I am working on adapting our corporate Future of Making presentation into a whitepaper. Here is my original draft that I am going to evolve. Before I do, I thought I'd share what I had with It's Alive in the Lab readers.
Today there are over 7 and a half billion of us living here on Earth, and by 2050, there will be 10 billion of us.
All around the world, the middle class is growing faster than at any time in our history. In 1990, less than a quarter of the world's population earned enough to be classified as middle class. Today, almost half of us do. That's three times as many people whose lives have become better, and that's just the start. 400,000 people are joining the middle class each and every day, and along with this growing population comes a growing demand. 400,000 more people every day will desire – and deserve – what we all do: mobile phones, motorized transportation, abundant food, and housing.
By 2050, two-thirds of us will live in cities. By then we'll need to build 3,600 more buildings per day than we're currently building, and what we'll need to spend on this is a fraction of what we'll need to invest in new infrastructure, not to mention the cost of repairing our old crumbling infrastructure. We're going to have to build the new world at the same time as we continually rebuild the old.
Highways and hospitals, education and energy, water and wheat. 10 billion people will want the same thing that we all want: more. More is inevitable.
The demand for more is driven by demographic and socioeconomic changes that are already underway. To meet this increasing demand, we're increasingly reliant on automation.
More demand doesn't guarantee more jobs. Or more equality. As we make more things for more people, we increase the potential for negative impact. The negative impact that's often an unintended consequence of the things we make.
The more we make, the less of our limited natural resources we leave ourselves, and the less skilled labor there is left to go around. Particularly in industries like construction and manufacturing where there are already fewer skilled workers than we need.
So how do we build all we need and balance this with less negative impact? Less negative impact on people, less disruption to business, less harm to communities, less creation of inequality, and less negative impact on the planet. Less depletion of our natural resources, less waste, and less carbon emissions. Less is a reality.
As we plan for the inevitability of more, how do we balance this with the reality of less?
To solve this fundamental capacity issue, we're going to have to fundamentally rethink the way we make things. We can't continue doing things the way we do today. Construction creates almost a third of all global waste. When 70% of the spare parts we make today aren't ever needed, we're losing the efficiencies of manufacturing within inefficient supply chains. We're wasting warehouse space, wasting materials, and wasting money.
Reducing our negative impact on the planet, and on people — is a reality we all need to face up to. Addressing the inevitability of having to do more, along with the reality of doing it with less negative impact, is a massive design challenge, but addressing this fundamental capacity issue is also the biggest design opportunity we have ever had.
At Autodesk, we make software tools to help people with design challenges every day. We help our customers who design and make everything from skyscrapers to smart cars, from bridges to blockbusters. We help our customers who make buildings and cars with less environmental impact and movies with more emotional impact. Our tools automate how things are designed in the digital world, and made in the physical world.
We help architects simulate how the buildings they design will perform before they're built, and we help site workers construct them so they continue to perform after they're built. We help mechanical engineers simulate the performance of cars before they're made, and we help manufacturing engineers prepare those cars to perform once they're made. We even help some of our customers make movies that perform at the box office. Our tools automate the way our customers design and make things.
In fact, we've been in the automation business for over 35 years. It's true that our technology has disrupted and changed many jobs. Automation is no doubt changing how we work, but, more importantly, it's also changing what we work on. What we make. So rather than worry about automation taking our jobs, maybe we should focus on the opportunity of where we can take automation? Where we can go together.
Because along with the inevitability of more, and the reality of less, is the opportunity of better.
GM leverages generative design for automotive parts such as a seat belt bracket.
The things General Motors make have changed a lot over the last hundred years, and so has the work on the assembly line. For over a hundred years, GM has used automation to optimize their production to the point where today, a car rolls off the assembly line every minute. That's a car that typically contains over 30,000 parts.
Optimizing production is no longer enough to keep pace with the rapidly-changing auto industry.
Its CEO, Mary Barra is helping GM reinvent itself by reimagining its business around electric. She has committed to bringing twenty electric vehicles to market by 2023. That means improving efficiency, and the best way to do that is to reduce weight and complexity.
So GM is using Autodesk generative design technology to help them reduce the number of parts that go into each car, while making them lighter and stronger. Our generative design technology helps GM's engineers develop solutions based on the goals and constraints of a part — like where it connects to others, what it's made of and what loads it needs to take.
GM worked with us to explore a prototype for this part: the bracket into which the rear seat belts fasten. Having defined the goals and constraints, generative design automatically generated viable design options for GM to choose, taking into account performance and manufacturing viability. Which meant that GM's engineers were able to explore dozens and dozens of valid options faster than they'd previously been able to for a single design. From all the options available, the one the engineers decided upon was a solution nearly impossible for a human to design alone and yet a human did, in partnership with generative design. A solution GM designed to be 40% lighter, and 20% stronger than the original.
