Remote working has enabled many of us to become more digitally literate, collaborative, resourceful and adaptive. Asif Moghal explores how that experience has enabled industry to achieve the impossible.
Every facet of our daily lives has been disrupted by the Coronavirus. Being rooted in the design and manufacturing industry, I’ve been fortunate to closely observe the sector rapidly adapt to support the health sector in so many ways.
Around the world, designers and engineers have demonstrated how necessity is the mother of invention. Not only has production shifted from cars to masks, from airplane parts to ventilators, but it’s happened in a timeframe that would ordinarily be considered impossible.
This level of agility is almost unheard of until now and I believe it’s being fuelled by a few factors that, I hope, we will hang onto once this pandemic is safely behind us.
The rise of digital literacy
Almost overnight, we have been forced to explore ways of connecting which, for most, have been unfamiliar beyond a social context.
We have seen almost everyone in the sector embrace virtual meetings and real-time collaboration tools to maintain some regularity to their working day.
In both a professional and personal context, individuals have become digital experts, teachers with the knowledge to upskill those less familiar with this technology, whether that’s for their coworkers, customers, suppliers, partners, family members or friends.
A quick look at Google Trends shows a global spike in mid-March for search terms related to “TEAMS video conferencing”, with searches for “Zoom video conferencing” rising by 190% and “MS teams video conferencing” rising by 40%.
As a result, people are becoming more comfortable with a greater range of digital tools and capabilities. Even though this may only be a minor sub-segment of the digital toolkit that exists, it has raised our confidence in what’s possible with technology and potentially, a thirst to learn more.
If we hang on to this, the impact this could have on the design and manufacturing industry may be an accelerated adoption of technology either side of the production environment and lead to greater productivity, faster.
Collaboration has gone up
Companies that don’t traditionally work together or have never had to collaborate in this way before are now partnering up.
As a result, they are creating new products and production processes faster than ever because of not being constrained by traditional thinking. Not to mention the contribution we have seen from the education sector, from students to educators.
For example, Dr Simon Leigh at the University of Warwick’s School of Engineering has teamed up with postgraduate researcher Elizabeth Bishop and several engineering students to 3D print hundreds of PPE face shields.
A new face shield design devised by Elizabeth meant they could be printed in just six minutes. Image: Elizabeth Bishop
Most recently, organisations from the aerospace, automotive, and medical industries have come together to form the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium, which Autodesk is proud to be supporting.
If we hold on to this attitude, the impact could result in a dramatic rise in productivity.
Expertise is being crowd sourced
The complexity of the problems we are facing require data and expertise that exists outside of the traditional design and manufacturing industry.
Large, global companies are reaching out to customers, independent designers, machinists, and even micro-businesses (VSBs) to come together to create. Those sharing IP and relaxing patent rights to accelerate production is what the health industry needs right now.
In Ireland, for example, medical technology firm Medtronic shared ventilation specification and design files for the Puritan Bennett™ 560 (PB 560) for those participating in efforts to design and manufacture ventilators.
The commercial product was previously IP protected and now includes detailed information online about the compact, portable ventilator that provides airways support for both children and adults.
Volunteers from Autodesk Dublin assemble 600 masks on May 1 in the office’s Product Experience Lab. These were produced by employees in the Autodesk Technology Centre in Birmingham and posted to Dublin, for the team to assemble. The masks were donated to two Irish charities: The Irish Red Cross and Dublin Simon Community. Image: Autodesk
The Autodesk Technology Centres worldwide have also come together to produce and donate more than 7,000 units of PPE to over a dozen healthcare facilities, with the capacity to produce a few thousand more.
Utilising the resources available at Autodesk workshops in Birmingham, as well as San Francisco, Boston and Toronto in the US, technology centre members are using an open-source design to produce a single fold origami-style face shield, laser cut from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), plus a small headband cut from the same material.
At the technology centre in Birmingham, the same open-source design is being used to produce origami–style face shields with a modification using Velcro.
The impact is greater access to a wider network of experts, many from non-traditionally trained disciplines, but many of whom might possess unique knowledge and expertise that could be brought to bear on problem solving. It would be like the ultimate product development team.
Convergence is accelerating
We often refer to convergence of construction and manufacturing industries, with 3D-printed concrete and modular becoming more commonplace in the construction sector.
But this pandemic has seen a unique alliance between manufacturing, technology and politics to provide for the health sector.
Both the manufacturing and technology sectors have strong roots in the UK. Their rapid response to the government’s call for support in designing and making equipment demonstrated how adaptable and valuable these industries have become.
I believe the impact of this convergence will be a much clearer understanding by policy makers of the value of our industry, potentially fuelling the perception shift that has hampered the sector for a long time.
Design and manufacturing will ultimately be positioned as the highly regarded industry it is, encouraging more people to get into it.
We have seen how quickly manufacturing facilities can adapt their production lines, the individual efforts to solve design and make challenges to further enhance the equipment needed, and the power of convergence of industries.
Moving forward, this experience will forever change the design and manufacturing industry.
Asif Moghal is Senior Industry Manager, Design & Manufacturing, at Autodesk