Innovation Article

Benjamin Kessler’s picture

By: Benjamin Kessler

The full economic impact of the pandemic has yet to be felt. However, it seems beyond dispute that Covid-19 and globalization don’t mix well. Of course, all economic activity is suffering in this worldwide recession—but the global breadth of business may experience an especially acute shrinking effect. To cite just one grim projection, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is predicting a 12-percent contraction in global trade this year, more than double the already cataclysmic 4.9-percent negative growth prediction for the world economy as a whole.

The proximate causes for this are widely known: the unhappy coincidence of China being both the virus’s apparent country of origin and epicenter of global production for countless multinational corporations, the cessation of global travel, etc. Far less clear, at this stage, is what all this means for global business strategy. Should companies keep a low profile and hope for globalization to rebound, or prepare for hasty repatriation?

Multiple Authors
By: Bill Bernstein, Teodar Vernica

Step into the factory of the future. Alicia, an operations manager, sits at her workstation viewing a digitally enhanced video feed of the facility, using cameras installed in strategic locations. Wearing safety gear, a maintenance engineer named Bob checks his tablet for the next machine to fix. Equipped with a headset and controllers, Dave, a software engineer at HQ, serves as a virtual tour guide for Carrie, the company’s lead executive. Wearing an augmented reality (AR) headset, Carrie surveys her machines as she walks through the facility. With Dave’s guidance, she sees digital information, such as a machine’s status, appearing in her view.

Each able to experience a virtual overlay onto a physical environment that provides more context relevant for their jobs, these co-workers can realize their potential as a team through industrial extended reality (XR), an umbrella term that encompasses a spectrum of technologies, from partially immersive AR to completely immersive virtual reality.

This factory might be hard to imagine, but each technology already exists. What’s missing are standard formats, protocols, and guidelines for them to work seamlessly with one another. In other words, the communication channels among these technologies remain shut.

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

By: Thomas R. Cutler

The old picking methods of paper, pick-to-light, and voice-picking are almost impossible when employees must practice social distancing, use PPE (personal protective equipment), and avoid contact that could potentially exacerbate the spread of Covid-19. One viable solution is pick-by-vision, which both reduces potential contamination and dramatically increases productivity.

Even during the pandemic, the issues of product-picking accuracy and productivity does not magically evaporate. A pick-by-vision system simplifies the workflow and makes it more efficient. Benefits include saving time, reducing the error rate, creating a low-fatigue operation, and strict process control to optimize the picking processes.

Jason Chester’s picture

By: Jason Chester

For manufacturers—as for all of us—the past few months have been a blur of fast adaptations and long periods of waiting. At the start of the pandemic, many manufacturers did what they have always done in the face of disruption: adapt and find the fastest workaround for the challenge at hand.

Manufacturers already know that rapid adaptation is an accepted cost of doing business. Uncertainty, risk, and volatility are not new for these seasoned organizations. However, the universal nature of this crisis, and the fact that it’s far from over, have highlighted areas in which complex quality management systems and procedures stand in the way of agile responses and effective operational optimization.

Many manufacturers have taken advantage of the opportunity to examine their operations with a fresh perspective, seeking proactive changes that will pave the way forward in a post-Covid-19 world.

Tara García Mathewson’s picture

By: Tara García Mathewson

In October 2019, I shared the news that the classroom connectivity gap in U.S. schools is effectively closed. More than 99 percent of schools nationwide have access to speedy and reliable internet, making online learning an option for their students.

Only now it doesn’t matter. School buildings are closed because of the coronavirus, and the bandwidth that powered digital learning for kids is going unused. Now, the most important connectivity statistic is that more than 9 million students do not have internet access at home.

Joerg Niessing’s picture

By: Joerg Niessing

Since Covid-19’s arrival, digital resilience increasingly refers to the strategic use of digital technologies in delivering customer value and business growth despite adversities. Indeed, some industries—such as hospitality, higher education, or traditional retail—were hit more than others because they did not embed digital technologies and analytics early or strongly enough.

