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Onshape 2021 Predictions: What's Ahead for Product Development and Innovation?

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual series exclusive.

What's Ahead for Product Development and Innovation?

By John J. McEleney, co-founder of Onshape

Like all industries, the design and manufacturing world experienced a shockwave of changes in 2020 due to the pandemic. As a result, many product development companies had to suddenly become more agile to pivot in new and innovative ways. Amidst the continued challenges of COVID-19 in 2021, this need to be agile will be essential for businesses of all sizes to survive.

Collaboration among remote workers will be just as important next year, and companies will continue to rely on cloud-based solutions to be innovative and effective. As product developers create innovative solutions to rapidly changing problems, lead times from concept to manufacturing will need to keep shrinking in order to get products to market in time -- before market conditions change yet again.

With all that in mind, here are my top four industry predictions for 2021: 

The evolution of modern product development will continue to accelerate. The shock of the global pandemic caused companies to suddenly rethink how their products could be used to meet quickly changing demands. Heeding the lessons learned, companies will seek to develop new process innovations and faster, less expensive methods of designing products and getting them to market. Across industries, especially medical devices and health care, I foresee the use of new materials and components in the manufacturing of established products to enhance quality, overall performance, and sustainability.

Digital customers will keep wanting things faster. Customers will want accelerated timelines, with digital real-time updates on the status of products in development, together with rapid delivery. They can no longer afford to wait until the end of the design process because market conditions and end-user needs may evolve before the product reaches the market. Companies will be pushed to enable their engineering teams to share "in-process" designs. They will also gather customer feedback and alignment earlier to allow for more iterations and ultimately a smoother approval process,  increasing their chances of getting their product correctly aligned for the market. 

With Work From Home (WFH) moving to a long-term response, cloud transformation will keep boosting productivity. Cloud computing has been a bright spot in the market during 2020 because cloud solutions are designed for remote access. In 2021, long-term WFH employees and their managers will demand more and improved cloud and SaaS technologies to stay connected and collaborate virtually. 

Even in their personal lives, people will turn more to cloud computing to enrich and expedite activities and events. For example, telehealth will become a long-term trend because patients recognized during the pandemic that virtual visits are an easier and more efficient way to interact with healthcare providers.  

Artificial intelligence (AI) will drive process innovation. AI will be used more frequently during 2021. As Daniel Newman has suggested in Forbes, the timing is simply right. AI is being increasingly integrated now with chips from Intel, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm, as well as with cloud platforms from the likes of AWS, Azure, IBM, and Oracle.

The year 2021 will also herald the convergence of artificial intelligence with robotics process automation (RPA), as well as automated resolution of IT issues through AIOps. Factory planning will move from spreadsheets and Gannt charts to AI driven factory operations - and the list will continue to grow.


Certainly, 2021 will have its own unique and unexpected challenges. But despite the unknowns, forward-thinking companies can better prepare themselves for a myriad of potential changes in the product design process and frontline manufacturing. And optimistically thinking ahead to  the post-pandemic economy, businesses can continue to develop new and creative approaches to product design, manufacturing, and delivery - undoubtedly yielding some pleasant surprises.


About the Author

John McEleney 

John McEleney is the Corporate Vice President of Strategy at PTC. He is also the co-founder of Onshape, with more than 30 years of experience in the mechanical design and software industry. Prior to Onshape, he was the CEO of CloudSwitch, a cloud enterprise software company acquired by Verizon, and the CEO of SolidWorks. John also serves as a director of Stratasys Inc., a publicly held 3D printing company. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, golf, and adventure travel.
Published Wednesday, January 06, 2021 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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