By Keith Larson, Editor in Chief
Even revolutions are hard to see when you’re in the midst of them. Certainly, there’s a generous dose of marketing hype around the potential of the Industrial Internet of Things, cloud computing and big data analytics to advance industrial performance and remake business models. But speak to those on the front lines of digital innovation and their stories make clear that industry is indeed in the midst of an accelerating transformation made possible by increasingly powerful and accessible digital technology. “Some say we’re in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution,” says Steve Jones of Steelcase, one of the class of 2017 Smart Industry 50 honorees. “That’s a bold statement, but I think it just might make for one.” The full list of our fifty honorees is spread across the pages that follow, along with more in-depth profiles of many of them. We hope you find their personal stories as inspiring as we do, and join us in congratulating them on their accomplishments.
Justin Fishkin says he’s not a car guy. And to spend any time with him, he seems unlikely to have been an investment banker either. Nevertheless, a passion for energy sustainability led him from Goldman Sachs to Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room to his current position as chief strategy officer for Local Motors. There, the economics major stands at the leading edge of automotive industry innovation, building the first flexible digital production network and reinventing how vehicles (and other large products) are designed, built and commercialized.
Local Motors’ list of vehicle innovations includes the first crowd-sourced car design, for the Rally Fighter in 2009, as well as the Strati, which in 2014 featured the industry’s first 3D-
printed car body. But additive manufacturing on a physically large scale is an almost coincidental aspect of the Local Motors philosophy. Indeed, the company’s transformative approach to manufacturing is far broader, building on collaborative design principles (an open community of 70,000+ contributors earn royalties for ideas that are used) as well as distributed micro-production facilities that rely on the extensive digitalization of supply chains—from CAD through final production.
“Rather than having a million copies of one car made in one place and shipped around world, why not allow regional actors to design, produce and upgrade application-specific vehicles compatible with local technologies, infrastructure and energy ecosystems?” Fishkin asks. “It’s economy of scope vs. economy of scale. We can make smaller lots of more differentiated products at higher margins. By connecting a digital thread between design and flexible production we’ve reduce the minimum efficient scale for producing new vehicles and deploying new technologies. This is enabling communities to define their own mobility futures.”
Fishkin first realized the shortcomings of the auto industry’s status quo when as senior portfolio manager at the Carbon War Room he was working to help island economies reduce their dependence on imported diesel, which means that islanders can pay as much as a 40% premium for imported energy. He approached several carmakers with a proposal to build 50,000 cars over 5 years with a particular drivetrain optimized for the island of Samoa. “They laughed at me,” Fishkin said. But when he met Local Motors co-founder and CEO John B. Rogers, “a light bulb went on,” and a job change soon followed. “I’m not a car guy, but if you can materially impact 70-80% of the energy used in a community and bring advanced manufacturing jobs and a flexible production capability in the process, it will have a knock-on effect,” Fishkin says.
Last year, Local Motors unveiled Olli, an autonomous, electric and user-friendly transport designed for relatively low speed, first- and last-mile applications (see photo). “We went from design to driving around in less than three months,” Fishkin says. Now, orders are rolling in from around the world and Local Motors has the opportunity to “walk the walk,” he adds. “We continue to push forward, to prove the Local Motors platform can deliver a product with global demand while simultaneously scaling our capacity to commercialize concentrated pockets of new technologies three to five years before mass-market adoption.”
Local Motors has also introduced Forth, a white label, software-as-a-service version of its platform that is enabling companies like GE and Airbus to radically accelerate their own product development processes using co-creation and micro-manufacturing.
Fishkin envisions a not-too-distant future in which locally manufactured vehicles and other products will be hardware upgradable (much like software is today), as well as fully recyclable to provide local, cradle-to-cradle sustainability. “In 10 years, what Local Motors is doing today will be ubiquitous across many industries,” Fishkin believes. “Innovation will be open and participatory, local and distributed.”
While Beatriz Blanco holds degrees in mechanical engineering and business administration, she professes a true first love for mathematics and analytics. And as engineering manager for Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems' (MHPS) Remote Monitoring Center (RMC),