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Dassault Systèmes’ 3D Experience Forum, UK

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In this exclusive report, our Editor looks back at the 3D Experience Forum hosted by Dassault Systèmes in London last month.

Never strangers to lavish events or unique branding opportunities, Dassault Systèmes covered both bases with the promotion of its “3D experience” platform in the first half of this year.  An event in Munich in May highlighted the solution vendor’s acquisition of 3D visualisation experts RTT (formerly Real Time Technologies, and now 3DXCITE) and reintroduced press, prospects and partners alike to Dassault Systèmes’ – hereafter just “Dassault” – extensive product portfolio.

Last month, Dassault also hosted its United Kingdom 3D Experience Forum, bringing a smaller crowd at London’s Millbank Tower up to speed on the potential the 3D Experience platform had to offer to a host of different industries – from Formula 1 to fashion.

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Through EVP of Corporate Strategy, Monica Menghini, WhichPLM had already been well-briefed on what Dassault is calling “business in the age of experience”, and our previous coverage of the vendor’s Munich event goes into considerable detail regarding its broad strategic direction, messaging and how Dassault plans to flourish in the “experience economy”.

In practice, Stephen Chadwick, Leigh Davidson, Marc Truffaut and Philippe Forestier (the Dassault team members charged with heading up the London forum) didn’t deviate significantly from the established message.  The emphasis on PLM’s place in a unified whole was present and correct; as was Dassault’s insistence that three-dimensional working provides new and unique opportunities for a host of different applications.

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Perhaps the only noteworthy difference came from a live, on-stage demonstration of the 3DVIA store virtualisation solution, where products were hot-swapped in a 3D retail environment, with their replacements driven by sales performance, business intelligence and consumer analytics.

This isn’t to say that Chadwick et al’s presentations were unremarkable, but this article will focus instead on the UK-specific flavour that the organisers had injected into the Millbank Tower Forum.  And with homegrown heroes from the motor racing and sailing sectors making up the exclusive portions of the roster, Dassault demonstrated a keen eye for refining that broad corporate-level messaging for a local audience.

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The main draw of the day was undoubtedly America’s Cup winner and darling of the British sailing scene Ben Ainslie, who was fresh from launching his own competitive team that very morning on the capital’s waterfront.  Like their counterparts at Formula 1 testing grounds Goodwood, Ainslie’s team had researched, designed, prototyped and tested their racing using 3D solutions from Dassault Systèmes.

As Ainslie put it, a truly integrated 3D platform has the capacity to “strengthen the link between design and the user”.  In the case of performance sailing, this amounts to his team being able to prototype, test and verify “what will and won’t work” without the time and expense of producing iterative models.

DS Forum - Ben Ainslie

In his world, Ainslie is often competing tooth and nail against opponents – vying for even the smallest competitive margin.  For him, the difference between winning and losing is a matter of exacting detail, and Ainslie and his team looked to technology (particularly three-dimensional virtualisation) to keep pace and even move ahead in a rapidly changing environment.

Much of that is going to sound awfully familiar to our readers, since retailers and brands operate in an industry where a single material or design decision can have dramatic repercussions throughout the product lifecycle – one where they distinguish themselves from their competitors on a seasonal basis.

This is a common thread that was shared by two other keynote speakers at the UK 3D Experience Forum: Matthew Carter and Darren Cairns.

DS Forum - Matthew Carter

Carter is CEO of the Lotus Formula 1 team, while Cairns is Managing Director of Integral Powertrain, and a former engineer and engine designer at Cosworth.  Both have been users of Dassault Systèmes PLM and / or 3D solutions for some time, but each approached the iterative, interactive design and development process from a unique perspective.

For Carter, working in the highest echelons of the world’s most popular sport, technology is the key to unlocking unbridled innovation, keeping pace with a constantly-shifting ruleset, and remaining one step ahead of the competition.

To draw some direct parallels between F1 and fashion, Carter explained that he and his team constantly work one season ahead, and can hit more than 350 design releases per day at their peak.  This equates to more than 20,000 new or altered component designs per season, which throws into sharp relief just how expensive and time-consuming physically prototyping each of these would be.

