The future of making things is taking shape in front of our eyes. We see it every day as our customers use new technologies to design and refine products and bring them to market. Those changes are picking up speed across the manufacturing landscape, and they’re disrupting companies that don’t embrace new ways of thinking about product development.
This revolution has deep implications for all areas of the product-development lifecycle. For today, though, let’s focus on how rapid innovation takes advantage of fast feedback loops in and out of companies to help manufacturers innovate faster and design better products.
Rapid Innovation Is a Game Changer for Manufacturing
You used to be able to win by sticking with the tried and true. That wasn’t too much of a problem in the past. Things moved slowly, and as long as the company managed to control costs and increase outputs—and introduce the occasional new version of the product—they would be OK. For example, a century ago, Ford Motor Company clung to the basic design of the Model T for more than 20 years. Ford focused on making its cars stronger and safer—and on manufacturing them more efficiently at scale—but not on bringing new designs to market.
Similarly, the software industry spent more than 20 years focused on “shrink-wrap” releases—e.g. “big bang” boxes of Microsoft Office—that you would buy and install every few years. (Remember how fun that was?) Today, though, cloud-based applications, Fusion 360 included, evolve much more quickly than that, and the releases are relatively seamless.
Increasingly, the agility, customization, and continuous release schedules of modern software are permeating manufacturing sectors that used to draw much more on Henry Ford’s legacy.
In “New Industrial Revolution: Can Manufacturing Learn a Lesson From Farm-to-Table?”, our executive Andrew Anagnost talks about how this New Industrial Revolution is de-emphasizing the quantity and speed of the first Industrial Revolution, in favor of being faster to innovate and more responsive to customer needs.
This rapid-innovation trend is manifesting itself in three important ways:
- During the product-development process: Feedback loops are shorter, more frequent, and increasingly include customers and external communities. A much larger number of design alternatives are considered and analyzed simultaneously (thanks to the virtually infinite computing power of the cloud). Physical prototypes are created and tested much faster and more economically thanks to 3D printing. And just as the software industry did a few years ago, hardware manufacturers are leveraging open-source hardware to avoid reinventing the wheel every time, so they can innovate even faster.
- After the product is released: Customers expect their products to get better, preferably with over-the-wire software updates. Manufacturers can’t take a “release-and-forget” approach anymore
- Between product releases: the time between releases is getting shorter. On top of that, customers expect significant innovation with each release, not just minor product improvements and bug fixes.
These days, smart manufacturers of all sizes are not following the Model T or the shrink-wrap approach anymore. They use cloud-based software, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, and decentralized production to iterate over designs on a much faster cadence, hitting the sweet spot where speed, scale, and sensitivity to customers all overlap.
The virtually infinite computing power of the cloud allows designers to consider many more alternatives simultaneously
The Ways People Work Together Are Changing Rapidly
As smart companies are adopting the business models of the future of making things, employees, partners, and customers now have new expectations as well. That’s bad news if you’re not willing to adapt, but very good news for the rest of us.
Modern customers expect to get what they want, customized for them, right now.
At the same time, the people inside companies expect to be treated with respect and to have their ideas taken into consideration. They expect to collaborate with others openly and transparently to achieve something meaningful. And—getting back to rapid innovation—they expect to do all of that without endless bureaucracy, rigid design processes, or outmoded tools.
These higher expectations arise from an awareness of what’s possible using new technology and from the insights of experts like our own CEO Carl Bass, who’s been in this business for 30 years. In “How and Why We’re Building Fusion,” Carl captures his mixed feelings of frustration with the status quo of manufacturing and excitement about helping to usher in this new era.
Rapid Innovation Works for Entire Industries, Too
Going back to Andrew’s analogy of the farm-to-table movement, think about the work of Chef Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. Starting in the 1970s, her passion for local food and the success she built around that passion attracted lots of people to her way of thinking. Over time, the movement got much bigger as other companies—especially Whole Foods—built scalable business models around it.
Whole Foods was able to put its supply chain and marketing muscle behind the same core message of eating better by eating locally. That, in turn, raised awareness and created even more opportunity for other players—food suppliers, technology vendors, even competing grocers—to enter a market that continues to grow.
We see the same thing happening in manufacturing. It will be fascinating to look back 20 years from now to see how today’s startups like SolePower and BISTEG have influenced established companies. It will also be interesting to see which of today’s large manufacturers best capitalized on this new environment for their own benefit and to create opportunity for new waves of entrepreneurs.
The Future of Making Things Requires New Design Tools
You’ve already figured out that we at Autodesk are unabashed fans of the New Industrial Revolution and how it is shaping the future of making things. We’re committed to speeding up that process for your design team, your company, and your whole industry by giving you the tools you need for rapid innovation.
Consider the fluidity we build into Fusion 360. If you’re going to promote iterative design, it doesn’t work if:
- You have to start from scratch every time…
- Designs feel like they’re etched in stone…
- Others can’t give feedback right in the tool…
If you can’t take the shape in your head and rapidly translate it into the software, it doesn’t work. Fusion 360 helps you avoid those pitfalls.
We knew we were on the right track when we started hearing from designers about how easy Fusion 360 makes it to create organic shapes—like the swooping curves needed for SolePower’s energy-producing insoles. Instead of building up curves tediously with block shapes and then smoothing them out, you can manipulate them directly, which allows you to experiment iteratively—and quickly—to find the ideal shape.
That’s just one example of what we’ve already built. (In my previous blog, “Delivering the Future of Making Things With Fusion 360,” I go into more detail and provide more examples.) With your feedback, we’ll keep iterating on our own designs to make your tools even better, so we can all stay ahead of the curve in the future of making things.
The Future of Manufacturing Is Here
The upheaval in the manufacturing landscape is well underway, and it’s only getting faster as more people in it embrace better, quicker, more flexible ways of creating and using great products.
You’re either proactive about embracing iterative design . . . or condemned to play catch-up.
What are you doing to disrupt and improve your company’s approach—before disruption is forced upon you?