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In China, Dassault’s Green details work of innovation labs, acknowledges speedy adoption of robots

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing
At a November conference in Shanghai, Dassault’s Eric Green, left, spoke at length with Smart Manufacturing Editor in Chief Brett Brune. (To listen to the PASSPORT TO INNOVATION Q&A, an Advanced Manufacturing Now podcast, go to:

Eric Green, vice president, user experience and marketing for the DELMIA product brand at Dassault Systèmes, weighs in on what “super fab labs” in Beijing and Moscow might well produce. He also describes how Dassault’s 3D Experience Lab works. He identifies the important smart manufacturing trends to watch in China. He says Huawei has one of Dassault’s most compelling smart manufacturing client stories to tell so far in China. And he describes what changes will be needed because of the speedy adoption of robots in China.

Eric, in a recent talk with journalists and industry analysts, Dassault CEO Bernard Charlès spoke briefly about Super Fab Labs in Beijing and Moscow. Please tell us what they’re about and what you expect to come out of them. And regarding China in particular, what do you expect to change with regard to smart manufacturing?

If you look at the Fab Labs and what’s described in Moscow and Beijing, essentially we’re looking at the world where makers, fabricators and hackers come together to create innovation that can be disruptive, and in the world of manufacturing it’s taking new technologies, new ideas and new approaches to evolve and change ways people manufacture and provide goods and services to the market to create those new experiences. So the examples that were referenced with Moscow and Beijing are instances where there’s a large concentration of opportunity where you combine these elements—the fabricators, the makers and the hackers—and use the experience platform to drive innovation. Now, as it relates to the impact to China, in the future we see this on a global basis, what’s coming out of the Fab Labs are innovations that can have a dramatic effect on manufacturing.

For example, in some of the Fab Labs and organizations that we’re working with, we’re seeing innovation where we’re collapsing new product introduction and development of a new product and the ability to launch that product significantly by using these new technologies and approaches. So if you think about that in the context of manufacturing in China, it’s going to help evolve and accelerate the productivity and the manufacturing within our Chinese customers so they can provide their products and services to the market much more efficiently, faster, provide those experiences to their customers and grow their business.

That’s really important because of the emergence of mass customization?

It is, and that’s one of the significant trends that we’re seeing. If you think about what we as consumers want from an experience, it’s having our own personal item or goods with these services associated with it. So as a manufacturer, it goes beyond mass customization to mass personalization, to be able to provide that specific product and associated services to us as individuals. And that’s having a pervasive effect on manufacturers worldwide, and China, being a large manufacturing country with a significant amount tied to manufacturing, and they’re evolving along with other countries to support that trend.

In your view, what are the three most important smart manufacturing trends to watch here in China?

We just referenced the first one: mass personalization and enabling companies to manufacture goods specific to their end users. We’re moving beyond the trend of mass production.

Another significant trend is the evolution of supply chains to value networks. If you look at how to meet demand regionally with a global infrastructure that’s going to be extremely important when you are trying to provide that single order to you and I as a consumer that’s individualized for us.

And another key trend here is the evolution of technologies that enable manufacturing. That’s a large category. But those technologies—things like automation, robotics, Big Data, improved smart support—all come together to enable these strategies.

What is Dassault Systèmes up to in Asia with regard to your 3D Experience Lab?

We spoke a minute ago about the convergence of makers, fabrication, hackers in this movement to drive innovation. The 3D Experience Lab is a forum where we can actually challenge entities or organizations or individuals to come up with ideas we can access, evaluate and identify where there are opportunities. We have people come in and show how the idea affects manufacturing, or, in some cases society in general. We select winners and help jump start their project. It’s a way to help foster, facilitate and grow the innovation.

How does the lab work, exactly?

The individuals and the teams come together as part of a competition. They have 10–15 minutes to present their solution or ideas. Then a panel of judges [from Dassault] evaluates them and awards the winners with [software] capabilities and [a time commitment from a couple of engineers from our company] to help support and grow that innovation so they can evolve that and take that to market.

What are Dassault’s most compelling smart manufacturing stories to tell so far here in China?

We have a few compelling customers in China around smart manufacturing. One is Huawei, which presented here yesterday. [see sidebar covering that presentation.] Another is Avid, a large aerospace company with innovative projects in smart manufacturing. Then there is one in the industrial equipment sector: Cummins Engine. It has several factories here in China and joint ventures in China where they have some state-of-the-art factories leveraging some of the smart technology we’re providing to them.

Chinese manufacturers are buying robots like there is no tomorrow. That portends a move to smart from cheap manufacturing. How do you see this all shaping up and in what time frame?

We’re seeing the maturity of the market here in China in manufacturing going from a labor-based market to more of an automation one. That transformation is happening rapidly, and that is driving manufacturing companies to leverage smart technology, to help drive the automation. So, instead of having hundreds of thousands of workers doing the job, it’s all going to be driven by a combination of robots and automation, as well as the workers. That’s going to require solutions to orchestrate those activities. Instead of having labor-based work guided with instructions and training, it’s having data-driven and intelligence-based solutions put in place to orchestrate and provide the smart decisions to facilitate the production process.

In addition to that, the other transformation happening is the changing of the worker. Rather than the worker doing a lot of mundane tasks that may be not as value added as they could be, it’s shifting the type of work that the workers will be doing to one where they’re adding more decision support and putting more of a responsibility on the worker to drive the actual manufacturing process.

Automation and the advancement of robotics and purchasing of the equipment in the factories is automating all those mundane tasks. Now the people involved in factories have to make decisions using [software] solutions to orchestrate the automation layer. They also have to make different decisions than they did in the past—now that they have automation. Their job profile is changing, so we have to educate and train them on how to use our solutions and tools combined with how to use the automation lab.

With smart manufacturing stressing the role of automation technology like we just spoke about and connectivity and big data, what will the role of humans in manufacturing look like here in China in, say, 2028?

In 2028, workers will be empowered to make more decisions. They will have the information. They will have the Dassault support and the data intelligence to drive the business more efficiently. Today, that’s still lacking in many areas.

What kind of networking will that situation require?

It will require networking in the software space, as well as networking of best practices and ideas and concepts.

Consortiums and industry best practice groups will help foster and facilitate all of this. At the end of the day, it’s not just about making decisions about how to bring products to market; it’s also about how to collaborate more efficiently and effectively. We’re moving into a realm where data-driven decision support and intelligence is going to give us information and tools to make more informed decisions and take us to places that we haven’t been before.

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