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Research and Education in Product Development for 2040

Project leader(s): 
Claudia Eckert
Theme: 
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Archived

Based on a series of interviews carried out in 2018 with experienced European engineers and a workshop with Product development experts from over twenty leading Swedish company and academics researching and teaching product development, trends and their expected impact on engineering design can be identified. While engineering design practise in 2040 will in many ways be like today, several clear trends for the next 20 years are already visible and are likely to grow stronger.

Over the next 20 years:

  • The world will be changing rapidly to respond to the pressing challenges of a changing climate, a polluted planet, depleting resources, and a growing and increasingly-mobile world population.
  • New technologies, such as quantum computing will emerge, while other technologies like rapid manufacturing and nanotechnologies, will be widely deployed.
  • Digitalisation will permeate every aspect of our lives and the world around us.
  • Data will always be captured about individual people and objects, giving rise to both ethical questions and unprecedented evidence-based engineering.
  • Product development plays a vital part in creating a sustainable and prosperous future for all. Whilst at the same time, it will be profoundly affected by the wider changes in our society.
  • Product designers will increasingly be empowered by advancements in simulation and AI to design the desired behaviour before defining the system structure.
  • Products will involve much greater integration between mechanical parts and software as sensors become cheaper and more effective, and products are connected to user data through the internet.
  • While the rate of change in technology is increasing, the need to reuse existing components and systems will also rise to conserve resources. Components and subsystems will be shared across multiple products as consumers demand integrated solutions.
  • Principles of circularity will become mainstream and new materials will come to the market to replace those that become scarce.
  • The ability to simulate product behaviour in multiple use contexts almost instantaneously will open up the possibility to design behaviour together or even before the structure is defined.

Modelling and simulation will become common throughout the development process and enable companies to simulate individual-use cases and product life cycles. This will be supported through analysis of user performance data. With rising computer power, simulations will become instantaneous. This leads to a gamification of product development where designers can try out options and build up product intuition through rapid feedback. This will bring about a new logic in product development, where product behaviour can be placed at the centre of the process. Instead of a process of transforming requirements through design and evaluation to produce verified products, desired behaviour can be explored with users, and created by combining existing solutions with novel technologies. Through simulation in combination with intelligent data processing, emerging solutions are formed and ultimately validated in its use context. Rapid evaluation cycles allow discovery of new applications and evolving designs.

To achieve this, engineers will need to work in tightly-coupled interdisciplinary teams which bring together people from different backgrounds, including generalists and highly specialised experts. Engineering teams will also include data scientists and mathematicians. They will become more diverse in gender and ethnicity, with many freelance experts working with closely-integrated core teams at the OEMs. As fewer engineers are looking at lifetime careers in one company, they will have to take ownership over developing their own skills.

Related resource

Isaksson, O. and Eckert, C. (2020), Product Development 2040: Technologies are just as good as the designer’s ability to integrate them, Design Society Report DS107, https://doi.org/10.35199/report.pd2040

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