According to Gartner, a strategic technology trend is one that is likely to or has the potential to have a significant impact on the organization, like the chance for a disruption to business or Information Technology users or the need to make a huge investment etc. These are all business decisions that are likely to affect the organization in a huge way in terms of its long-term goals or initiatives.
It’s that time of the year again when organizations start charting out their strategic technology plans for the coming year and prepare themselves to meet the resources and expenses for the same. What are the trends in technology that most organizations are likely to adopt in 2016?
Here is a list of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2016 as per Gartner, that are likely to affect digital business opportunities and processes through 2020:
- The device mesh – Device mesh is a term used to describe the expandable endpoints, or in simple words, the devices that people use to access applications or information and also to communicate and interact with people through social and business communities. It includes devices like mobile phones, wearables, home electronic devices and automotive or environmental devices as well. Most of these devices are almost always connected to back-end systems through various networks these days. But sometimes, they also have been working in isolation from one another. According to Gartner, in 2016, we can expect connection models to diversify and expand to facilitate greater coordination and interaction between devices to emerge. Now, as far as line managers are concerned, this would probably mean better coordination between various departments in the organization and therefore, better ability to ensure that all employees are on the same page when it comes to progress in work.
- A continuous user experience – As a result of the device mesh, a new continuous and ambient user experience is formed, with deeply engaging environments and virtual reality being just a part of it. This leads to a continuously flowing user environment, that helps to save time and space across a changing set of devices and interaction channels, and also merge physical, virtual and electronic environments together as users move from one place to another. David Cearley, vice president and fellow at Gartner, feels that these advanced experiences will go on to become a major differentiator for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and enterprises by 2018. This again contributes to bringing different departments in an enterprise closer and hence makes it easier for line managers to monitor and supervise his team.
- 3D printing – In 3D printing, there have been several huge advances in terms of materials used like nickel alloys, carbon fibre, glass, electronics, pharmaceuticals, conductive ink, electronics and the like. These improvements also drove up the user demand for 3D printing, as the practical applications of 3D printers has expanded to different sectors like aerospace, military, medical, automotive and energy. According to Gartner, the growing range of 3D printable materials will drive a compound annual growth rate of 64.1% for enterprise 3D printer shipments by 2019. And these improvements actually entail a need to re-plan assembly line and supply chain processes to make use of 3D printing.
- Information of everything – The digital mesh, mentioned above, entirely makes use of, produces and transmits all kinds of information, ranging from audio or video to sensory and contextual information. Information of everything seeks to address this inflow with the help of technology and strategies to combine data from all different data sources. Such information has always existed everywhere. It was due to the lack of capabilities to classify and analyze them, that always made such data incomplete, isolated or unavailable. But now, with advances in semantic tools such as graph databases and other fast emerging data analysis techniques, we would be able to bring more meaning to the usual rush of information.
- Machine learning – Machine learning makes use of certain Deep Neutral Nets (DNNs), that have capabilities far beyond regular computing and information management, to produce systems that can independently learn to perceive the world on their own. As discussed, the large influx of information and its complexity makes it infeasible and also uneconomic for manual analysis and classification. That is where DNNs succeed, in addressing the challenges arising from the trend of ‘information of everything’ and in making machines intelligent.
DNNs are advanced form of machine learning applicable to large complex data sets, that enable machines (hardware or software based) to learn for themselves, all kinds of features in their environment, from the tiniest of details to the most complex ones. As this area is rapidly progressing, organizations, more specifically, line managers, need to figure out ways and means of using these technologies to gain competitive advantage.
- Independence – As a consequence of the digital mesh and advanced machine learning put together, there is a whole range of smart machine implementations like Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs), robots, autonomous vehicles and smart advisors, that have a huge impact, not only on the physical front, but also on the software side. VPAs like Google Now, Cortana and Siri, are the perfect examples of an ambient or continuous user experience provided by autonomous agents. These agents are soon becoming the main user interface in most systems, by which people can literally talk to the apps, rather than interacting with menus and buttons. Line managers and IT leaders need to find ways to use such autonomous agents and things, to augment human activity and free people from work. Although, we must keep in mind that this is a long-term phenomenon that is likely to evolve and expand rapidly over the next few years.
