Blog | | by Julia

Challenges and innovation in product development

The growing complexity of parts and their increasing number of variants, coupled with smaller batch sizes, require designers to adapt ever more flexibly to new requirements.

In an interview with Sven Matthiesen, Head of the Institute for Product Development (IPEK) in Karlsruhe, we gained interesting insights into the current challenges and innovations in product development. Find out why sheet metal designs will become a new trend in the future in the following blog post.

'Design fascinates me,' is how Sven Matthiesen, holder of the Chair of Power Tools and Machine Elements at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), begins our conversation. In this context, he reports that universities mainly focus on approaches for additive manufacturing and classic subtractive processes such as turning and milling. In contrast, transformative processes, which include forming, receive comparatively little attention. However, sheet metal in particular offers exciting possibilities in design, not only in terms of sustainability.

Sheet metal design knowledge is very difficult to access. According to the expert, there is a considerable deficit in the entire field of sheet metal production, as there is a lack of knowledge about how to think in the context of forming manufacturing processes. Communicating this approach is difficult, but extremely valuable for the sheet metal processing industry.


You have to think about sheet metal processing right from the start - and the start is the design.

The challenges are therefore primarily in the design area: on the one hand, the difficulty lies in thinking ahead about the production process (e.g. the folding process of a bent sheet metal part). On the other hand, it is difficult to assess which type of design optimally exploits the potential of the manufacturing process - be it in terms of sustainability or cost efficiency. This is where smart software solutions, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence, will play a decisive role in the future.

Digital services as a key role in the thought process

'Getting into the heads of the designers' is the motto. This requires the development of support systems in order to initiate a rethink and thus a change in design. At this point, Sven Matthiesen emphasizes that digital assistance systems can support the forward-thinking of production processes in design. Thanks to the collaboration with TRUMPF, students can be offered such a digital assistance system with iAssist, which supports them in thinking in sheet metal and makes the advantages of sheet metal processing visible.

Sustainability as a driving force

In recent years, the head of the institute has received numerous questions from students on the subject of sustainability. Although the holistic view of sustainability across the entire product life cycle has always been an integral part of design theory, the importance of sustainable design for students now seems to be more influential than ever.

'How do I design an eternally innovative product that can be used for many years?' In this context, sheet metal is a real option to other materials. In addition, bending, folding and welding sheet metal results in less material loss compared to subtractive processes. Here you will find a guide to assist companies in the sheet metal processing industry in implementing environmentally friendly practices in construction and production.

The challenge of the mindset

The design and product development expert also addressed the willingness to pay for the use of apps. He made it clear that a change in the mindset of customers is required in order to view digital services as valuable. The younger generation, who are already used to paying for digital services, could play an important role in this change.

Conclusion: Winning minds to shape sheet metal

Sven Matthiesen emphasizes the need to anchor the concept of manufacturing in the minds of design engineers. Training plays a decisive role here, as many mechanical engineering students have little tangible contact with the topic of manufacturing.

A lack of knowledge about the possibilities offered by different manufacturing processes means that sheet metal, for example, is given little consideration as an option in design. With a sound understanding and effective use, sheet metal offers significant cost benefits as long as you know how to leverage them through design. Due to its recyclability, savings in raw material compared to subtractive processes and lower use of energy in the manufacturing process, sheet metal is a sustainable option to other materials. Sheet metal design can also promote lightweight construction. The increasing importance of sustainability in product development is reflected not least in the questions posed by the students.

Intelligent software solutions and digital services promise support in the product development process, helping to change the way designers think. Software, such as iAssist, which was developed in collaboration with TRUMPF, plays a key role here, as the software not only supports the technical aspects, but can also overcome mental hurdles.

The industry is facing exciting developments, and the integration of digital solutions will play a decisive role in fully exploiting the potential of sheet metal processing. A necessary change in the mindset of the players is just as essential as an increased willingness to pay for innovative digital offerings in order to drive change and make the most of the benefits of modern technologies.


Interview Partner

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Sven Matthiesen

Karlsruhe Institute for Product Development (IPEK)

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