Quantum leap

By Catherine
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Written by Catherine Bolgar

In the future, quantum computers will harness individual atoms or photons to do calculations that are currently impossible.

A quantum computer operates according to the very different rules of the quantum world, where, for example, atoms, photons (light particles) or subatomic particles can be two different things, or in two places, at the same time. So a computer made of atoms could do many computations simultaneously, explains Simon Benjamin, professor of quantum technologies at the University of Oxford, U.K.

In the future, quantum computers will harness individual atoms or photons to do calculations that are currently impossible.

In regular computers, a bit is a 0 or a 1. In quantum computers, a property called superposition means a bit—called a qubit—can be a 0, a 1 or both at once. “It sounds nonsense,” Prof. Benjamin acknowledges.

iStock_000000350047_SmallNevertheless, researchers are testing different kinds of qubits in different settings. Oxford University uses individual atoms of calcium in a vacuum, trapping them with electric fields so they don’t touch anything. “When the rest of the world touches a qubit, it makes it collapse and be either a 0 or a 1, and you’ve ruined it,” Prof. Benjamin says.

Oxford researchers use an ion trap which removes one electron from an atom, giving it an electrical charge, and making it easier to move. The ions are then shot with lasers, to create a ground state, an excited state, or a superposition (i.e. both states at once).

Controlling qubits is hard,” he says, but Oxford’s qubits are “arguably the best in the world, based on how they behave.”

Another approach is a superconducting quantum computer, which needs to be kept in a large refrigerator close to absolute zero. The computer consists of a little chip and superconductor. Electricity swirls around the superconducting ring, clockwise, counterclockwise or both at once. Researchers are seeking the best material for the superconducting ring, which may be aluminum, niobium or graphene.

A third approach, called a nitrogen-vacancy center, uses pink diamonds, whose color comes from a nitrogen atom where there’s a missing carbon atom. “You can put an extra unit of energy in that center,” Prof. Benjamin explains. It produces light, which will tell you whether you’re storing a 0 or 1 there.

“It’s a race among those approaches and some others,” he says. “In a few years’ time we’ll know who has won.”

Martin Laforest, senior manager, scientific outreach at the Institute for Quantum Computing, University of Waterloo, Canada, agrees it’s too soon to pick a winner. But he believes that superconducting qubits have momentum because they capitalize on nano-fabrication and microwave technology that have been developed over 50-60 years and push them to the extreme.

Although small computers with quantum properties exist, they aren’t yet faster than the best classical computers. In time, however, what might a quantum computer be able to do?

Like conventional computers in the 1940s, the first quantum computers could be powerful code-breakers. They could also be used for simulation, a potential game-changer in pharmaceuticals, clean energy and new materials.

Simulation could, for example, lead to better superconductors that transport solar energy collected in, say, the Sahara, to anywhere in the world. “Superconductors allow us to conduct electricity with zero loss,” Dr. Laforest says. “The problem is they work at minus 100 degrees Celsius and below. But imagine a superconductor that works at room temperature. We can’t do it now because we don’t fully understand how superconductors work. Our computers aren’t powerful enough to simulate how they work.”

Pharmaceutical design is mostly trial and error because “we don’t know exactly how a certain molecule of a drug interacts with the human body, or how the shape of a molecule interacts with other molecules, so we can fix any problems,” Dr. Laforest says.

Simulating molecular interactions is too complex for today’s computers, partly because molecules behave according to the rules of quantum mechanics. “But a quantum computer already works with quantum mechanics,” he says.

Similarly, quantum computers could be used to create new materials with new properties, such as strength, flexibility or conductivity. “These things would have a big impact on society,” Dr. Laforest says.



Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion.

Photos courtesy of iStock

PLM Implementation Partner

By Wendy
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You’ve selected the best solution, but do you have the right implementation partner?

With an ever increasing competitive market, companies in any industry are relying more and more upon their ability to innovate their product or service in order to create a revolutionary and incredible experience for consumers. The types of products we strive to create are those that actually enhance or sometimes change lives. Also understanding that it’s not always coming up with something new, but quite often producing what we already do, better. To do this requires a symbiotic environment that infuses technology, collaboration, and data with human preferences, needs and desires. Companies recognize the need to transform their business in order to evolve and remain profitable.

With a realm of potential solutions available, it’s not only about selecting the right enterprise system but integrating and deploying it successfully. Successful implementation and adoption is critical to achieving game-changing status for any company. While innovating business minds are anxious to make necessary changes, they are also reluctant to budget or spend the time to do it properly.

The Cost of Bad Implementation

Many are skeptical that they need help and believe they can shop for a ‘better price’ when it comes to implementation. With the ever-increasing complexity of an enterprise solution, it’s common to overlook essential business processes and the need for platform integrations which can ultimately create a delay in deployment.