- Advanced adaptive security – Digital business these days, with an algorithmic economy and a fast emerging ‘hacker’ industry, increase the threat platform for an organization. Regular security methods like perimeter defense and rule-based security would be inadequate, especially since organizations are now making use of more cloud-based services and open APIs for customers and partners to integrate with their systems. Line managers need to figure out new, advanced, adaptive security techniques like application self-protection through user and entity behaviour analytics and the like.
- Advanced systems – The device mesh and smart machines call for high level computing architecture to make them viable for organizations. There are several high powered and super efficient neuromorphic architectures that can provide this push. With the help of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), neuromorphic architectures have several significant benefits like, “being able to run at speeds greater than a teraflop” with high energy efficiency. According to David Cearley, “Systems built on GPUs and FPGAs will function more like human brains that are particularly suited to be applied to deep learning and other pattern-matching algorithms that smart machines use.”
- Mesh app and services – According to Gartner, the traditional monolithic, linear application designs, that is, the three-tier architecture are leading towards a more integrated approach: the apps and services architecture. With software-defined application services, this new design enables web-scale performance, flexibility, and agility. Microservice architecture is another emerging design for building distributed applications that support agile delivery and scalable deployment, both on-premises and in the cloud. Containers are also emerging as a useful technology for facilitating agile development and microservice architectures. Development teams must create new architectures to provide agile, flexible and dynamic cloud-based applications with similar user experiences that comprise the digital mesh.
- IoT platforms – Internet of Things (IoT) Platforms actually compliment the mesh app and services architecture. The various management, security and integration standards of the platform form the basic set of capabilities for building, managing and securing elements in IoT. It basically constitutes the work behind the scenes, done from an architectural and technological point of view, that make IoT a reality. It is an essential part of the device mesh and continuous user experience.
As is evident from the above technological trends of 2016, it is a “one-thing-leading-to-another” scenario, with each of the likely trends linked to the other. The device mesh has a lot of consequences and the ambient user experience, being one of those, has its own separate consequences.
All of these strategic technological trends mean more coordination and interaction between departments in an organization. For line managers, who know exactly what their team needs and is capable of, technology is literally going to be their best friend, who understands the team just as well. In all, with all these advancements, it looks like 2016 will be a year of transformation to the next level yet again, just like 2015 was.
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The demand for field service management solutions has been on the rise for a very long time now and it has reached an all time high. According to a recent research by Gartner, the revenue from field service and workforce management systems comes to around $1.3 billion annually. The kinds of technology used for field management has been transforming the way field agents worked in their sites. Field service management solutions have gone a long way in increasing workforce productivity as well as improving collaboration among the field service employees. Now let’s see what other kinds of technologies are set to revolutionize the industry.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things is something that has had a huge impact in terms of productivity, as with this, you can practically access or even process and transmit information from pretty much any object. Machine to Machine communication (M2M) has been in use in the field service industry for quite some time now. With IoT, this system of sending and receiving signals from one device to another can expand and go beyond its boundaries to include a whole network of devices. According to a leading M2M solutions provider, “M2M is essentially about connecting and communicating with a thing, where a ‘thing’ may be a machine, a device or a sensor – basically anything that can send data whereas IoT goes beyond connecting computers with things. It represents things connecting with systems including business applications, ERP, and CRM systems, analytics systems, data warehouses and also people (workers, employees, customers)”. It basically means they have a much larger scope. Their potential is so vast, that it can range from enabling emergency service alerts in the case of search and rescue operations or even helping energy companies detect problems early on using alerts and predictive analysis. For example, a crack in a water pipe or a waste pipe can be identified using sensors and can reported to the control center with the help of alerts. Through this, the technician can repair the damage before it causes any severe problems. Similarly, IoT with cloud-based services and remote machines can send location information, status details as well as other such condition based service information., that can influence the world of field services greatly.
