Dassault Systemes’ Bold Plan To Make On-Demand Manufacturing Mainstream

Right about this time a year ago, I wrote a feature piece on a company I thought you should probably pay particular attention to: Dassault Systemes (or 3DS for short). It wasn’t my first time pointing you to some of their most tech-industry-relevant achievements or articulating their distinctive value to innovation, design, and even in the VR space, but it was probably the first time I had attempted to articulate their value to the entire tech and innovation ecosystem. If you’ve forgotten, or you’re new to Futurum Insights, you can quickly get up to speed here.

Note: You owe it to yourself to spend a few minutes getting a quick refresher course on what Dassault Systemes does, because they live quite literally at the heart of every category of product you use today, from your laptop, smartphone, and favorite wearables to the building, car, bus, ferry, train, aircraft, or terminal you are sitting in right now. Chances are that the chair or couch you are sitting in, the table or desk you are resting your elbows on, the coffee cup in your hand, your glasses, your bag, your shoes, your clothes, and even the WiFi network you are currently on was designed using some of their products. They call themselves the experience company, but I also like to call them the how-things-get-brought-to-life company.

The simplest way to understand what Dassault Systemes’s contribution to tech is, is to understand the tools used to design things in the digital age: Everyone has some basic understanding of what computer modeling is. Whether the context is movie special effects, automotive design, product customization, or virtual reality, computer modeling is a notion we can all grasp on some basic level. At its core, that’s what Dassault Systemes provides for innovators, engineers, researchers, designers, architects, retailers, and creators. Whether you are designing the next smartphone, monitoring wireless network efficiency across a smart city, or using photorealistic VR-based predictive models to test the viability of a Mars-bound rocket booster prototype, Dassault Systemes is the company that provides the tools and the capabilities you probably need to do it properly.

We are barely scratching the surface here, but you get the idea. Now apply those capabilities to medical research, high tech education, augmented retail experiences, molecular biology, materials science, and 3D-printing, and you start to see just how important Dassault Systemes’s products and services are to innovation, scientific progress, commerce, and technology-driven value creation.

Key Insight: One of the principal goals of every designer is and has always been to shorten the distance between the imagined and the real. Today, this can be translated into shortening the distance between the virtual and the real.

This may be a good time for you to read (or re-read) this piece I wrote in April of last year, when I attended Dassault Systemes’ Milan Design Week forum. If nothing else, it’s a must-read if you want to understand where tech and the next few decades of socioeconomic pain points intersect. In that piece, I argued that humanity has reached an inflection point: we are now capable of collectively designing the future of the entire planet. This isn’t idle talk or hyperbole. It’s an economic and technological reality: The tools are there for innovators, problem-solvers, designers, and creators to do with what they will. If your passion is to design custom skateboards for yourself and your friends, that’s what you can do. If your passion is to design flood-resistant housing that could save tens of thousands of lives around the world each spring, you can do that too. If your passion is to design smart medical devices, or autonomous ambulance drones, or portable water purification systems used in hurricane relief efforts, you can do that, and Dassault Systemes is the company that can put the right tools at your fingertips to get it done.

And for all the perhaps misplaced consumer-facing hype in the press about 3D-printing a couple of years ago, I can tell you that while 3D printing may never scale to consumer homes the way that gaming consoles, smart TVs, and Mesh WiFi already have, 3D printing is a big deal if you’re a designer or a creator. And it isn’t just about rapid prototyping anymore either. You can 3D-print building materials now, spare parts, machinery, manufacturing molds and tools, food, living tissue… And because of the success of what you might call 3D printing as a service, (or on-demand manufacturing) manufacturing companies that took advantage the opportunity of this new model early on have been expanding their service offerings to include “traditional” on-demand manufacturing as well.

And this brings us to the subject of our focus today: Closing that last mile for creators. Shortening the distance between the virtual and the real. Connecting creators to on-demand manufacturing providers with very little friction and at scale.

A few weeks ago, Dassault Systemes announced the launch of its 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace, the next logical building block in making the journey from virtual to real a practical reality for creators. This concept had already been mentioned/announced at the Milan forum back in April of 2017, so I suspect that it has existed in some kind of Beta format at least since last summer. This announcement signals that the Marketplace, dubbed an “online ecosystem where today’s business innovators will be able to collaborate and transact with other industrials and service providers,” is now ready for its commercial release. For those of us who pay attention to that sort of thing, that’s big news.

Per Dassault Systemes:

The cloud-based marketplace is a new trading platform for digital design, engineering and manufacturing transactions, with ambition to transform the industrial world in the same way that the world’s largest online consumer marketplace has transformed legacy retail, and mobility providers have transformed the transportation sector.  

As of its official launch in early February, the marketplace already boasted 50 digital manufacturers, more than 500 machines, 600 suppliers, and 30 million components, all vetted by Dassault Systemes for expertise, quality, and specific capabilities.

In addition to helping creators identify manufacturing partners and connect with them, the marketplace also manages every step of the transaction between “buyer and seller,” including billing, payments, record-keeping and MOUs regarding IP.

Per Bernard Charlès, CEO of Dassault Systèmes, “the 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace transforms the supply chain into a value chain: a single, virtual, social enterprise, pioneering a new way to do business, innovate, and create value in industry.”

Three quick observations regarding value creation:

  1. In addition to addressing a major friction point that used to plague creators around the world, the marketplace has the potential to serve as a global innovation accelerator: As the distance between the virtual and the real gets shorter, the pace of innovation can only find itself improved as a result.
  2. The marketplace should also become an expertise accelerator of sorts: As creators and makers collaborate on projects involving new materials, new use cases, new manufacturing and assembly techniques, the ecosystem’s cumulative expertise in those areas will increase, creating a growing portfolio of services and business opportunities.
  3. As business opportunities expand, and the marketplace becomes a hub for innovation and production that could potentially impact every industry (from consumer goods and transportation to healthcare and infrastructure), it could become an economic catalyst in its own right. While Dassault Systemes is sure to benefit from the success of this initiative (as well it should), the broader opportunity for buyers and sellers savvy enough to leverage the platform to their advantage is something to be excited about. The next generation of innovation juggernauts inspired by the likes of Apple, GE, NEST, and Tesla could be born here.

It isn’t difficult to see how this type of innovation accelerator also plays well in the context of making the most of technology disruption and digital transformation (a topic that Futurum Principal Analyst Daniel Newman and I discussed at length in Building Dragons and Futureproof). Specifically, after years of stress and uncertainty in the manufacturing sector, this marketplace is precisely the sort of business platform that attentive and agile manufacturing companies can leverage to finally move technology disruption from the “Threat” quadrant in their SWOT analysis matrix to the “Opportunity” quadrant. That’s a big deal, and for many struggling manufacturing companies, it could be a real game-changer.

You can find out more about the 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace here and here.

Cheers,

Olivier