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The Role of Cloud-Based Design in Pandemic Recovery

The Role of Cloud-Based Design in Pandemic Recovery

Cloud-based design platforms have fueled the work-from-home transition, and new designs, such as the generatively designed steering wheel for Volkswagen’s Microbus. (Photo: Volkswagen)
Working in manufacturing has been an interesting time for the last 12 months, with a rapid and yet, mostly undiscussed transition to working from home. With that has come several innovative solutions that industry professionals have adopted to minimize the coronavirus pandemic’s negative impact on their output: the adoption of digital communications, file transfer systems, and cloud servers replacing local ones. McKinsey’s recent report states that a more digitally connected workforce—the workforce we’ve been forced to become by the pandemic—stands to unlock more than $100 billion in value for the manufacturing industry alone. This opportunity exists in areas such as productivity boosts of 20 to 30 percent in collaboration-intensive work processes like root cause investigation, supplier management, and maintenance. However, while adopting specific new digital ways of working is increasingly the new normal, the transition has not been entirely smooth.

The Downfalls of On-Premises Solutions

Being dependent upon a local server, which cannot be accessed or maintained due to a pandemic, makes that resource unreliable in the context of deadlines—worsened by software that is locked onto now-inaccessible workstations.
PEMBREE uses Fusion 360 to design their bike pedals. (Photo: PEMBREE)
Some manufacturers have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and are better prepared for future emergencies or disruptions. Manufacturers who have weathered the storm best have leaned into digital tools that enable remote work and seamless collaboration, wherever staff may be. These lessons learned include considerations for vulnerabilities that are tied to on-premise data solutions, as they can be unexpectedly challenging in situations of uncertainty.

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Manufacturers have turned towards cloud-based engineering platforms such as Autodesk's Fusion 360, which revolutionize how engineering teams imagine, collaborate, and create in an online setting. These all-in-one tools combine computer-aided design, electronics engineering, and digital manufacturing into a single platform. Engineers are provided with the agility and connectivity to meet growing demands and improve their business while working from home.
For example, UK mountain bike parts manufacturer PEMBREE established their business earlier on in the pandemic.
“There were a lot of late nights and challenges to overcome because we were launching during the COVID-19 lockdown. But when you step back and look at what we’ve achieved, it’s fantastic. We couldn’t have done it without Autodesk Fusion 360,” said Phil Law, founder of PEMBREE.
Cloud-based design platforms have been specifically built to support more collaborative, multi-skilled, and distributed workforces. It can be downloaded and installed anywhere you have an internet connection, offers peak performance from even a laptop, and does not require laborious license verification.

Creating a Connected Workforce

Leaders in the manufacturing industry are paying attention to and moving quickly to address this new way of working. Cloud-powered technologies that ease collaboration do not care where people are located and provide vastly more computer power, on demand, enabling a seamless flow of productivity, irrespective of historical requirements like geography. As we turn the corner and see the release of a vaccine, we also recognize that some changes brought by the pandemic to how we work will remain. Research shows that the number of permanent remote workers is set to double in 2021, to more than a third of the total global workforce.
You can now use digital fabrication to work on prototypes from home. (Photo: PEMBREE)
With the expansion of a global workforce increasingly operating from home, not only will cloud technologies be adopted in everyday work, progressive companies will benefit from global talent. International workers—which are sometimes both cheaper and more skilled than the talent available locally – are now available to any company willing to recruit outside its city walls, county, state, or national borders.
Engineers using a cloud-based design and manufacturing platform can achieve the same level of output as if they were working on-site. To do so, manufacturers must embrace the concept of seamless distributed work, team transparency into project status, and access to cloud computing capabilities to all employees.

Tackling the Skills Gap

The events of 2020 may have been unforeseen, but manufacturing leaders will take this as an opportunity to tackle the problems the year exposed. One of these problems is lack of technical know-how parity across a team can be exacerbated by working remotely. Teams are often comprised of differing skill levels. A drop in skill sharing and output can occur in a digital-dominant workplace, resulting in workflow problems and production delays.

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Manufacturers can help bridge the skills gap by choosing processes and tools that are more accessible and easier to learn—namely by investing in collaboration tools that seamlessly work across different manufacturing machines and software. It is redundant to learn how to do something more than once because of a software limitation.
Whill, a modular wheelchair made with Fusion 360. (Photo: Whill)
No two design projects or manufactured products are ever the same. Across a range of projects, teams and individuals may find themselves needing deep electronics integration, testing, and validation, or be the tip of the spear pushing design concepts further. Given “manufacturing” is inclusive of all these things, working in a fragmented fashion is risky and inefficient. A cloud-based platform like Fusion 360 not only addresses the needs of design and manufacturing from every facet, it adopts modern working principles, eliminates the barrier of entry for data management, encourages and enables collaboration, and provides change management tools that make working with anyone, anywhere, as easy as possible.
Of course, we recognize adopting any new tool, especially under duress in a shifting emergency situation is difficult and risky. Fortunately, the transition to digital workforce tools also includes digital education. Whether you prefer video, text, guided lessons, or interactive webinars, many CAD providers today have different online media assets to help teach and guide engineers on embracing new online digital systems.

Building On Our Pandemic Knowledge

As many other daily operations in the workplace—and at home—turned towards cloud-based technologies, so too did design platforms. They are becoming the new normal in manufacturing and design. With kids working from home in Google Classroom, and everyone binging shows on Netflix, why are we still counting on the CAD equivalent of DVDs in the mail?
Empowering the entire workforce with interoperable and accessible digital tools will improve productivity, add value to the industry, and lay the foundations for next-gen technologies such as additive manufacturing and generative design. Ultimately, this empowerment will pave the way for new successes as manufacturing emerges from the pandemic, having learned the lessons the pandemic had to teach us.
To find out more about how Fusion 360 can help your team achieve the new possible, visit Autodesk.

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