few hints of what is to come for SOLIDWORKS users. It has been adding manufactures with little fanfare, already featuring 100 and aiming for thousands.
The hope is that the site will let SOLIDWORKS users pick from local, national and international vendors to create the part they need. It wouldn’t matter whether the user doesn’t have a machine shop or has a shop that’s simply too busy – the selected vendor would create the prototype and ship it to your doorstep.
While the current plan for manufacturing involves users picking vendors from a list, the future plan is far more ambitious. Bassi plans to create a system in the style of Uber, in which a part in need of manufacturing is put up for the community at large and whoever can meet the cost and delivery requirements can take it on.
Bassi’s example is a small machine shop with idle cutting tools. This shop does no marketing and can only hope to be found by locals or with a Google search. If it was part of a universally inclusive platform, anyone could find and interact with it.
Supply and demand already exists with services like Uber and Airbnb, both of which increase supply by enlisting individuals with surplus resources – but the magic would be in the platform, according to Bassi.
The concept for a supply and demand fulfillment service in manufacturing is simple and brilliant. It would complete an innovation platform, providing all the necessary concept, collaboration and multidisciplinary design tools. At the end of the process, the engineer would simply cast out to find someone to make the part in its physical form.
This level of speed, efficiency and ease-of-use would enable the engineer to move quickly from one concept to the next, increasing the chances of finding the next big thing.
For more information, please visit the SOLIDWORKS website.
About the Author
Roopinder Tara has been into CAD, CAM and CAE for his entire professional life, as an engineer, CAD manager, professor and publisher. He has written numerous publications on CAD, design and engineering. He has a bachelors in mechanical engineering, masters in engineering science and is a certified professional engineer.