In building resilience, the customer-centric perspective is critical. Only companies that leverage digital technologies and data to engage with customers more effectively, enrich customer experiences, or offer innovative customer-centric business models will create long-term growth.

INSEAD’s upcoming case study on Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), the Middle East’s leading shopping mall, retail, and leisure pioneer, explores this issue further. Despite Covid-19’s impact on many of MAF’s industries, like shopping malls, entertainment, and grocery retail, the conglomerate’s digital readiness, which had been ramping up for years prior to the pandemic, significantly limited the pandemic’s negative effects.

Katherine McCormick’s picture

By: Katherine McCormick

To detect a virus, you need to already know intimate details about it. You need to design a test particular to that virus: one that finds and copies only a specific, identifying piece of its genetic material.

But Mauricio Terrones and his collaborators at Penn State University think they’ve found a better way. Described recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, their method, VIRRION, may be a faster and more versatile diagnostic tool than the conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) virus tests.

PCR works by making millions of copies of DNA or RNA to enhance the detection of viruses, including the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The ongoing pandemic has led to advances in the speed of PCR tests. But the test is based on biochemical processes that occur at specific temperatures, so researchers can’t process tests any faster than the several hours it takes to heat and cool the sample many times. Not only that, a PCR test will only recognize the virus that it was specifically designed to test, so a new test must be developed and disseminated each time a new virus pops up. The delay between the emergence of a virus and the availability of tests can lead to devastating consequences.

Ben Brumfield’s picture

By: Ben Brumfield

Dang robots are crummy at so many jobs, and they tell lousy jokes to boot. In two new studies, these were common biases human participants held toward robots.

The studies were originally intended to test for gender bias, that is, if people thought a robot believed to be female may be less competent at some jobs than a robot believed to be male and vice versa. The studies’ titles even included the words “gender,” “stereotypes,” and “preference,” but researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered no significant sexism against the machines.

“This did surprise us,” says Ayanna Howard, the principal investigator in both studies. “There was only a very slight difference in a couple of jobs but not significant. There was, for example, a small preference for a male robot over a female robot as a package deliverer.” Howard is a professor in and the chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing.

Although robots are not sentient, as people increasingly interface with them, we begin to humanize the machines. Howard studies what goes right as we integrate robots into society and what goes wrong, and much of both has to do with how the humans feel about robots.

Celia Paulsen’s picture

By: Celia Paulsen

Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered robots, 3D printing, the internet of things (IoT)... there’s a whole world of advanced manufacturing technology and innovation just waiting for small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) that want to step up their digital game. Unfortunately, manufacturing digitization can present some fundamental challenges, like added cybersecurity risk.

So how do smaller manufacturers increase their advanced manufacturing technology capabilities while balancing the associated risks? Let’s dissect some of the top challenges for SMMs.

1. Cybersecurity plan

All technology implementations should begin with a plan that includes cybersecurity. A sound cybersecurity plan not only helps manufacturers identify and improve current security protocols, it also positions them to manage future risk.

Key stakeholders should identify the most critical information assets to protect, map how that information flows through the organization (currently and with any proposed technology or process changes), and determine the level of risk if that information were lost or compromised.

NIST’s picture

By: NIST

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have demonstrated a potentially new way to make switches inside a computer’s processing chips, enabling them to use less energy and radiate less heat.

The team has developed a practical technique for controlling magnons, which are essentially waves that travel through magnetic materials and can carry information. To use magnons for information processing requires a switching mechanism that can control the transmission of a magnon signal through the device. 

Although other labs have created systems that carry and control magnons, the team’s approach brings two important firsts: Its elements can be built on silicon rather than exotic and expensive substrates, as other approaches have demanded. It also operates efficiently at room temperature, rather than requiring refrigeration. For these and other reasons, this new approach might be more readily employed by computer manufacturers.

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