Charlie Bradshaw, founder and CEO of product design and procurement specialist Matrix APA, offers his glimpse of the future.
I am fascinated by disruptive technology and how it can positively impact all of our lives. I am a techno-optimist and believe that the exponential change we will encounter over the next few years will bring enormous amounts of positive change to our businesses, our communities and the whole of humanity. I predict a world with no poverty, unlimited energy supplies, abundant food and water and accessible health and medicine to the whole planet by 2030.
We are in a time of great change and the effect on business will be so disruptive over the next five years it is predicted that 70 per cent of the world's largest companies today won't even exist by 2020. The change is so rapid, that many larger, more traditional organisations will just not be able to keep up. Small companies like us are now able to do things that only governments and huge corporations use to, so it is my responsibility as the founder and CEO of Matrix APA to disrupt my own business before someone else does.
I have implemented many initiatives over the years, from helping us improve the efficiency of the supply chain to product development tools to shorten lead-times. One example is our Ideas Database (ID) platform, which we built from scratch and now has over 15,000 products archived in the cloud that can be accessed from anywhere, anytime. Even today, while at a conference in Australia, I was able to access the ID from my iPad and present to the CEO of a large European retailer that I was sitting next to at the drop of a hat - he was gobsmacked at how quickly I could access the detail of information and could instantly see the benefit it would have to his buying team's productivity. I am pleased to announce that we are also currently in the process of making our ID available to everyone through our website.
Last year, I attended a YPO conference in the US and heard renowned thought-leader/ co-founder of Singularity University, Peter Diamandis, give the most amazing talk about robotics, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, bio medicine and nano sensors. Consequently, I signed up for a week-long executive course in October 2014 along with 80 other CEOs to learn about the exponential technologies that are going to impact our lives and businesses over the coming years. We were taught about artificial intelligence, networks and computers, robots, digital biology, 3D systems, the future of manufacturing, exponential organisations, cyber security, privacy and identity. We also looked at the future of health and medicine. Within the week, we heard over 40 keynotes and my head was left spinning for months afterwards.
All the technologies that were spoken about are game-changing. For example, will we all be living in a world of self-driving cars within the next five years? Will my children ever have the need for a driving licence?
Has the first person to live to 200 years old already been born? Medicine is being disrupted beyond imagination - within a few years, our smartphones will become diagnostic medical devices and will figure out our illnesses without the need for a doctor. It will even call you an ambulance in an emergency and explain to the operator what is wrong with you, or book you a doctor's appointment and suggest the prescription needed to save the surgery time so they can process more patients every day.
DNA sequencing is already a commercial reality, with the likes of 23andme offering profiling for as little as £125 - a test I recently took for myself and my family with very positive insights. Something I would recommend to everyone.
Specific to product design and manufacturing, there are three areas that will heavily influence our industry: 3D printing, robotics and artificial intelligence. We have already started the journey of implementing these at Matrix APA, and I will give you some brief insights as to how:
3D printing is really only used for prototyping in our sector right now. We have already been using this technology for several years and it has helped us reduce sampling times from 30 days to 30 minutes, as many of our clients know. That's a 1,000 times improvement for the cost of one flight to Hong Kong!
We are now investing in groundbreaking printing technology where we will be able to prototype many more substrates and materials than current technology allows. We will be printing in materials such as glass, ceramics and titanium very soon, with the added benefit of multi-head printing, so we will be able to achieve production quality product from a design studio in London in a matter of hours. The new equipment we have invested in can achieve 75 per cent production quality, and I foresee that by the end of 2016 we will be at 100 per cent. There are also completely new methods of "layerless" printing being developed. One day will we even need the mass production facilities in Asia that we have all become used to, or will retailers and brands turn their stockrooms into mini production facilities and print on demand? I think you know what my guess would be.
AI is the area I am probably most interested in. The consequences for humanity are mind-boggling when you understand how some of the new machine and deep learning algorithms are being applied to software. Check out what IBM Watson is up to for a glimpse of the future.
At Matrix APA, we are creating a bespoke business management system with algorithms so sophisticated I had to reach out to data scientists at Harvard to develop the code. We are creating AI tools that will enable us to harness the power of the entire internet while using the data we collect from our organisation (clients and suppliers) to provide analytical solutions that will make the whole supply chain far more efficient, delivering better margins, shorter lead-times and much-improved efficiencies to all our clients. Our deep learning algorithms will also be able to read text and see pictures like a human would - and have the ability to understand what they are actually looking at. Think about that for a moment, and what a truly amazing advancement in the world of software that will deliver. AI will be the single biggest disruptor to the global retail and consumer goods industry over the next five years and I feel incredibly excited to be at the forefront of this change.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved robots and I am waiting patiently for the day to come when I can buy my own humanoid to help me at home and in the office. There are some interesting philosophical questions being asked about what really is a robot and are we really any different? Not a discussion for now, but one I have many thoughts about!
My dream is to have a factory where robots work alongside humans, enhancing our natural capabilities. Matrix APA invests heavily in delivering effectual social and ethical change, but the best way I can think of doing this is by finding better paid jobs for people who work in factories, and replacing them with robots. People often cite that this would lead to many job losses, but humanity has a miraculous ability to transition though these periods of great change with positive outcomes.
For example, when the tractor was invented at the start of the agriculture revolution in the 20th century, more than 300m people lost their jobs overnight in Europe alone. Is the world a better place because of it? Did we find other jobs for all those people? Absolutely we did. The same will happen with the rise of robots. They are not going to destroy our lives; they are going to enhance them. Check out what Kawada Industries are doing in Japan with their Nextage robots and how well the human workforce has integrated with their new colleagues - this video on this link is a fascinating insight into the future.
The world is going to go through more change in the next 20 years that it has in the last 5,000 - these are incredibly exciting times. I intend to be at the forefront of that change and will be investing our time, money and resources into these accelerating technologies, as it is not only a great passion, but also a business necessity.