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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

That’s A Wrap: Divergence and Convergence

June 8th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

The spring season seems to be the time of year when many companies and professional organizations hold their annual conferences, and this spring was no exception. I’ve attended several events in the past few weeks and noted striking differences of two of them — divergence at RAPID + TCT 2017 and convergence at LiveWorx 17 — and that’s how I want to wrap up our spring 2017 trade event tour (although I have one more next week).

Divergence at RAPID + TCT 2017

Diverge (dih-vurj, dahy-): To move, lie, or extend in different directions from a common point; branch off. To turn aside or deviate, as from a path, practice,or plan.

3D printing/additive manufacturing (AM) are about making something digital into something analog. Although the technologies are 30+ years old, many things are still being done as they were in the beginning, such as building 3D models, exporting STL data, etc. However, several aspects of AM are diverging from its historical roots.

For example, the first AM materials were polymers, and they still account for ~85% of all materials used, but metals are coming on strong and now account for about 14% of the materials used. The range of materials being used, though, is constantly increasing — everything from ceramics to composites to food to living tissue.

Panel Discussion at RAPID + TCT 2017

Volume quantities are also diverging from one-offs or small quantities for rapid prototyping to real production quantities where the costs can be justified when costs go down and production speed goes up.

AM development investment is coming from new sources that include private industry, educational institutions, and governments. A good example are the companies, such as GE, that are adding AM through acquisitions as part of their businesses at rates not seen in the past. GE recently acquired Arcam and Concept Laser in a division known as GE Additive, making it one of the biggest metal AM players with machine sales forecast to be more than $1B by 2020.

Applications and markets for AM-produced parts are becoming more mainstream instead of just niches, and this is starting to happen big time in the athletic shoe industry.

On the design side, many CAD packages are beginning to take specific design rules and parameters into account for AM, as well as the emerging AMF file format that overcomes many of the shortcomings of STL.

On the manufacturing side, production machines are evolving from having just additive capabilities to those that also have subtractive capabilities with a versatile hybrid system approach.

According to Terry Wohlers in his keynote presentation at RAPID + TCT 2017, “The real excitement surrounding AM is not what we do know, but rather, in what we don’t know how AM might be used in the future.” I couldn’t agree more. We’re just now seeing what is ultimately possible with AM that continues to diverge from where it began.

Convergence at LiveWorx 17

Converge (kuh n-vurj): To tend to meet in a point or line; incline toward each other, as lines that are not parallel. To tend to a common result, conclusion, etc.

It’s no secret that the Internet of Things (IoT) is helping shape the future of business through access to massive amounts of data from previously untapped resources. Currently, there are an estimated 20 billion connected devices, and this is predicted to grow to 50 billion by 2020. Through analytics and augmented reality (AR) experiences, the possibilities created for businesses across a growing variety of industries is virtually unlimited.

The LiveWorx 2017 event, hosted by PTC , highlighted the huge potential for growth and innovation that the IoT offers. Several of the presentations at the event described how the IoT is transforming traditional businesses and how the technology is converging the physical and digital worlds, generating added value.

Today, we are being transformed by a convergence of physical and digital products, services, and environments. Existing businesses are being disrupted and new markets are being created by this convergence. As examples, the world’s largest digital technology companies, such as Apple and Google are developing physical autonomous cars and thermostats, while the world’s largest industrial manufacturing companies, such as GE and Bosch are reinventing themselves as digital industrial companies.

The physical world has existed forever, and consists of the physical products, components, parts, equipment, and assets that companies create; the cities, worksites, and factories where these things exist; and the sensors and infrastructure that surround these physical objects.

Physical Digital Convergence The New Frontier of Innovation At LiveWorx 2017

The digital world was born in the 1950s with the advent of the computer, creating the first wave of IT-driven competition. Today the digital world includes CAD models, PLM, CRM, ERP and other enterprise data, consumer data like social media, and the increasing volume of IoT data generated by all the things around us.

Convergence happens when these two worlds come together harmoniously to enhance each other; physical things are enhanced by digital insights, digital graphics are augmented on the physical world, etc. Today, examples of this convergence are everywhere, 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Factories/Industry 4.0, and the emergence of Augmented Reality (AR).

Companies can now  maintain a link to inventory systems in real time, and field service workforces can diagnose problems before they arrive to decrease unplanned downtime. This connected service model incorporates predictive monitoring of connected assets and remote service capabilities to enable new service models and revenue opportunities.

Using AR experiences built with PTC’s ThingWorx Platform, digital service content from CAD, PLM or SLM systems can be superimposed in a physical world context for insights to field technicians or self-service instructions for customers. By bringing these digital insights directly into the physical world, errors are reduced and the overall service experience is improved.

In other words, augmented reality uses physical and digital convergence to transform the physical and digital product experiences.

On the other hand, over the past several months I’ve read several excellent articles that have given pause for thoughts on security issues surrounding IoT. A couple of the best have been written by Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and include:

“The Next Ransomware Attack Will be Worse Than WannaCry”

“Your WiFi-Connected Thermostat Can Take Down The Whole Internet”

Alarmist? Maybe. Attention worthy? Absolutely.

Regardless, however, IoT is changing and will continue to change how products are designed, produced, consumed, serviced, and improved, and PTC is one of the companies at the forefront of leading this enormous charge and change.

Editor’s Note: I’ll be in Las Vegas next week for Hexagon’s HxGN event. If you’ve got anything interesting you want to share, show, or discuss, please contact me at or 719.221.1867. Hope to see you there!

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