Not only this, it's now printed as a single part, rather than assembled from eight separate components. Automation through generative design is enabling GM to make parts that are more lightweight and more fuel efficient, but less components also means less complexity and fewer suppliers. Automation is not just changing the parts that GM makes, it's changing their vehicles, their supply chain, their entire ecosystem.
GM's focus on innovation helped them create a better bracket, but it's just one component. Imagine how much further automation could take GM. How much further all its cars could go. And imagine how much fuel would be saved if GM applied generative design successfully to the tens of thousands of parts that make up every one of its cars.
Van Wijnen leverages generative design for community layout.
Let's turn next to the things we build. How could making better homes result in a better business model for construction? That is the very question that one of our customers has been asking themselves. Van Wijnen is a family business in the Netherlands, which builds a lot of property including affordable, net-zero energy housing.
Now building housing that's both affordable and sustainable may sound paradoxical to some of us, but not to Van Wijnen. They're not like most construction companies.
Like most construction companies, after the last downturn, Van Wijnen was concerned that the 2% profit they were chasing wasn't something that could sustain them.
So, by fully adopting BIM, they figured out how they could eliminate waste and lower cost, and tagging each component with all the metadata they needed enabled them to think more like an automotive manufacturer and develop a modular concept for housing that could be used in many different configurations. And having invested in building this catalog of component parts, they used manufacturing processes to build these components better. They prefabricated each component themselves: first of all off-site, at their own factory, and then on-site, at any job site. Soon all their houses could be assembled in three days.
They'd reimagined the way they approached building houses. Now Van Wijnen were thinking about how to reimagine the way they were designed. So we helped them use generative design technology on a project to explore 15,000 different design options. They focused on the three most interesting choices that they could shape into the perfect urban neighborhood. Generative design helped them look across multiple dimensions, all at once.
They were able to maximize the amount of solar energy they could collect. Generative design helped Van Wijnen meet their net-zero energy goals. Not only this, it helped optimize backyard size and views, ensuring the housing met the human needs of its occupants too. But that isn't all that Van Wijnen were able to optimize for. Cost and profit were also part of the model. Van Wijnen are running a business after all.
Van Wijnen's modular system allows them to make buildings better, with less waste and less risk while generative design enables them to make better buildings, with more yard space and more daylight to better meet the human needs of their occupants. Automation helped make things better suited to human needs.
Automation is changing the very things that Van Wijnen makes and the jobs of the people who work there. Their concept for modular construction just wouldn't be effective without making houses in ways that are more industrialized using prefabricated components, manufactured to be modular, so they can be quickly assembled on-site. Their concept is built on both repeatability and flexibility. They've converged the repeatability of manufacturing and the flexibility of construction, and because the process that drives this concept is fully digital, it's changed the nature of work at Van Wijnen where human innovation is thriving, because of a new partnership with automation.
And the things that GM are making are also changing because of automation. Their next generation of vehicles rely on lightweighted parts that just wouldn't be possible without making them in entirely new ways. Generative design and industrial additive converge how things are designed and made, and, in doing so, change the very nature of the things GM are capable of making. It changes the nature of their work too. For over a hundred years, automation has helped the car industry focus on optimization, but a new relationship with automation is helping the industry focus on innovation.
Automation is more than just a way to improve the bottom line, because it can also be a way to grow the top line.
Automating tasks and optimizing processes are a key part of staying competitive. Whether optimizing for efficiency, or for density, optimization is what we all do to keep up with our competitors. But it's imagination, not optimization, that moves us all ahead. Whether imagining how a bracket could be printed as one part rather than assembled from many components or imagining how to accommodate human needs along with business needs, automation can take us further. And just imagine how much further we can go when we partner our human innovation with automation.
Our innovation with generative design is changing not just what our customers design and make, but how they design and make. And as we change how they design – by converging on one solution from many potential options and guiding the tool to any manufacturing method – we recognize that we change how our customers learn.
The Autodesk Learning Engine depicts areas of mastery versus needs for development.
So we're also thinking about how tools for design through co-creation can also foster learning through co-creation. We're looking at how our tools can adapt to us, and help us adapt. Learning tools built on automation that – like generative design – anticipate our customers' needs.
Working in partnership with tools that foster co-creation helps us nurture innovation, together, we can balance the inevitability of more with the reality of less, and find the opportunity of better. Better things and better work. A better world. Through human innovation and automation we can shape the world around us.
Together, we can make anything.
- Source for current population, population growth, and people living in cities: UN.
- Autodesk partnered with the market research firm Statista to determine how expected mass global migration from countryside to city over the next thirty years will impact the construction industry.
- As the global population shifts and urbanizes over the next thirty years, the construction industry will need to build an average of 13,000 buildings every day in urban areas. Today, the global construction industry is building an average of 11,098 buildings per day. It's projected that we will need to build an average of 14,704 buildings per day in urban areas in 2050. That's an increase of 30% or 3,600 more buildings than we are building today.
- Source for 30% global waste from construction: constructiondive.com.
- Source for 70% spare parts are never used: 2016 Wohler's report.
The future of designing and making is alive in the lab.