2015: Obligatory Predictions for the Year Ahead

It’s that time of year where journalists, writers, bloggers and pretty much everyone, puts together their obligatory list of what they see as being the trends, movements and predictions for the year ahead. Whether done by gazing into a crystal ball, reading the Tarot cards or looking at what’s filling their inbox on a daily basis, lists are big at this time of year.

1. Internet of Things

There’s a lot of noise around this subject area at the moment and from a distance, it’s difficult to grab a handle on it. If you take the most widely quoted examples, it’s about consumer level products that connect to your wireless and feed data, provide services or information.

The reality is that while the idea of an internet connected egg tray is interesting, the real benefit will be in the industrial space. Consider the ability to have self-monitoring product in the field and feeding that back into the design and engineering process.

Yes, we need a new set of tools that allow us to see, to inspect and analyze that wealth of data and distill it into a formal set of requirements, actions and routes to improvements in quality, efficiency or innovation, but the potential is there.

2. 3D printing

Yup. I’m sure many of those of us with a long term standing in the design and engineering community are about sick to the back teeth of this by now, but there does finally seem to be some innovation happening, rather than pure cost reduction and repackaging of decades old technology.

[Ed-Statasys and PTC are partnering to streamline 3D Printing. See our joint customer Logitech used Creo and Statasys’s Fortus FDM system to help improve headset strength by 273% – read the full case study here.]

Just this last week, we saw the launch of a machine that will allow the embedding of circuitry directly into the build process with a secondary conductive material. We’ve also seen the launch of carbon fiber enabled printers, those which give you full color models. While the machine market might slow a little, the real innovation in the field is going to come from materials research and development and commercialization.

3. 3D scanning technology

Alongside the 3D print bandwagonry, there’s also been a secondary shift in another core technology – reverse engineering, laser scanning or reality capture – call it what you will. Whereas we might have been used to $20K for a laser scanner (ultimately meaning it has been an outsource-centric business model), we’re now seeing all manner of options open up.

Whether it’s folks hacking the Microsoft Kinect, whether it’s photogrammetry solutions on your phone or indeed, as in the case of Google’s Project Tango, the integration of 3D sensors directly into a smart phone – the ability to capture the physical form of an object has always been desirable, but often unachievable or too costly to be part of an everyday workflow. These new, lower cost and increasingly capable options will open that up to the mainstream design and engineering community.

4. Optimization

This is something that has been bubbling away under the surface for a little while and I’ve a feeling this this next year is going to see a lot more action. Optimization, when taken in the context of simulation and analysis, whether FEA or CFD led, has never really taken off in the mainstream.

Why? Because the solutions out there are complex and costly. They also required some serious compute horse power. With the rise of the cloud and acceptance gaining in many areas, the potential to reduce that complex combined with more efficient delivery of results, means that optimize has the potential to become a common place activity, rather than purely a ‘when really, really, really needed’ after thought.

5. Display technology

Again, this is another that’s churning away under the surface. While the investment community is going nuts over virtual reality (Oculus being the prime example), the fact is that the design and engineering community stands to gain the most from the consumerization of VR.

Rather than, again, it being a once in a blue moon activity, imagine your design and management team being able to get inside a product, inspect, manoeuvre in an immersive digital environment – without it costing you a small fortune in consultancy and hardware.

There are also some new trends in the more traditional space. HP has just launched a curve display. Resolutions are increasingly and, again, costs are falling. For those that rely on high resolution, quality displays, this is undoubtedly a good thing.