We are now living in exceptional times where technologies offer endless possibilities for innovation, not just in products but also in how those products are designed, manufactured and delivered to the consumer.

The thread that runs through all of these technologies is a digital one. Data is not only the fuel of this digitised future, it's also the lubricant that keeps the machines running. The exceptional times mentioned in my opening comments are the result of a few technologies reaching a level of maturity that will likely change the way we work, the way we innovate, the way we make and the way we run the factories and supply chains that we operate.

The last five years have been wonderful for innovators. The availability of capital through traditional funding methods as well as disruptive methods like crowdfunding have made start-ups more accessible. Technologies like 3D printing and other rapid prototyping tools have reduced time to product and associated costs. Integrated and outsourced design and manufacturing solutions like those provided by Radius Innovation and Jabil have simplified and streamlined development and operational processes, allowing innovators to concentrate on product rather than process. Technology enablers, like the ubiquitous smartphone, new materials science, virtual reality (VR), voice recognition and much more create the building blocks for many innovations.

But what of the process that starts once the idea is conceived? Where are these halcyon days of innovation taking those processes? The keys to success once again stem from the digital thread, this time set alongside the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR). Recently there has been talk about the ‘augmented age,’ or the fifth age of man. The first age was hunter/gatherer, which lasted millions of years. The second was the agricultural age that lasted thousands of years. The third was the industrial age, with the development of tools and eventually machines, lasting a few hundred years. The fourth was the information or computer age, lasting a few decades. And now the fifth age is upon us, the augmented age, the age of artificial intelligence where we work with our tools, rather than putting them to work for us. This new level of human machine collaboration brings with it a whole new era of manufacturing, operational and supply chain excellence and possibilities that are almost too complex to imagine.

Starting in design, we are using VR and AR tools to design, visualise and manipulate products before they even reach a physical form. AI also plays a role here, offering the chance for designers to share their experience with deep machine learning to develop the best possible solution for a product. Imagine asking your design system to suggest ten designs for a new wearable product and then being able to adjust those designs with simple voice commands like ‘make it sleeker,’ ‘make it less rounded’ or ‘make it more robust.’

Next comes rapid prototyping where innovations in manufacturing techniques, in 3D printing and in robotics allow us to quickly turn ideas into products that can be handled and shared to assess their potential. At our Blue Sky Centre in Silicon Valley, the teams from Radius and Jabil work together with innovators to turn their ideas into tangible solutions in timescales that were thought impossible just a short time ago.

Once a product is ready for launch, the digital thread can take that product to global scale at a speed that ensures it gets the jump on the competition. Innovation in supply chain, in manufacturing and in operations means that planning has been underway throughout the design cycle and that a product can be introduced to the market reliably and quickly. The Internet of Manufacturing (IoM) provides opportunities to develop and deploy global manufacturing close to every market quickly, efficiently and economically. It means that our processes are continuously learning and improving from their experiences and the data of previous projects. This creates a whole new level of manufacturing agility that keeps us and our customers relevant in a rapidly changing market.

The combination of AI, deep machine learning and our team of experienced professionals working in a collaborative and ‘augmented’ environment ensures that innovation is not only at the front end of a product’s development, but that it runs through every process all the way to, and in fact beyond, delivery to the consumer.

Welcome to innovation for the augmented age…

First published by EBN.