The Lotus F1 team has worked with Dassault’s solutions for more than a decade, and Carter has the full “3D experience” on his roadmap for the near-term future.  For his business, the benefits seem obvious: a reduction in costly on-track testing of iterative component changes; the ability to respond quickly to external factors affecting their performance; and the chance to work quickly and collaboratively within a comparatively constrained budget (Lotus is second only in podium finishes to Red Bull – a team with three times its budget).

By dint of sharing an industry, Cairns’s presentation had much in common with Carter’s, but one thing the former Cosworth engineer did drive home was the importance of using the full scope of new technologies, not simply trying to force your old ways of working into a new paradigm.

DS Forum - Darren Cairns

The organisers had catered well to fans of boys’ toys – fast boats and even faster cars – but the event wasn’t limited to industry fan service, as a truly unique presentation (and a wildly different perspective on the role of technology in human endeavour) from Claudia Olsson showed.

A graduate of NASA’s Singularity University and an experienced speaker, Olsson’s keynote topic was the role that technological advancements can play in solving what she calls “the global grand challenges”.

We often focus on how technology can have a disruptive effect, but we typically do so within our own sphere of experience.  In my case this would be world of fashion and retail, while others members of the audience might view these things through the lens of discrete manufacture, motor racing, healthcare, or a range of other perspectives.

Olsson believes in the power of new tools like three-dimensional working, but her presentation also emphasised the fact that even things you and I take for granted – accessible computing, digital banking – can have a profound and transformative impact when they are extrapolated to the less privileged corners of the world.

DS Forum - Claudia Olsson

Olsson cited the world’s most famous transhumanist thinker, Ray Kurzweil, in her talk, explaining the theory that eventually human technological advancements will approach a threshold after which we, in our current state, cannot visualise their impact – a state beyond human.

But this kind of progress requires that we first address the inequalities that plague us as a species today, to that extent that we can truly say “anyone” can build the next Google – not just those of us in the Western world.

So, Olsson asked, what can we as a species do with the tools we already have at hand?  Crowd-funding, smartphones, 3D printing, wearble technology.  How can we leverage these tools to give emerging markets an equal opportunity to explore their potential and improve their quality of life?

Olsson stopped short of setting out a roadmap for the future, but she did point to a number of potential game-changers, including extremely cost-effective tablet computers designed for developing markets, and the ability for wearable technologies to potentially eliminate the language barrier.

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Much of what Olsson had to say was geared towards the social responsibility that all too often goes overlooked when we create new technologies, but several soundbites will be particularly resonant for our readers.  She encouraged, in her closing remarks, businesses of all shapes and sizes to be bold – to fail early and fail often; to ignite and share passion in their co-workers and consumers; and to look at new ways of approaching age-old problems.  After all, as Olsson put it, the biggest and most unexpected successes in global industry are often the result of experience.

Dassault Systèmes – at this UK forum and elsewhere – have talked a great lately about “business in the age of experience”.  And while I originally took it at face value, meaning commerce at a time when the consumer experience is paramount, this event opened my eyes to its other obvious interpretation: doing things better than we have at any time before, with the benefit of hindsight and advancement.

Although I’m still not absolutely certain that “3D experience” is the best way to describe what they’re building, each of this year’s events by Dassault Systèmes have at least demonstrated a willingness to talk and think outside the scope of the immediate, season-to-season challenges of doing business.  And at best, they have shown their commitment to building a platform for radical, sweeping change rather than iterative improvement.

Ben Hanson Ben Hanson is one of WhichPLM’s top contributors. Ben has worked for magazines, newspapers, local government agencies, multi-million pound conservation projects, museums and creative publications before his eventual migration to the Retail, Footwear and Apparel industry.Having previously served as WhichPLM’s Editor, Ben knows the WhichPLM style, and has been responsible for many of our on-the-ground reports and interviews over the last few years. With a background in literature, marketing and communications, Ben has more than a decade’s worth of experience, and is now viewed as one of the industry’s best-known writers.