PAC INNOVATION RADAR Open Digital Platforms for the Industrial World in Europe 2021: agile and efficient scaling is key

Today PAC published its seven-part PAC INNOVATION RADAR “Open Digital Platforms for the Industrial World in Europe 2021”. It is the broadest analysis of the vendor landscape for open digital platforms for use in industrial contexts. In seven RADAR segments focusing on different application areas, PAC evaluates and compares 67 relevant platform vendors in the European market. Depending on their focus areas, the providers were positioned in one or more analyses. Across all segments, only 14 players achieved a “Best in Class” rating – 3D Hubs, Bosch.IO, Bosch Rexroth, Caruso, Eurotech, Microsoft, Otonomo, PTC, RE'FLEKT, Red Hat/IBM, Siemens, SUSE Rancher, TeamViewer, and Xometry. In addition, two vendors have been identified as “Hidden Champions” – German Edge Cloud and ADAMOS.

When it comes to Industrial IoT projects, PAC expects further use cases to emerge in the future but does not see a “killer app” on the horizon that might enable significant efficiency enhancements. Instead, many different use cases will bring step-by-step improvements for industrial companies. Manufacturing companies need an efficient approach to develop simple new applications for new use cases at a fast pace. The digital factory requires efficient scalability to transfer successful PoCs of newly developed applications to many different machines, production lines, and factories. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has not only revealed the vulnerabilities of supply chains, but also that of factory operations. This will lead to more investments into agility-enabling technologies such as IoT (internet of things), AI (artificial intelligence), robotics, edge computing, AR (augmented reality), and 5G. Agile application development and agile scalability must be combined with agile application management to handle updates (new functions, security) as efficiently as possible. 

In short, there is a need for an agile DevOps approach to manage the digital factory as efficiently as possible. Dedicated platforms can help provide all these capabilities in an integrated way. “In a high-speed world, no individual application creates a lasting competitive advantage – it is the ability to move faster on a large scale that makes the difference. This is also true for the digital factory. There is a clear need to develop, scale, and manage industrial IoT applications in a more agile and efficient way,” says Arnold Vogt, Head of Digital Innovation & IoT at PAC.

Organizations are increasingly looking for digital platforms which are “open” and provide additional capabilities for very specific use cases. Therefore, PAC frequently enhances the perspective of the PAC INNOVATION RADAR with insights from newly emerging areas in the industrial IoT context to address fast-evolving user needs. This RADAR takes the following types of platform into account: cloud-centric industrial IoT, edge-centric industrial IoT, edge cloud-centric industrial IoT, open source-based industrial IoT, IoT data exchange & monetization, connected workers, and 3D printing services.

PAC INNOVATION RADAR Open Digital Platforms for 3D Printing Services – one of seven RADAR segments

Important capabilities of leading platforms for 3D printing services

Many companies in the industrial space already use some form of additive manufacturing. Several use cases exist in different areas, such as the production of lightweight components by leveraging generative design methods, the prototyping of new products, the production of customized components, small product series, as well as spare parts management. Open digital platforms for 3D printing services not only orchestrate the open interactions of different service providers and clients around quoting and payment, but increasingly also provide additional digital services to both sides of the market, such as instant quoting and design optimization services to users, as well as material supply, financing services via upfront payment, and MES software to providers. In this RADAR segment, PAC considered 3D printing service platforms for basic parts and for more complex, IP-critical parts.

What makes platforms of this type attractive to users? In short, simplified provider interaction combined with value-added services. This results in the following success factors for 3D printing service platforms: first, the development of value-added services, a topic also very closely linked to the business model of a platform. Second, platforms need a strong ecosystem of manufacturing partners and access to many clients that require on-demand manufacturing services. Third, there must be continuous investment in further developing the platform, more and better services, and driving the growth of the client base and the partner ecosystem, even if a sustainable business model does not yet exist. Fourth, PAC believes that the extension from 3D printing services towards other manufacturing technologies will be an asset, as clients can compare and choose the most appropriate production technology for their purpose.

Potential to morph into much broader Manufacturing-as-a-Service platforms

When we take the idea of marketplaces for 3D printing services one step further, it becomes evident that these platforms have the potential to morph into much broader Manufacturing-as-a-Service platforms by providing a growing number of manufacturing services, e.g., CNC machining, additive manufacturing, casting, injection molding, stamping, and sheet metal services. PAC considers these digital platforms for 3D printing services as incubators for future digital platforms for Manufacturing as a Service. Leading vendors have already moved in this direction.

As the examples of 3D Hubs (acquired by Protolabs in January 2021) and Shift (acquired by Xometry in December 2019) show, platforms with a solid ecosystem of clients and manufacturing partners have become an attractive investment target. On top of this, Xometry announced plans in early June 2021 for an IPO (initial public offering) to go public on the NASDAQ Global Select Market. In PAC’s view, Xometry and 3D Hubs are the clear market leaders. Both are ranked as Best in Class in this evaluation.

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