Augmented reality and wearables
Augmented reality is one technology that will definitely have a huge impact on the way field service agents work. When leveraged with wearable technology, workers get to actually experience real world situations and issues with the help of computer-generated sensory inputs such as sounds, videos, graphics etc. For example, a field worker can analyze the equipment or areas he is working on by augmented reality enabled glasses and identify the exact cause of the issue and remedy for it too. Hence, it becomes much easier for him to make the repairs in reality. Thus, augmented reality and wearables are actually 2 faces of a single coin, as one is supplemented by the other. They streamline field service management, introduce new and improved ways of working and interacting with people through Smart Watches, mobile phones, Smart Glasses etc.
This is also a technology that has been in the industry for several years now. It greatly helps field service managers and agents generate parts or equipments that they might need in their work in 3D. For example, if a repair requires a particular equipment or tool or part that is not available with you at the moment or is low on stock, you might need to put off your service visit for days or weeks. With 3D printing, you are relieved of such an issue. It provides an efficient system for parts management. It helps you create anything on the spot, with the help of a 3D printer, provided you have the required diagrammatics for it. According to Gartner, over the next three years, 3D printing is likely to reach a turning point, as the demand for low-cost printing devices is increasing rapidly and its use in industries is also significantly high.
Field service organizations are already using most of these technologies in their daily operations. As a part of our ever dynamic business environment, it is also important to look out for newer technologies and be open to technological changes. Since all of these technologies contribute to the productivity and efficiency of organizations, you need to make use of them in the best possible way. Technological disruption is bound to happen, so might as well make the most of it.
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Will 3D printing change the way the world think, see and understand things? Of course it will, and if you aren’t excited about the whole thing, mark that you are not thinking big enough!
Futurists say that 3D printing impact will be so huge that it will make the life as we know it today, barely recognizable in 50-75 years’ time. It’s already getting there you see; England has created edible 3D printed hamburger, America is working on high-end 3D printed real-world cars, China, and Holland are building entire houses with 3D printing, ask what not is possible. Don’t you think our grandchildren will live in a fantasy world from where they would look back and laugh at how things are done today?
That is how 3D printing will revolutionize the technological future of almost every industry. Let’s see, how 3d printing will closely relate with another Big Thing–The Internet of Things (IoT) to drive this change.
Internet of Things aims at linking human behaviors to our day to day devices. Physical objects, people or animals will be provided unique identifiers and connected to a network embedded with electronics, sensors, software and internet connectivity, so that data can be exchanged between these without the need for a direct human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction, automating nearly every field of endeavor. The concept includes connecting human heart monitor implants, built-in automobile sensors packages, field operation tools for cops and firemen, biochips in farms and so on. In 5 years from now, the IoT will have 26 billion devices connected to it.
It is said that in 10 years, today’s silicon circuits will be replaced by plastic circuits. And 3D printing technologies will dominate such plastic printed electronics and circuits in IoT. Plastic printed transistors will become building blocks of wearable electronics and other IoT networks.
And the whole thing will be much cheaper than silicon devices, semiconductors, and circuits. Today semiconductors are manufactured by conventional electron beam lithography equipment costing from 1.5 million dollars to 30 million dollars for each; and a system that can print 3D electronics on a nano scale might go up to 500,000 dollars- that’s how 3D printing technology can massively drive the Internet of Things.
Belgian nanotechnology research center scientists made a transistor logic board with an astounding count of 3400 circuits, using inkjet printing technology that ran at a speed of 6Hz and is only 2*2 cm big. The researches see such plastic circuits as an “Exponential technology”. The founder of the Trillion Sensor movement and cofounder of nearly 9 MEMS technology companies, Dr. Janusz Bryzek believes that once 3D printing gets adopted on a wide scale, the traditional semiconductor manufacturing companies will face a violent mayhem. “Plastic circuits could end up having perhaps 1/1,000th the cost-per-area of the equivalent silicon device,” – says Bryzek. It is said that IBM Zurich lab researchers created nanometer sized 3D patterns on organic material using atomic force microscope just as a mask to create circuits.
