Interview: Carlo Poloni – President ESTECO – Discusses Optimization Technology Trends in Product Design
Carlo Poloni, President of ESTECO, takes a look back at how optimization technology has changed over the years and talks about the company’s plans to expand the reach and capabilities of its technology.
About Carlo Poloni:- President ESTECO SpA
A Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Trieste, Carlo Poloni co-founded ESTECO in 1999. He previously worked at Aeritalia and Sincrotrone Trieste and joined the University of Trieste as a researcher with a focus on Multidisciplinary Design Optimization. He has authored more than 100 papers and collaborates with international companies and organizations. He is also a member of the board of the Italian Chapter of INCOSE.
Looking back over the last ten-fifteen years, how has the use of optimization technology changed?
Essentially it has gone from being a specialists-only tool to becoming the norm in engineering design. Back in the 1990’s, optimization tools were the purview of highly specialized designers and the tools themselves were limited in scope due mainly to the scant availability and usability of models. Because optimization was so specialized, it wasn’t considered a crucial element in the design process as the problems it could be used for were limited to the area of expertise of the specialist. The optimization process is exponentially more effective when design targets are high; if you maximize the mission of a product, the optimization becomes strategic and extremely effective. If your scope is limited to the design of a small component, it is not as strategic to the company.
In a nutshell, 15 years ago, the technology was there but it wasn’t usable, or rather, it was usable only for the elite community capable of understanding its value in a small environment and in a specific application.
What’s changed? How has it become the norm?
Nowadays, we have the models, the infrastructure and the decision making process, so optimization is no longer just for specialists, but for decision makers too and therefore its deployment has become strategic.
We’ve seen this transition happen, for example in Ford, one of our major accounts. At the beginning of our collaboration, we started with the weight reduction of small components, taking a micro-approach by interacting with individual engineers. This has now evolved into a company-wide, macro-approach with different actors operating on the same level – something that has only become possible through advancements in web technology. Back in 1995, ESTECO – or rather, the founding partners, given that the company was established in 1999 – was already thinking of sharing information across companies and borders. At that time, it was technologically impossible, now it’s very much a reality. It took us 10 years to transform what was an idea into something practical, useable and rock solid.
The success of ESTECO is proof of the fact that optimization has become the norm. We have seen our client base grow from a small, but prestigious, group of European customers in the automotive, manufacturing and aerospace industries –British Aerospace, Electrolux and EADS Aerospace to name a few – to today’s 300-plus global clients from different industries with companies like Ford, Whirlpool, Toyota, Petrobras and Bombardier. Likewise, our company numbers have also grown: we now employ over 50 highly specialized staff and have expanded our operations to North America and India and count numerous channel partners and distributors among our ranks. On reflection, I would say that optimization isn’t just the norm, it’s strategic.
What direction do you see optimization taking in the next ten years?
The way I see it, the decision making process in optimization will become less deterministic and more social. People need to become part of the loop and have a more active role in the process.
The way things are now, customer requirements and demands are filtered through management. In the future those needs and desires will become available in the decision making process itself and open the door to interaction between who is using and who is designing the product.
The birth of the Internet showed us that sharing a process in optimization could become a reality and it took us 10 years to make it happen. Even though development times today are shorter, I expect another 5 to 10 years will pass before social tools are embedded inside the optimization framework. It hasn’t been coded yet and we haven’t identified how this will impact the decision making process but it is something we are working on.
Being a pioneer in the field of numerical optimization, we’ve come to expect innovation from ESTECO. What can we expect in the future?
Our mathematics specialists are looking at how to change objectives during the process and adapting the process to the changing environment through generative algorithms and including he foundations of machine learning to our technology. These algorithms mimic evolution at computational speed to identify the fittest designs by creating, selecting and cycling through as many design alternatives that the algorithms automatically generate, while machine learning makes our technology smart and able to learn from data. We also have several other projects in the pipeline, so stay tuned.
ESTECO was included in the Gartner “CoolVendors for Product Design and Lifecycle Management” Report. What does this mean for the company?
Gartner is the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company and their Cool Vendor program signals small emerging innovative vendors that have unique and highly original new technology that is making a difference to the market they operate in. Essentially, it gives small companies like ESTECO a chance to shine.
Obviously we are proud to be named “Cool Vendor”: we have built a great company with great products and solve real customer problems and it’s nice to be noticed. Given that many companies look to Cool Vendors when investigating new technologies and considering possible partnerships and collaborations, I’m sure this will raise awareness of our company and technology to companies that may not be aware of us and what our technology can do.
Tell us about your thoughts on Indian Market and technology adoption in India?
Esteco views most of our markets from a long term perspective. We see that more and more engineers are coming from India, our core market of automotive and industrial sectors are growing robustly. There is a focus on product innovation and adaption to local needs. We see these trends as a big positive for our technologies. We have been working in India for last 4 plus years. In these four years, we are working with all the major OEMs in India – which include Tata Motors, Mahindra and Mahindra, Ashok Leyland, TVS Motors, Bajaj Auto and many of their suppliers.
We have a development and testing teams also working in India and we are growing these teams to support our local customers and global clients as well. We will continue to invest in India in terms of capabilities and capacities.
We also see great potential in collaborating with universities in India. We work with some of the IITs and look forward to increasing our footprint in the sector as well.
Given your position as a Professor in University of Trieste, what would you like to advise engineering students who take up optimization as a career?
The charter for Esteco is to deploy these advanced technologies to solve real world problems. As I have already mentioned, numerical methods form a solid foundation of decision making in today’s world. The problems are becoming more and more complex and so are the customer demands. There is easy availability compute infrastructure and analysis software. In these scenario, you need to be conversant with optimization methods to solve problems and also keep an edge in the otherwise competitive scenario. I strongly urge universities tooffer more and more courses on optimization as I urge students to take up more courses on optimization and numerical methods.
As we understand, you also do a lot of research work with consortium of universities and companies. Please give us an overview
Esteco wants to solve the most difficult business challenges. That’s how we started and that’s how we still work. Every year, many organizations and consortiums approach us with challenging business problems. We have an internal team which evaluates these problems, and then decide which ones we can target with our technologies. We work either as part of consortium or as part of extended project arm to deliver. This also ensures that we keep on the forefront of technology adoption and IP creation.
I would like to thank Mr. Carlo Poloni – President ESTECO SpA for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have any questions for him or for DailyCADCAM, please leave a comment below or mail me on email@example.com and we will be glad to answer.
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