Af Nikolai Steensgaard mail
Technological development is making quantum leaps these years, and it will greatly affect both business and the surrounding community. It is therefore not without reason that authorities, interest groups and other players in the field are currently sounding the alarm.
Robotics, 3D printing and data-driven optimisation are commonly foreseen to be some of the most promising development areas. To that list one could add digital currencies, chatbots, driverless cars, smart machines and appliances and much, much more.
These technologies are all different, but they have a common denominator. They all involve the use of modern IT, and this is no coincidence, explains head of department and professor at CBS, Jan Damsgaard. He is a member of the Danish government’s newly appointed Disruption Council, and he believes that the enormous development within IT means we are facing a major and pervasive technological leap.
“You can compare technological development with a pot of water. Every year, it becomes one degree warmer. The development has been going on for a long time, and it has constantly given us new functions and streamlined existing ones. We have taken advantage of and benefited from this for decades,” he says, adding:
“But water cannot get hotter than 100 degrees. After that, it changes form. And right now, there are bubbles at the bottom of the pot. In other words: We are facing a paradigm shift of enormous consequences. This is particularly the case in relation to the way we conduct business,” he says.
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It is no coincidence that robotics, 3D printing and data driven optimisation are identified as some of the most promising areas of development right now. Their impact could be enormous. If you combine them in a fictional example, the following could take place:
A service employee must replace a circuit board in a client’s machine. The circuit board has reported itself faulty via the internet the previous day. During the night, a local 3D printer has built the component, and a drone has flown it to the client.
The service employee replaces the circuit board first thing in the morning, so the client’s production is not affected. Invoicing and paperwork is handled while he sits in his driverless car on his way to the next client. All waste of time is eliminated.
We are closer to the above scenario than you may think. That much is clear when you look at predictions from the directors of three Danish technology companies, each of whom are at the front lines of their respective fields.
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The companies who understand how to embrace and implement the new technology have the opportunity to assume a favourable position amongst competitors. Conversely, companies who do the opposite risk being outperformed.
It is in that light one should view efforts of the Confederation of Danish Industry and other players to prepare both business and the public for the challenge. That effort is needed, says Director of the Danish ICT and Electronics Federation Adam Lebech.
“When we ask companies whether they expect disruption, the answer is predominantly yes. When we ask whether they are preparing for it, many say no. That contradiction is a little frightening, but it is also natural. It is difficult for companies to accurately predict what is coming, and it is therefore difficult to justify large investments. ROI is unclear. That’s the predicament,” he says.
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That being said, it is worth remembering that Danish companies are not the only ones who are challenged by future technologies.
Professor Jan Damsgaard from CBS even thinks that Danish companies have certain advantages, because Danish society is today among the most digitalised. On the other hand, other countries have more lenient rules, as was seen in the recent case with the transport service Uber, which withdrew from Denmark.
“As a nation, we have a good starting point, but digital growth in the economies around us is developing faster than in Denmark. So the picture could quickly reverse. We must not lull ourselves to sleep. Some countries want this more than us. They will be able to accelerate past us if we are not careful,” he says.
Adam Lebech concurs. He believes that Danish executives should face the challenge head-on and address it.
“No longer can we view digitalisation as pure streamlining. Companies must adopt IT development all the way to their core. Commercial innovation must be brought to the table, and digital skills must extend all the way to management and the board,” he says and adds:
“They must dare to step up to the challenge, and they must have the courage to completely rethink their business model. We live in an exciting age, but at the same time, we are facing some serious challenges. It is not too late to embrace the development, but the time is ripe and the consequences of not doing so can be major.”
Robots can automate countless functions
Universal Robots are one of the leading companies in its field. The Odense-based company focuses on robot arms for manufacturing, but the company’s CTO Esben Østergaard believes that the robot concept must be further unfolded in order to understand the technology’s full potential.
Driverless cars, autonomous drones, intelligent chatbots. These are all types of robot, because they are all tools with the purpose of aiding humans in performing tasks and becoming more efficient. And precisely these technologies are rapidly developing these years.
“The development is happening very quickly right now. Things will change a lot in coming years, and the robots could quickly become a part of everyday life. Not just in our field, but more broadly.”
He predicts that we will not have to wait decades to see the technology develop. He refers to studies that claim that with existing technology, between 20 and 80 per cent of functions could be automated. The question is instead how quickly the technology will be implemented.
“The development could come quickly, and it may even accelerate. Ultimately, the speed will be determined by how fast society can adapt. If we are able to do that, there will be plenty of benefits to reap”, says Esben Østergaard and adds:
“New technology has generally made the world a better place to live in for the vast majority of people, but there can be negative consequences. Development can distort societies, and this can destroy cohesion. Nobody wants that. There are large opportunities in robotics, but we must avoid the negative consequences. The technology therefore also creates challenges that we must address.”
Data harvesting can minimise wasted time
Eseebase specialises in optimal building operation. The Herning-based company is led by Per Klitte, and he fully understands the advantage of technologies like the Internet of Things and Big Data, i.e. large-scale data harvesting and processing.
Today, Eseebase already uses the technologies to optimise its own processes and those of clients. Buildings are surveyed and digitised so they can be 3D-modelled. The data collection forms the basis for providing clients with an overall view, which results in large savings during e.g. relocation or maintenance.
This is known as data-driven process optimisation, a technology that Per Klitte predicts will have a great future - especially once it is expanded to all industries.
“The technology is already here, but in the near future Big Data and the Internet of Things will be developed even further. It will constitute a natural streamlining that everyone can benefit from. It will eliminate wasted time, and it will allow cheaper purchasing because you will have exact knowledge of amounts, usage, wear and price,” he says.
In the longer term, he sees the fusion of data-driven process optimisation with other technologies as natural.
The fusion will streamline processes even more, and all in all, it has the potential to make Danish companies far more competitive than they are today.
“The optimisation of processes will eventually work together with other technologies. Companies will still outsource certain manual tasks, but at the same time, automated production could pull others back. I think new technology could result in insourcing,” says Per Klitte.
3D printing is the next industrial revolution
Davinci Development is an engineering company headquartered in Billund, which develops and constructs products and machines.
The company’s CEO Ole Lykke Jensen predicts an almost unbelievable expansion in the use of 3D printing. The technology has now moved from hobby users to professional usage. The major leap is right around the corner.
“The big players have now started marketing 3D printers, which will really kick-start development. Companies like HP are trying to capture the global market, which some expect to become larger than the traditional 2D printing market,” he says.
The capabilities of 3D printers are still limited today, but that is changing. The consequences could be major. Even within a few years.
“As 3D printing becomes more precise and incorporates more materials, the technology will be used increasingly in manufacturing itself. This development is already underway. One of the next big things will the possibility to print objects with electrically conductive properties. In practice, this means you could print a circuit board,” he says.
Today, 3D printing is already capable of competing with serial production. When it becomes possible to print even more properties into a single component, we will be well on our way to a scenario where 3D printing can compete with mass production.
“Development is headed towards printing finished products in one go as they are needed. This is known as ‘print on demand’, and it will develop over the next 10 to 20 years. It must be viable, of course, but we are getting closer here, too. 3D printing could be the next industrial revolution,” says Ole Lykke Jensen.