The COVID-19 crisis drastically altered the way we work seemingly overnight. Many were caught flat-footed while others quickly turned to technology to address these unprecedented work challenges presented by the ‘new normal’.
In a recent virtual event co-sponsored by PTC and the Financial Times, PTC president and CEO Jim Heppelmann highlighted six of the technology-driven capabilities industrial companies must consider to thrive in 2021 and beyond. Heppelmann's full presentation is available here.
While there were minor adjustments, of course, the work routine for the majority of office, or desk workers, was not significantly disrupted since they really only require a computer to do their job. However, this is less true for industrial companies; product and manufacturing engineers need to run complex and compute-intensive software programs on powerful office workstations and desktops not accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accessing software programs like CAD remotely through virtual desktop applications does not provide an intuitive, seamless experience or work-from-home-friendly environment.
With remote work becoming a tenet of current and future operating models, increased globalization, and internet ubiquity, SaaS will be the predominately chosen platform to free desk workers from their traditional cubicles and desktops.
The majority of manufacturers cited disruptions to their supply chain amidst the COVID-19 crisis. The cloud again came to the rescue, democratizing product design across the supply chain to enable faster production of vital healthcare products like ventilators.
Specifically, the Francisco Gavidia University in El Salvador in collaboration with local manufacturers and suppliers wanted to help. They turned to SaaS product development to instantly iterate on several different designs and quickly push ventilators into production and alleviate constrained hospital capacity.
Supply chain resiliency demonstrated its value during this crisis and the cloud will lessen the severity of future unforeseen global occurrences. Additionally, these real-time collaboration cloud product development platforms will rapidly create new products, and even factories. For example, Rockwell Automation leveraged real-time collaboration for its regional (Boston, Tokyo) engineers to design a virtual factory before building the physical version in Milwaukee.
In a few weeks, the continuity of business operations was quickly jeopardized by COVID-19 with volatile product demand, travel bans, and workspace restrictions playing detrimental roles. Concerns arose for maintaining the uptime of products out in the field and the continuity of production lines in factories and plants.
Remote monitoring and service enabled through Industrial IoT maintained product uptime when physical on-site interventions weren’t available.
ESAB, a manufacturer of welding products, had already implemented this technology across its fleets of products for its customers and as a result was able to drive higher levels of uptime and new engagement models.
The concept of ‘Remote Everything’ will continue to become mainstream with increasingly ubiquitous IIoT enabling digital twin views of the industrial enterprise.
Around 2.5 billion or 75% of total global workforce are considered frontline workers, yet only 1% of software venture funding is geared toward technology specifically for these workers. By and large, these workers have yet to benefit from digital technologies and – what’s more - they belong to industries facing looming skills gap, which is creating workforce productivity challenges for companies worldwide.
Augmented reality is the new platform designated toward the frontline worker by giving them the real-time information they require, in-context to their work environment. AR is playing an increasingly major role when complex work is required delivering information to the frontline worker ‘just-in-time’.
Solving problems in-situ presented another novel COVID-19 challenge as many more experienced employees weren’t physically available for guidance. AR for Remote Assistance enabled seamless collaboration for over-the-shoulder help in these situations.
AR and the many use cases it enables for the frontline worker makes it a necessary investment for industrial companies in the near future.
Artificial intelligence is increasing its presence and impact in practical industrial applications.
AI-driven generative design is one example: manufacturers are using it to optimize product development processes. Embedding AI into this process instantly provides dozens of optimized product design options with various materials, manufacturing processes, data sources, and other design variants.
For example, Heppelmann demonstrated how the Volvo Group could use generative design to create a 50% lower weighted engine. This part would have the same design performance but have fuel cost saving implications for its trucks.
An emerging AI application is the role of deep-learning in computer vision. In context to AR and industrial applications, companies can use their CAD data files to train neural networks and create inferenced AI models that can automatically recognize a spare part or machine. With increasing product and service complexity, it becomes challenging to perform complex tasks on these industrial assets; AI’s ability to instantly recognize it, in-context, and overlay work instructions drastically improves this process for the frontline worker.
Heppelmann posed another futuristic AI application that monitors hand worker motions for improving quality inspection and validation. The potential to scale this application across an industrial enterprise could result in millions in cost savings from scrap and rework alone.
At PTC, we’ve begun to rethink the traditional workspace in the new normal and emerging technologies play an underlying role. The next wave to reshape the workspace for industrial companies will come with spatial computing.
Spatial computing is the digitization of spatial relationships between machines, people, objects, and environments to enable and optimize their interactions.
In the next video, Heppelmann explains how the technology could be leveraged through a frontline worker directing a machine in an industrial environment.
Spatial also provides a new framework to traditional work process optimization techniques such as Taylorism or scientific management. The final video showcases what this would look like in a factory setting and the types of analysis possible. Applying spatial analytics to this novel worker data source can identify and resolve bottlenecks in real-time, driving higher levels of productivity.
Many of these technologies underpinned flexible work models that kept the economy afloat over the past year. Technologies like SaaS, IoT, and AR are clearly here to stay as they help enable this flexible nature of work now and the future, while emerging technologies, including AI and spatial computing, will become increasingly pervasive in the industrial workspace.
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