Auto-mation: Can Market Adoption of Autonomous Cars Match the hype?

The automotive industry, including the disruptive tech giants, are investing tremendous amounts of funding and human capital into the development of autonomous vehicles and related technologies. Evidence of this is General Motors’ $500 million investment in Lyft and $1 billion into the upcoming acquisition of Cruise Automation Inc. It’s difficult to read about the automotive industry without encountering discussions around autonomous driving. The auto industry is hiring software developers at a pace once that was once limited to mechanical and industrial engineers.

A rendering of possible autonomous driving interaction. Source: General Motors

Market Adoption … Eventually
So, why is the auto industry going down this path when a majority of the American consumers flat out do not want a driverless car or trust the concept yet? A recent J.D. Power survey found that just over half of Gen Z and Gen Y are interested — that’s surprisingly low, since these groups are more comfortable with public transportation and delay owning a car more than previous generations. And only about 41% of Gen Xers support self-driving technology, a rate that shrinks further for the baby boomers at 23%. It’s important to note here that the peak age for purchasing a new car is 43 years old.

The answer lies in the fact that the “R” in automotive R&D historically occurs 10 to 20 years before actually moving to production lines. This extended timeline frequently means the industry is working on things the consumer has not yet even taken into account. But as discussed in an earlier post, recent tech giant disruptions are shortening this product development cycle.

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The New Automotive Disrupters: Tech Giants

The automotive industry has stood as the life blood of American manufacturing for decades. It is the heart of the Detroit economy and in recent years has faced many challenges, but some of the greatest challenges have just begun. Tech giants such as Google, Apple and Tesla, to name a few, are poised to drive new levels of competition. It’s fair to say these companies qualify as a Big Bang disruption that is a major industry change instigated by non-traditional players in the market.

Most of us still think of the automobile primarily as a tool to bring us from point A to point B, but cars and trucks have become so more than just transportation. Many modern cars are a fully connected infotainment system that just happen to be on four wheels. The automobile has become a mobile conglomerate of computer and technology devices — a true command center supporting the driver with much more than just driving.

Another way to look at this shift is with the electronic device industry. A decade ago, the handheld GPS was a very common and useful tool. Today, GPS navigation is almost an afterthought on your smartphone since it’s as simple as downloading a user-friendly app. This is just one of many seismic digital shifts in the past 10 years.

However, while the technology-based companies leading the electronic infiltration into the automotive world certainly have the computing chops, the knowledge, depth and infrastructure that comes with manufacturing electronic components for the automotive industry is still developing. These tech giants must acclimate to model years and multi-year platforms compared to frequent software updates — two fundamentally different ideologies colliding.

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NEW JOURNAL: Trends, Drones and High Heels

The new issue of Proto Labs Journal is out. In our cover story, we look at industry macrotrends in manufacturing for 2016, from automotive lightweighting to human-factors engineering in health care.

The story reports on factors that are driving automotive innovation, trends keeping the aerospace industry aloft and forces such as an aging population that are influencing medical applications. And speaking of med tech, the Journal also includes an informative infographic on rapid manufacturing for medical device development.

Elsewhere in the new Journal, look for stories on high-tech high heels, smart luggage and a new drone we worked on for Lockheed Martin.

Read the entire Journal here.

We’re always on the hunt for thought-provoking content, so send your cool project or article idea to our editor at angelo.gentile@protolabs.com.

Thanks and enjoy the issue!

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Evolving Health Care Demands and the Impact on Product Development

While there are a handful of major players in the medical and health care industries, there are actually more than 6,500 active medical device companies in the United States — most of which are smaller firms with fewer than 50 employees. There is little doubt that, with the combined industry efforts, research and development in the medical device space will continue to innovate and grow for years to come.

What drives innovation at these companies ranges from economic indicators to technology advancements to government regulations. But some of the most interesting factors driving development right now can be found in demographics and consumer behavior.

So, what does is mean? The fluctuation in demographics will translate to an increased demand for devices supporting later life care as the baby boomers enters their 70s. This includes everything from surgical devices to support orthoscopic procedures to at-home glucose measurement equipment. Furthermore, we’ll start to see an upward trend in births as Gen Yers move into their 30s and start families. These factors will start to shape how thousands of medical and health care companies re-imagine existing products and development new ones.

As a result, there is a heightened need to launch products and devices to market quickly. Iterative development of medical components and devices will reply on various rapid manufacturing processes and materials to ensure products have best chance at successful medical submissions and market trials. And because these products need to pass a significant number of functional tests before being approved for the market, prototypes need to be produced as close as possible to the finished product. This will mean using similar, if not identical, engineering-grade materials and manufacturing methods for prototypes as for production parts.

From metal 3D printing of extremely small surgical components to low-volume injection molding of optical silicone, Proto Labs is equipped to help large and small medical companies tackle the impending changes in the American demographic landscape.

2015 Manufacturing Trends

Last year was pretty big for the American manufacturing industry. Milestones both big and small made headlines: the White House hosted a Maker Faire; scientists achieved firsts in 3D printing technology by printing living human tissue and printing in zero gravity; President Obama announced his commitment to supporting American manufacturing through the creation of research hubs in key U.S. cities; a resurgent labor market has continued to fuel an “onshoring” trend with manufacturing jobs returning stateside; we figured out how to 3D print pizza, chocolate and sugary treats.

3D-printed chocolate confections are a real thing. Photo by Choc Edge.

As important as all of the strides made in the U.S. manufacturing space were in 2014, we’re most excited about what might be around the corner. We’re confident this is only the beginning of an exciting new era in our industry. Here are a few trends we’re keeping an eye out for this year: Continue reading