3D printing in production and manufacturing: What to expect?
Gartner Research director, Pete Basiliere said, “3D printing is a technology accelerating to mainstream adoption”. 3D printing has already made its marks on how products are being manufactured. The Cisco Consumer Business Group (CBG), Denmark, used 3D printing instead of their conventional hand crafted prototyping technique to notice that the company actually achieved above 30 times reduction in prototype cost, reduction in prototype creation time from one week to just 90 minutes and an overall 33% design time reduction. We are able to bring production closer to the end user reducing the current supply chain restrictions. It will result in more customer engagement through the production of an object, which can greatly reduce stock pilings and inventories- similar to how Amazon operates. Shipping products and spare parts from one place to another may also become obsolete when you can actually 3D print parts on the site. This will in turn reduce the imbalance between export and import countries.
3D printing is already disrupting the current processes of design, prototyping, and manufacturing in almost every industry. As 3D printing gets adopted on a wider scale, many of the already invented products might have to be re-invented and we may have many more new products and things to learn about. For example, 3D printing has made many new and exciting geometries and shapes that were previously just imaginary. Our children might have formulas to learn that calculate area and volume of a shape we haven’t seen or studied about.
In Future, it’s fairly safe to imagine that you can manufacture anything with a 3D printer that you can’t with a printer (clothes, machines, robots, etc.) and use it as matter replicators like in Star Trek. Note that we already have near to accurate tools that are able to scan an object and create an exact copy of it using a 3D printer. So, eventually one day you can walk up to your printer and say, “make my copy”, as you have already seen in The Prestige!
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3D printing is creating a revolution in itself, with unlimited possibilities; both commercial as well as social. This is Part ONE of a series that focuses on how 3D printing has evolved, is evolving and will evolve along with technology in the long run. It’s not just a fancy gizmo any longer, 3D printing is taking up important practical applications in a number of industries. We hope to provide an insight on how you may be able to use it better.
3D printing: A flashback
3D printing evolved nearly 3 decades ago, from Charles Hull (IEEE member) who used to work for a company, where UV lamps were used to add a hard plastic layer onto tables/countertop surfaces. When Hull proposed his new idea of using UV light to convert parts created with a computer-aided design (CAD) into 3-D objects, the company decided to permit Hull, tinker in its laboratory in evenings and weekends.
He experimented with liquid acrylic based photopolymers, which harden when exposed to UV light; made a machine that etched these plastic layers into various shapes using UV laser and stacked these layers to make objects. However, it was a very time-consuming process to write codes for printer on how to etch the plastic layers. He took nearly a month to print the first object and it was a Cup (5 cms). After successive attempts, his 3D printer was finally ready to print large and complex parts like prototypes of machine parts in the mid-1980s. This caught the eye of car manufacturers who found the idea practical to wasting time, money and effort on sending blueprints out to clients and manufacturers. In 1988, his first 3D printer was sold for $100,000. The technique was later adopted by Mercedes-Benz and General Motors.
In 2005, a mechanical engineering professor from the University of Bath, England developed an open source project RepRap to make 3-D printer that prints most of its components. In 2008, RepRap launched a printer that produced half of its components and in September 100 copies of the printer were in use worldwide.
3D printing today
Today, 3D printing is making real-world, 3-dimensional objects from direct CAD diagrams of the object, using materials like plastic or metal. Sizes of 3D printed objects can range from approx. 16 to 4000 cubic inches depending on the size of the printer.
