A long-term veteran of Dassault Systemès, Erik Swedberg was only four months into his new role as Executive Vice President, Americas when the pandemic lockdown began March 2020. Swedberg says he had just finished his first annual plan, which had to be thrown out after only three months: “We spun on a dime.”
Spinning on a dime meant the first order of business was to decide if, when, and how the 6,000 North America employees of Dassault Systemès would transition to a remote work model. Based on his observations, and his own confidence in the resilience of the company’s technology platform, Swedberg made the 3DEXPERIENCE platform the centerpiece of workforce collaboration for the 6,000+ employees under his leadership.
Swedberg will be hosting Dassault Systemès 3DEXPERIENCE FORUM 2021 on September 9th. We sat down with him recently to talk about the resilience of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, the challenges that customers are grappling with now – and into the coming years, how digital transformation initiatives have accelerated due to the pandemic, and more. The conversation is edited into a Q&A format for clarity.
Q: You decided to make the Dassault Systemès 3DEXPERIENCE platform the center of your team’s internal workflow when the pandemic started. Walk us through how that happened.
Swedberg: While assembling a crisis team for the shift last March (2020), I saw how some of our customers were taking advantage of our 3DEXPERIENCE platform not only to drive business as usual – but also to quickly pivot their operations. For example, one of our government customers implemented a remote work environment in one-and-a-half hours – we were on a call with them when the shut-down occurred, and literally were doing business again without skipping a beat. Everybody kept working.
As another example, we got a call from a big industrial equipment customer on a Friday early in the pandemic. They were trying to figure out how to create splitter valves for ventilators – essentially to double their capacity. If you recall at that time ventilators were a crucial piece of medical equipment to treat Covid patients and supplies were limited. Over the course of a weekend, we iterated with them virtually on splitter valve design, including simulation, materials, additive manufacturing scenarios, etc., and by Monday morning they were ready to print parts to supply to the ventilator manufacturer, a real illustration of the power of our collaborative platform.
Q: You chose the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, the same technology that your customers use, to run the Americas organization – even though the primary daily tasks of many employees in the group do not involve traditional design and engineering tasks. How would you explain that decision to someone considering digital transformation?
Swedberg: The 3DEXPERIENCE platform originated almost a decade ago as a collaborative product design management tool, but it has become an integrated platform for managing product, services, and business activity globally. Being cloud-based, the platform works for both internal and external collaboration. During the pandemic, we saw several instances of companies doubling down on using the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to connect people, ideas, and data globally, to drive their businesses from design to sourcing, manufacturing, supply chains and service all virtually over the cloud, without skipping a beat.
Q: There’s an old saying in the software industry, about a company “eating the dog food,” as in internally using the software they create. What did you learn about eating the dog food in this transition?
Swedberg: Yes, we really were eating the dog food [laughs]. What we proved was how we could rely on it. We discovered resiliency. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform is a solution that is always on, always there.
Q: Were there unexpected or serendipitous moments for your team?
Swedberg: I was a bit surprised by the value we gained by using DELMIA 3DLean, our manufacturing-focused solution that helps guide collaboration and enables teams to explore ways to solve problems. There is a ‘public notes’ feature in 3DLean where team members can post ideas, messages, suggestions, and more. It is designed to support the use of lean principles in factory processes. For us, 3DLean became a visual bulletin board, a virtual thread of conversations and solutions to help us manage internally.
Beyond discovering new value in the 3DEXPERIENCE platform internally, however, we have much to share with our customers regarding advances in many of our markets, including Aerospace & Defense (A&D), Life Sciences, and Transportation.
Q: Let’s start with Life Sciences.
Swedberg: Harmonizing product nature and life has been our direction for a while. In 2020 Bernard Charlès (Dassault Systèmes’ vice chairman and CEO) released our strategic direction in focusing on how people are medically treated and to improve their lives by making the virtual twin of the human body possible. We’re seeing a real convergence between what we do every day in aerospace and defense, high-tech, transportation – also in medical devices and therapies, hardware, software, electronics, simulation. We are seeing the kind of digital transformation experiences in Life Sciences that have been taking place in other industries we serve.
We acquired Medidata almost a year before the pandemic began. Medidata is the platform used for a majority of the COVID vaccine trials and is a leader in clinical trial management solutions. We can accelerate real-time visibility into the status of clinical trials, link trial data and therapies with medical devices, hardware and software.
