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I had the privilege last month to visit Dassault, the venerable French defence giant most famous for their Rafale and Mirage fighter jets. Although the tour through the very automated but at the same time people-oriented Rafale factory really moved my military heart, it was the lesser known Dassault Systemes, their CAD/CAM/Product Lifecycle engineering software maker and integrator that I found most compatible with our Spime mission.

When the design work of Mirage 2000 jet was started in the 80s, Dassault wanted to use the latest CAD/CAM systems available in order to gain competitive edge in the global jet market. Fragmented market did not offer solutions good enough for them, so Dassault decided to form Dassault Systemes to create an own software suite named CATIA, in order to enable full 3D modeling and digital manufacturing of every aircraft part.

Today, CATIA is utilized by many other industries ranging from Carlsberg beer bottling machines to Loreal’s cosmetics and Miele washing machines. According to some estimates, 40% of the world’s industrial products have some connection to CATIA during their production. It’s a mind boggling percentage.

CATIA has been very successful in streamlining the industrial mass production, a phase which is sometimes called the 3rd industrial revolution. Supply chain from raw materials to every step in production is optimized and continuously improved, which results in more cost-effective products, less waste and many other data-driven benefits. However, when the product leaves the factory, there is little interaction with it other than warranty cases and test customer environments. All this magnificient automation and engineering was confined to the factory, in a way by design.

Now when talking about Rafale jets, their end users might not want Dassault to track every part of their war machines by minute, but nearly everything else will be transformed into continuous services instead of fixed design industrial products – this is the promise of the Industrial Internet of Things, Industry 4.0 or 4th industrial revolution, however we want to call it. 

Revolution as such is not the most suitable word though, as the CATIA CAD/CAM/PLM side is certainly needed and must evolve also in the future. It will merely be complemented by the other side of the equation, which is the always connected customer buying service instead of one-off product. It is most revolutionary for the sales processes and customer relationships, and it will hence take time to be adopted by companies operating the dominant fire-and-forget product model, which includes intricate structures of wholesalers, retailers and other middlemen, some of which will be disrupted away.

There will be many voices against the all-encompassing service model from the established businesses, but as we’ve seen from the likes of Uber and Airbnb, services can quickly reach millions of customers. The traditional industry, be it vacuum cleaners, beer, washing machines or fashion products, may yet have the biggest opportunity, compared to these newer entertainment-oriented digital-only services.


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