While most machining methods like milling, machining, turning, and sawing use subtractive method, 3D printing uses additive manufacturing technique, which is why it is called Additive Manufacturing. It was called Rapid Prototyping (PR), then Additive Manufacturing and now it is also called Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) as the technique is currently being used to create end user parts directly. You see, as technology evolves, definitions, machines, materials, uses, and costs are also getting better. Gartner predicts that by next year, the cost of an enterprise-class 3D printer will be less than that of a PC.
Conventional printing is not dead; it’s just that modern printers don’t use trees anymore!
3D printing: There are many different 3D technologies that use different ways to create the final object, out of materials like plastic, ceramic, metal, sand, biomaterials, food and many more. And there is definitely no papers needed here, as the printers in our homes and offices do. The beginning of the entire process is a 3D digital model, which is created using 3D software programs like 3D CAD. This CAD image is then cross-sectioned into thousands of layers thereby making the design into readable files for the 3D printer. The layers are then additively put according to the design and process.
How and where do we use it?
From making a small screw that was lost from your granny’s spectacles, to making prototypes of parts or models or replacement parts for your customers, 3D printing has a variety of uses in our day to day life. You can make objects that you can’t buy because they aren’t sold, like a coin-bank of your favorite anime character. Produce anything specific that you want- from toys or jewelries to robots and cars, or reproduce 3D objects of an art that would be otherwise too expensive. The possibilities are just so huge that a lack of idea is only a limitation of your imagination.
As most of us imagine it, 3D printing technology can print three-dimensional objects like your own plates and mugs. But why would you actually print mugs and plates when you want to get rid of those many you get for free? And that too with an enterprise 3D printer you bought for few thousand dollars? Come on, what can be more practical and serious uses of 3D printing? Besides all the hype, what can it really do?
Let’s see …
NASA’s 3D printer in space makes a ‘Ratchet Wrench’
Imagined how hard things can be in Space? There is a bare minimum of chance that you can take whatever things in whatever amount you want, when setting out for a space mission in a confined spacecraft. What if one of the tools breaks while working in space, can you imagine coming back to earth to get it? It takes months or years depending on the launch resupply schedule to take demanded equipment to space, and sometimes, as in exploration missions, it is just not possible to resupply from Earth.
Guess What NASA did?
NASA contracted with a north California-based company, Made In Space Inc. to design, print and operate 3D printer in space. An engineer there, Noah Paul-Gin designed a 3D model of a tool-Ratchet Wrench and successfully completed the first phase of operations by printing out this tool from a design file or blueprint transmitted from the ground to NASA’s printer last December.
NASA’s 3-D printer program manager from Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Niki Werkheiser, said for the news,
“In less than a week, the ratchet was designed, approved by safety and other NASA reviewers, and the file was sent to space where the printer made the wrench in four hours.”
He explains this is how he wants things to operate for every important tool or equipment that the astronauts would need in space.
“This wrench will not be used in space, but what if it was a tool the crew needed? We are breaking new ground not only in the way we manufacture in space but also in the way we operate and approve space hardware that is built in space, rather than launched from Earth.”
Werkheiser said : “If you can transmit a file to the station as quickly as you can send an email, it opens up endless possibilities for all the types of things that you can make from CubeSat components to experiment hardware,” “We even may be able to make objects that previously couldn’t even be launched to space.”
With the current technology, printing 3D models of anything under sun using well-designed templates have been made possible. To name a few may be, the 3D printed firearms, Shakuhachi Japanese flute, acoustic guitar, 3D printed organs, 3D model of the fetus in womb, 3D printed fabrics, 3D printed Bikini, and so on. (Note the fact that there is a lot of difference betwee Home 3D printers which you get for few thousand dollars and industrial 3D printers available for hundreds of thousand dollars out which the above things are made.)
Things that seemed unreal yesterday have become sensations today. Many things that are still a fantasy for us may convert as wonders of 3D printing tomorrow! In short, 3D printing used in the right way will add enormous value to products and lives, which is why we believe that it is a technology that is here to stay and revolutionize the world.