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Manufacturing in the cyberspace

Hackrod: this car was designed completely in the cyberspace using VR and 3D printed. Image credit: Hackrod and Siemens

Design in the cyberspace is a reality since many years now. First it was the use of CAD to create a digital model, then tis digital model was shared with the supply chain to design components. Nowadays several platforms operating in the cloud allow co-design of a product by having several companies working in parallel through the cyberspace.

Yet, this is not the peak in manufacturing in the cyberspace. A new company, Hackrod, using Siemens manufacturing platform, is taking a further step by creating a way to first use Virtual Reality through the design to create the virtual prototype, then through the platform enhance the prototype in cooperation with several other companies that will be in charge of providing several component and finally creating the physical product (in this case a top car) by using 3D printing.

Basically all design and a good deal of testing, through simulation, takes place in the cyberspace and the manufacturing is automated. Take a look at the video below.

What is really interesting, although projected onto a ten years timeframe -at least this is my take-, is that through the use of AI is relieving the design of the burden of ensuring compatibility among the many factors at play in a car (like dimensioning of brakes, suspension, release of power, size of tyres…) and the actual manufacturability of the prototype. In practice a designer no longer needs a team of qualified engineers to move from the conceptual design to an actionable design (the design of a car that would meet all manufacturing and regulatory constraints) because all this is managed in the background by the design platform.

In perspective this means that you and I in the future will be able to design our own unique car and have it manufactured to our specification. That would be a total revolution, and disruption in the value chain. Just think about car dealers, product advertisement … It would become a thing of the past. The value will be delivered directly by designers since all the complexity of engineering will be taken up by AI and the platform!

This is Industry 4.0 on steroids! It goes beyond the feedback of end users to steer the manufacturing process, it is about the end users activating the manufacturing process.

This is something, most probably, for the next decade. However, it is not science fiction, it is actually an integral part of the overall reshaping of the automotive industry. As we are shifting to electric cars (way simpler in terms of components than current ICE cars) and to software “driven” cars, the design will focuss more and more on the shell, rather than on the mechanics. In the same way a today you are “loading” your smartphone with apps, in the next decade you will be loading your car with apps determining its performances and adapting it to the way you need/want to use it.

Of course if our smartphone crashes because of an app we might swear, and then reboot it. This does not work with a car, because if it crashes we might not have the time to swear ;-).  Here is where AI and platforms are really playing a fundamental role. They have to ensure that everything is compatible, features interaction suns smoothly and in spite of a car evolving over time as result of (soft) components provided by several independent parties it works as a product deriving from a single design.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.