Our partnerships with academia and the medical and life sciences industries are also rewriting the rules in healthcare. We are getting closer to a full digital simulation of the human body using the 3DEXPERIENCE platform’s virtual modeling and simulation capabilities, and what we call the virtual twin. This allows us to provide technology and services never before seen. The union of our existing 3DEXPERIENCE technology with Medidata is a game changer. It’s our ‘ding’ on the universe. We have decades of experience in simulation and 3D into life sciences. There are things that have not been done in the past in life sciences because the technology was lacking. We are totally unlocking innovation in the healthcare and life sciences arena. Full simulation like we do with aircraft and cars.
Q: A hot topic in both A&D and Transportation the past couple of years has been propulsion electrification. What is your take on how the industry is evolving?
Swedberg: The electric vehicle (EV) industry is expanding rapidly. Ford, GM, and Audi all say they will be fully electrified in 2025. Some are doing more than just designing EV cars and trucks. Ford, for example, is designing batteries for the home. We will see massive solutions coming in this space in the next few years.
Almost every company in the EV space is using our products going back to our early engagement with Tesla. You simply won’t find another solution that offers the combined expertise in biology and chemistry for battery design, additive manufacturing, and composite materials, plus High Tech integration for things like autonomous systems, along with our deep roots in PLM and factory management. Not to mention harmonization of hardware and software, and electrical, which only can be done effectively at speed in a unified model-based environment. Electric vehicle companies need all of these things, and we have them.
We have a full set of solutions, the understanding, and the experience to be great partners with these companies. Start-ups appreciate being able to have a full solution in the cloud, so they can focus on development and not have to transition from a legacy environment or set up an expensive IT department. The fact that we have software as a service, and using the cloud, is fantastic for them, they can just get going. These new players are not held back by their legacy processes.
Q: Aviation took a huge hit with the pandemic. Boeing is one of your biggest customers. Can you speak to where the industry is headed?
Swedberg: All key aviation companies are our clients owing to our 40-year roots in the aviation industry. After a serious drop in air travel due to the pandemic, we’re seeing some sweet spots come back; planes are full.
Our work is not only about the future trends, we are also working to digitize the past in order to improve. We’re supporting the work of Wichita State University and the National Institute for Aviation Research. They are completely disassembling and documenting a Black Hawk helicopter and a Lancer bomber, using our software to create digital twins of the airframe, and using those twins to find new ways to extend their lifespans, with custom machining or 3D printing for example, so they can last for more than a generation.
In addition, there’s an exciting evolution taking place in the aerospace industry as many companies literally look to a future in space. And there is substantial research on sustainable fuels, including hydrogen propulsion. We are also enabling companies like Boom Supersonic to deliver commercial, supersonic passenger jets, and Joby Aviation to lead in the burgeoning eVTOL market for the air taxis that will transport us like the Ubers of today.
Q: The 3DEXPERIENCE FORUM 2021 is just around the corner. Given the events of the past year or so, what can Dassault Systemès customers gain from the Forum this year?
Swedberg: Well first we’re staying virtual this year in light of Covid; we took the decision that safety was more important than a physical event. We may look to creating localized hybrid, smaller events during the year. That said, we have a great line up of speakers planned. We have Beth Comstock, the former vice chair of GE who will talk about managing change and driving innovation during challenging times. I’m also very excited about the line-up of clients participating in our agenda, from a start-up creating recreational vehicles called RKS Off-Road, to two larger companies, BorgWarner and Sierra Nevada Corporation, that are on their digital transformation journey, and will share their stories with our community.
We’re also running a series as part of the forum called 3DEXPERIENCE dialogues. These will be interactive live events focusing on some key issues and technologies we’re seeing, featuring a great set of customers and industry experts who’ll offering first-hand insights taking on topics like digital transformation. These are senior level customers who are excited to share their stories.
We’re really looking forward to building our community through the 3DEXPERIENCE FORUM and Dialogues, and helping our clients with their digital transformations.
Join Dassault Systèmes North America for 3DEXPERIENCE FORUM 2021. The September 9th Plenary Session is now available as a replay once you are registered for the event.
Registration also includes access to 3DEXPERIENCE Dialogues – our focused topic roundtables taking place Sept. 21-23 featuring influencers and customers focused on complex challenges, future outlook, and practical solutions for post-pandemic innovation, including:
- Sept. 21: The Unsung Technology Hero behind Product Innovation.
- Sept. 22: Digital Transformation-Where Do We Go From Here?
- Sept. 23: How Manufacturing Success starts with Virtual + Real Operations.