November 25, 2015
Around noon on a sunny Thursday in San Francisco, I joined the crowd inside Terra Gallery, a venue with a view of the Oakland Bay Bridge. Last week, the art gallery and fashion show venue hosted Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Forum—one of two events held in North America. (For a report from the Boston event, read Jessica Lulka’s post here.)
As she took the stage, Monica Menghini, Dassault Systèmes’ executive VP and chief strategy officer, said, “The consumer’s journey is the new product.”
From PLM to Experience
About five or six years ago, company executives liberally sprinkled their talks with the acronym PLM (product lifecycle management), for product lifecycle management. That was when Dassault Systèmes—along with most of its rivals—touted PLM as the hallmark of enterprise excellence, achievable with a mix of data consolidation and process reengineering.
These days,Dassault Systèmes is setting its sight on something else—the Experience Economy. In fact, the company describes itself as “The 3DEXPERIENCE Company” in its tagline. The shift in corporate thinking is reflected in the rebranding campaign. Products once known by their own distinct names—such as CATIA (design software suite), ENOVIA (PLM suite), and SIMULIA (simulation suite)—are now part of the all-encompassing 3DEXPERIENCE platform.
The new vision is, as captured in the 3DEXPERIENCE Forum welcome page, “consumers expect instantaneous answers, delightful experiences, and simplicity.” The keynote talks at the event identified the pillars of what Dassault Systèmes calls The Age of Experience—additive manufacturing, Big Data, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
A car as a product is an electromechanical system that runs on fuel. On the other hand, a car as a driving experience (to borrow BMW’s words, “the ultimate driving experience”) demands much more. The in-car multimedia console, WiFi connectivity, automatic firmware update, onboard navigation, voice response, semi-autonomous braking and parking, even the online customization interface with instant previews and the post-sales services are all part of the consumer’s journey—an example of the type of “experiences” that are now packaged and sold.
The key to designing the experience is systems engineering—a strategy that demands collaborative and simultaneous development of control software, hardware, and anything else in-between. It even includes listening to the chatter—positive and negative—about what consumers are saying about similar classes of products or competitors’ product.Dassault Systèmes’ My Car Experience, a set of offerings that cater to the auto industry, includes Social Listening, described as a way to “collect and analyze pertinent customer perspectives and requirements to align and enhance your vehicle development.”
Michel Tellier,Dassault Systèmes’ VP of aerospace & defense, feels the industry he serves has already had a head start in this respect. “Aircrafts are complex systems, an integration of code, machine, and platform that’s very mature,” he noted. “Before, software development, structural design, and system design took place in their own tool sets, within their own processes—almost a parallel development of separate systems. They worked somewhat autonomously, then came together much later in the development cycle. But that’s no longer a viable approach.”
One of the hurdles to systems-level design approach is visualization. Displaying a complex system like an aircraft with all its internal components and layers of engineering data requires robust hardware and graphics acceleration. The demand is much greater for simulating such a system as a detailed 3D assembly model.
“It’s not so much loading the data, but about not taking a week to load,” said Tellier with a chuckle. “Thirty years ago, it took dedicated hardware, dedicated software, machines, and networks to make it possible. Now, we can do it on the desktop, at least for structures.” The 3DEXPERIENCE platform, Tellier said, is designed specifically to allow engineers to work with large-scale digital mock-ups of systems—“functional mock-ups,” as he calls them.
Olivier Sappin, Dassault Systemes’ VP of transportation & mobility industry, envisions a new specie of software with AI-like functions to tackle the complex systems. “In the future, for many of the parts we design, the engineer may not longer need to come up with the right shape. Given a set of requirements, the software will be able to create shapes that nobody might have thought of,” he observed. “A lot of the computer-conceived shapes could not be produced in the past, because they weren’t compatible with the existing manufacturing methods, but you can produce them now with 3D printing.”
The anticipated data deluge—the inevitable outcome of the sensor-driven IoT products—is seen by many as a headache, but Sappin feels it also offers an opportunity. “People can then work with not only data from engineering knowledge but also with usage data collected from the field,” he said. Parsing the data to find useful patterns and correlations, however, is expected to be a challenge.
The IoT Consumer Mentality
The art and science of product development in the past revolved around shapes, designed and refined in CAD. The process is managed in PLM. But IoT consumers’ preference for simplicity, intuitiveness, and semi-autonomous features in their devices presents new challenges.
Keynote speaker David Rose, author of Enchanted Objects, observed, “The history of computers have always been about efficiency. What’s changing now is that we’re adding emotions.”
IoT-era buyers don’t just want a thermostat or a wristwatch. They want a thermostat that remembers their preferred temperature, detects when they’re home (or not), and can turn itself on (or off) automatically. They want a wristwatch that displays Facebook news feed and also doubles as a heart rate monitor. By the way, they have to look good too, like a fashion accessory.
Not all of these features—or experiences—can be conceived and simulated in the current generation of design and engineering software. The learning curve for experience engineering is steep, not only for product designers but also for software developers who cater to them.