IT Lessons Learned from the First 3D Printed Supercar: We Need a Clean Slate Approach More Often

Rob Enderle
Slide Show

Developing Tech: What's Next?

Last week, I was one of a handful of people who saw the first 3D printed supercar. Now, the parts that were printed were the chassis components; the engine, body, and many of the more complex components were purchased off the shelf. And the car wasn’t electric, either. It used switchable tanks: one for regular gas, and the other for compressed natural gas, which many argue is superior to electric power.

The car had a four-cylinder engine putting out 700 HP and 2.2 0-60 time. It is 90 percent lighter and actually much stronger than current cars, and the techniques used apply to both mass-produced and short-run specialty cars. It is called “The Blade” and it reminds us of what can happen if someone steps back from the way things are done and starts with a clean slate.

The Blade Car

What you see in the Blade car is a complete rethinking of the way you build and power automobiles. Tesla did much the same thing with the Tesla S, in that it is a highly modular car that could, in theory, last the life of its owner with regular technology upgrades. The Blade uses a 3D printing technology called metal laser sintering, which produces a final part and can scale to decent volumes for short-run parts coupled with carbon fiber tubes, dramatically lowering the cost and weight of ground up, highly custom design.

The car also uses an interchangeable fuel source of CNG (compressed natural gas) and gasoline, which not only gives it an impressive total range, it helps produce that 700 HP out of a relatively small engine and allows the car to run cleanly for short hops without a power penalty for CNG and still have gasoline for long hops, also without a power penalty.

The end result is something that looks amazing, is wicked fast, has decent range and good crash resistance, and decent gas mileage, but only came about because someone stepped back and decided to clean slate it.

Clean Slate

My grandmother used to tell me a story when I was growing up about a woman who had put salt instead of sugar in her tea and then went door to door, asking neighbors what she could add to fix it. Every addition just made the tea worse until she arrived at the wise woman’s house. This woman told her to make a fresh cup. Basically, just start over.

I think that is often what we forget to do with our data centers. We layer on technology after technology, year after year, and over time, we are adding more complexity, mostly to address the problems that we now have in great abundance. Each new technology, at some point, actually makes it vastly harder to keep the whole mess running.

VCE’s Approach

At the heart of this is why VCE seems to work so incredibly well. It comes in and replaces this mess with something designed from the ground up to work, and the IT folks who get the solution figure they’ve died and gone to heaven because their constant fire-drill crisis of the day problems suddenly have been eliminated. It isn’t the storage, servers and networking; it is the fact that the whole thing is fresh. It replaces the unique mismatched layers of technology crap that we’ve built up over the decades. It is basically a fresh cup of tea.

Dell’s Approach

Dell looked at acquisitions and became uniquely aware that they simply weren’t working; virtually every one was failing to meet the financial goals that justified buying the company in the first place. So the firm went back to the drawing board and created a clean slate acquisition process. Instead of focusing on integrating the acquired firm, it focused on identifying and preserving the key assets that justified the purchase in the first place. The end result is that, uniquely, virtually every Dell acquisition since has over-achieved its goals and expectations. Dell rethought the process and the end result was almost magical.

Wrapping Up: Clean Slate

The point to all of this is that I think technology vendors and IT managers don’t sit back often enough and start from scratch, with a list of requirements on one side and current technology on the other, and work to create something designed for the workload of today. The iPod was a fresh look at the MP3 market. The iPhone was a fresh look at the smartphone market. Look at how successful they were. VCE, as noted above, is growing in double digit rates while most of the large enterprise hardware market would be excited to have high single-digit growth. The Tesla and the Blade car I mention in this piece are clean slate designs and are vastly better, some might say generationally better, than what preceded them.

I think companies should, at least once a year, step back and spend at least a week thinking about what a clean slate approach would be in their chosen market. IT should do the same. If the end result is the realization that they need to make a big change for an even bigger benefit, so be it. If it is just the realization that there are better approaches out there, that too has value.

The Blade car reminded me that from time to time, you need to make a fresh cup of tea, because putting anything more into the mess you already have isn’t smart. It isn’t smart at all.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+

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