Finding the right partner with the expertise, experience and skill set is very important to avoid implementation failure and deliver expected benefits. In your search, consider some of these tips to finding the right partner:

  1. Include implementation services into your overall solution budget. PLM deployment failure often occurs at the very beginning of the initiative. A good understanding of the implementation services costs required will help you to deliver the full PLM technology roadmap.
  2. Ask for certification. Look for partners, consultants and system integrators with a proven track record implementing the specific technology your solution is based upon through the use of industry best practices and methodologies.
  3. Get requirements documented at the beginning. Qualified service providers will help align your organization’s strategy and business processes with a properly defined PLM implementation roadmap.
  4. Look for proof of project management methodologies that utilize a consistent and defined approach for project planning, execution and management.

A strong competitive advantage relies on a few simple things – providing consumers with the products they want, when and how they want them, and at the price they are willing to pay. The challenge is enabling your organization to work effectively to create products that meet consumer demand and beat your competition to market. To properly deploy a PLM solution requires a team of experts such as Dassault Systèmes Industry Services that can help ensure the technology meets your business and timeline objectives.

Have you budgeted for your next solution implementation? Can your solution services provider help you identify the highest value potentials for business transformation and provide comprehensive recommendations?

The next industrial revolution: do more with less

By Catherine
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Written by Catherine Bolgar*

Stylish robot assemble

Since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, we keep producing more, while working less. The digital age speeded up productivity even more. The next industrial revolution is likely to focus not just on doing more faster but also with fewer resources.

We have the same potential for a 10- to 15-fold increase in productivity that we saw in the Industrial Revolution,” says Stefan Heck, consulting professor at Stanford University and co-author of the book, “Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century.” In the Industrial Revolution, “it was labor productivity that improved. Now we can do that with resources. We have been improving in the past, but modestly—less than 1% for water to 1.5% for gas.”

Global population grew fourfold during the 20th century, while the volume of material extracted or harvested rose eightfold, according to “Sustainable Materials Management: Making Better Use of Resources,” a book by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The approximately 2.5 billion people in emerging markets poised to join the middle class by 2030 are likely to increase consumption of everything from food to water to energy.

Doomsday predictions that we’ll run out of oil or other resources aren’t likely because technology keeps presenting new ways to access what we need. However, “we’ve already recovered the best resources,” Dr. Heck says. Those we haven’t yet tapped are “more expensive to recover—they’re deeper, farther offshore and lower quality.”

To meet global demand forecasts for 2030, we would need to boost gross domestic product per metric ton of materials by 1.3% a year, food yields per hectare by 1.5%, GDP per British thermal unit of energy 3.2% and GDP per cubic meter of water by 3.7%, he says.

Sir John Beddington, chief scientific adviser to the British government, made a similar forecast, saying that by 2030, the world will need 50% more food and energy and 30% more water to supply a population that’s growing by six million people per month.

Such substantial productivity increases can be achieved by “combining information technology, nanoscale materials science and biology with industrial technology,” Dr. Heck says. “The benefit is, if you have that level of productivity shift, there’s billions of wealth to be created.”

Dr. Heck lists five levers to produce the resource revolution:

  1. Reduce waste.
  2. Substitute with something more efficient. For example, auto makers are increasingly using lightweight composite materials or aluminum rather than steel to reduce fuel consumption. A switch from a gasoline-powered vehicle—only 30% efficient—to an electric vehicle—96% to 98% efficient—requires less energy. Plant-derived proteins can substitute for resource-intensive animal proteins, at least some of the time. “There are multiple wins—environmental benefits, cost benefits, consumer benefits, health benefits,” Dr. Heck says.
  3. Optimize, using sensors or controls to improve efficiency. Dr. Heck describes a steel plant that upgraded with sensors and robots. Workers who previously had to wear protective gear now manipulate the steel remotely from the safety of a control room. The plant cut energy use 20%-25% and increased output. Another example is using GPS and software to optimize delivery routes, saving time and fuel.
  4. Virtualize, turning physical goods into services or moving online. The number of miles driven, driver’s licenses issued and fuel used in the U.S. peaked in 2006, before the recession. That’s in part because people have shifted to online shopping and banking—“when you multiply fewer trips by the total population, you get significant savings,” Dr. Heck says. At the same time, banks, for example, save by not having to operate as many branches.
  5. Recycle, reuse and refurbish. A number of companies are taking old products, removing the parts that are still good to reprocess them and put into new products. “That changes the equation dramatically,” Dr. Heck says. “We had an economy where most products were used once and ended in a landfill.”

Mobile phones used to be used once and thrown away, but a number of services have sprung up to take back your old phone when you buy a new one, and to sell still-working phones in developing countries or to disassemble broken phones to recuperate materials. “There’s 100 times more gold per weight in phones than in a gold mine in Africa,” Dr. Heck says.

Lead-acid batteries are collected for reprocessing the lead, which constitutes the lion’s share of the cost of a new battery. By creating a closed loop for the lead, “there’s both an economic and a huge environmental benefit. If you look at what they’re doing, it’s a lead rental business,” he says.

Companies that profit from product sales need new business models to give them incentives to make their products more durable. “If cars are shared, then you’re making money on the use of the cars, not on the sales,” he says.

As waste is wrung from the industrial system, “things become cheaper, and we can have the same level of service or quality of life with fewer resources,” Dr. Heck says. “We would spend less, and from an environmental point of view have an economy that’s still delivering growing GDP but with far less energy.”

*For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.

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