The technology landscape is always evolving, being driven forward and pulled in exciting new directions by underlying macro trends. Right now, the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), mobile, and generative design are some of those trends that are starting to shape the engineering software space.
Software vendors would do well to pay attention to all of these areas: The trends overlap and intersect with one another in interesting ways, and even if some of the trends don’t seem relevant to your business today, that doesn’t mean they won’t be in the very near future.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these areas to understand how software companies can best capitalize on the opportunities they present.
Trend 1: IoT
IoT is a very interesting technology paradigm shift. The general idea here is that by putting sensors on their devices, companies can monitor them remotely at all times. In this way, IoT is very closely tied to the idea of the digital twin, which is a key concept of Industry 4.0.
Vendors are dramatically increasing their adoption of IoT, with the trend serving as a particularly big driver in the manufacturing space. In order to properly take advantage of IoT technology, companies need to be able to access manufacturing data without requiring a modelling kernel, and they need to be able to provide a lot of the meta data needed to connect parts to business logic. In other words, they need to read in manufacturing data and get the richness of the intelligence behind that data.
They also need to offer visualization of engineering data in both web and AR contexts. Strong visualization for the web enables remote monitoring, while AR capabilities — on both headsets and mobile devices — enable advanced visualization in the field. To the extent both can be supported, the better.
Trend 2: AR/VR
Having briefly touched on AR above, let’s take a deeper dive. The trends in this area primarily revolve around VR and AR headsets, but they also concern AR on mobile. In the last 12 months, there’s been significant interest in this area, with viewing companies in particular wanting to support this platform.
Not so fast: As anyone who has tried to build an AR or VR app will know, development in this area is easier said than done. Building a sophisticated user interface in a VR or AR environment is actually a very challenging undertaking. Those who can remember back to the 1970s and 1980s will recall that there wasn’t really a defined way to build an application until Windows and MFC defined a structure for how menus should work in a standard application. The AR/VR world is in a similar nascent stage where there isn’t really a defined way to build sophisticated user interface elements — so it will be important to follow this specific area to see how it develops, and to have the flexibility to respond effectively.
In the meantime, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and manufacturing use cases are both big focus areas for AR/VR hardware vendors. The key here is for developers to be able to support a broad range of graphics devices. Another thing to note is that beyond headsets, mobile devices (including the Microsoft Surface) also have powerful AR/VR capabilities, and so mobile will play a significant role. The takeaway? Consider mobile one more area for developers to make sure they’re on top of — which conveniently brings us to our next trend.
Trend 3: Mobile
Mobile is going to become a more significant platform in the engineering arena for a couple of reasons. In the past, mobile has primarily been a consumption platform, to enable workflows like viewing. This is all changing: The form factor is now enabling content creation apps.
And just to circle back to AR (remember the comment at the beginning that all of these trends intersect in interesting ways?): The AR capabilities in Android and Apple will bring about new use cases for using engineering data in the field, with IoT (to circle back to yet another of our earlier trends) being a good example.
Trend 4: Generative Design
“OK, computer: Build me the perfect wooden chair that can support up to 300 pounds, but weighs less than 20 pounds.”
This is the basic premise behind generative design: You feed certain parameters and constraints into the design application, and it will come up with tens — or hundreds, or thousands — of potential designs that meet the criteria you’re looking for. This is a truly game-changing technology that promises to reshape the industry over the next 10-20 years.
So, how can software vendors make sure they’re prepared to support this workflow? As with design today, it comes down to having unfettered access to the data model. While the data model of design today is the BREP, if this changes to something that is more supportive of generative design, companies need to be able to evolve in that direction.
Change Means Opportunity
Staying on top of all these trends — and what their practical implications might be for the engineering software space — can feel like a full-time job. That’s why for most software companies, it makes sense to partner with a strategic technology partner who stays well ahead of the big industry and technology trends. This allows the software vendors to focus on what they’re great at: bringing innovative engineering software products to market.
The exact impact of IoT, AR/VR, mobile, and generative design will vary from company to company, but make no mistake, these trends are already starting to shape the landscape around them. With the right technologies and capabilities in place, engineering software vendors can ensure they’re ready to respond to these trends and seize the opportunities created within the ever-changing market.
Ron Fritz is CEO of Tech Soft 3D.