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'Working faster and smarter' – five product design trends to keep an eye on in 2019

Dave Grammer, Vice-President UK Nordics at PTC

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Rapid advances in technology means the people behind the scenes need to make sure their practices keep up the pace.

Individuals who focus on product design need to be sure that they are staying abreast of the latest capabilities and trends – whether that means using new technologies such as additive manufacturing or digital twins, or increasing collaboration to improve the product development process. 

Here are five of the top trends in product design that engineers are going to see in 2019.

1. Digital twin and the digital thread

The terms digital twin and digital thread have been bandied around for a while but in 2019, most engineers are going to see both concepts in action every day. By combining the digital definition of a product with the physical experience of the asset in the field, manufacturers will have a complete digital record of a product throughout its entire lifecycle that can be used to improve the product design, ensure all legal and security regulations are met, and to improve efficiency and serviceability. 

With a digital thread of information feeding back into product design, engineers will finally be able to ‘talk’ to their products and answer some of their most burning questions. Whether they’re determining how well the product is functioning in the field or trying to identify which features and functions of the product customers are actually using, the digital thread of information coming back to form a complete digital twin will allow engineers to close the loop in the product lifecycle.

2. Breaking down barriers between engineering and manufacturing

Manufacturers are increasingly realising that engineering and manufacturing are working in silos – not sharing information – to the detriment of the organisations. Because of these silos, engineering and manufacturing are disconnected – engineering passes information on to manufacturing when the designs are finalised and then shares changes to the design when they are implemented. 

Although this sounds straightforward, waiting for engineering to completely finish their part in the product lifecycle delays the preparation that manufacturing can do. In addition, small changes by the engineering team can have a large impact on production. With automated manufacturing process planning, the production team can get a head-start on what they need to do and automatically see the most up-to-date product information – decreasing the time-to-market and reducing costs. 

3. Augmented reality for enterprise visualisation

The way that designers view the product has seriously evolved – from 2D drawings on paper to 3D CAD models on a desktop screen, designers are always looking for an easier way to accurately view a product before a prototype has been built.

Augmented reality (AR) is the next evolution of enterprise visualisation. AR is a more natural way to interact with a product compared to 2D and 3D, as it provides context. With AR, there is an ability to superimpose the digital representation onto a physical asset once it has been produced, to compare the configurations of the product through its evolution – whether that is how it is designed, built, manufactured or serviced. 

AR makes it possible for a new product to be visualised in a real-life setting, such as the factory floor, at scale. Once there, stakeholders can interact with the data, getting under the hood and viewing the product in ways that aren’t easily accessible in just 2D or 3D.

Whether it is used for service procedures, manufacturing work instructions, or by sales and marketing to promote new product options or additions to existing products, AR will make it easier than ever to bring products to life.

4.  Additive manufacturing

In the past few years, 3D printing technologies have surpassed the limits of prototype production and have achieved the quality and scalability needed for industrial use – which we call additive manufacturing. This technology trend has overcome the hype and shows tangible benefits in multiple uses, ranging from ultra-lightweight high-end parts for airplanes to cost-efficient mass customisation of consumer products. 

Entire industries, like hearing aids and dental implants, have already switched to being almost 100% 3D printed. However, the true disruptive potential of additive manufacturing lies in the digital transformation of the product engineering and manufacturing process. Gone are the design constraints of conventional manufacturing methods – the expensive and time-consuming tooling before even one part can be produced. Gone are the challenges of managing the supply chain and logistics. 

Because of these advantages, additive manufacturing becomes the optimal production technology in a continuously increasing number of situations, despite the still high cost for material and production equipment. Low-volume production during the introduction of a new product, replication of hard-to-source spare parts, distributed or local manufacturing in emerging markets… these are just some of the examples where additive manufacturing can yield benefits – even for lower-complexity parts. And new technologies, such as metal binder-jetting, can further increase production speed and efficiency. 

5. The year of the app

We’ve all been ruled by apps on our smartphones and tablet devices for years. Pretty much every company that provides a service to consumers has an app – whether it be Facebook or Bank of America. For the most part, though, these apps are coming from companies that are business-to-consumer. In 2019, we will start to see business-to-business companies provide apps to their customers as well.

With apps for their enterprise systems, manufacturers will be able to quickly access important product and enterprise data on the fly, in a format that is easy for them to understand. Products with sensors that feed information from the field back to the factory floor can be connected to apps that enable stakeholders to quickly and easily view real-time information. Here is another way that AR can be used – with AR apps, global teams can quickly review designs or prototypes concurrently. The possibilities of enterprise apps are endless, and they will enable users to quickly and easily launch a system that has traditionally been tethered to a desktop.


2019 is posed to be an interesting year for product design. With new capabilities such as additive manufacturing, the digital twin, digital thread, enterprise system apps, improved enterprise visualisation and better collaboration between engineering and manufacturing, product design teams will be able to work both faster and smarter. 


Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
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