Digitalisation, sustainability and servitisation: Consequences on product development capabilities in manufacturing firms

DS 91: Proceedings of NordDesign 2018, Linköping, Sweden, 14th - 17th August 2018

Year: 2018
Editor: Ekströmer, Philip; Schütte, Simon and Ölvander, Johan
Author: Isaksson, Ola; Hallstedt, Sophie I.; Rönnbäck, Anna Öhrwall
Series: NordDESIGN
Institution: Chalmers University of Technology, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Luleå University of Technology
ISBN: 978-91-7685-185-2


This paper investigates the impact of the three mega-trends (1) digitalisation (2) sustainability and (3) servitisation on design and development capabilities in manufacturing companies. First, technological advancements have created both product opportunities, and new aids, captured in e.g. the Industry 4.0 paradigm, and intensively driving digitalisation of businesses, that, besides the technological challenges, cause new challenges and problem areas, such as information ownership and shared long-term responsibilities. Second, the need for sustainable solutions increases the focus on the design of circular, resource efficient and radically new technological solutions to be designed with a total life cycle perspective in mind, through use phase, repair and overhaul, until recycling and end-of-life. Third, and finally, the classical roles for suppliers, integrators and users are being changed as servitisation and Product-Service Systems (PSS) offerings affect both products and businesses, and ultimately entire value networks with new constellations of business partners contributing to the realization of solutions for customers. This paper builds on a conceptual literature review to identify relevant information about the three trends regarding their impact on design and societal development. In addition, a semi-structured interview study was conducted to investigate possibilities and challenges that four different types of manufacturing companies perceive today with respect to the mega-trends, and more specifically how these trends impact the design and development capabilities in the studied companies. Results from this empirical study show that digitalisation is viewed as an opportunity to find new solutions to meet customer needs and be competitive at the future market. Sustainable Product Development (SPD) was instead primarily to fulfil requirements and legislation. However, it was clear that some manufacturers start to see market forces as a driver. PSS can be seen as a means to create new solutions, often with digital tools as facilitator. Altogether, the literature study and the empirical data show that increasingly, designers are expected to design entire solutions, as opposed to merely artefacts. This implies that designers need to consider not only the product performance and cost, but products’ and solutions’ behaviour and impact over complete life cycles, developed and organized by business networks together with several suppliers and other partners with different capabilities. The basis for the designer is a technology mix comprising services, software, electronics and hardware, bundled into offerings in new business models, interlinked with new digital opportunities. Moreover, it is clear that the three trends do not represent stand-alone perspectives but affect one another in an intertwined way. To achieve long-term effects, the sustainability issues need to be integrated with many other subject areas, and implemented simultaneously as digital solutions, e.g. digital twins to physical artefacts are conceived, and value creating networks are being built up. Obviously, these three trends affect the need for change in product design capabilities and escalate the challenges of the integrated product development viewpoint, in a way that is difficult to master for individual engineers. Support for design and development work is needed that takes into account the mega-trends digitalisation, sustainability, and servitisation.

Keywords: Design Methods, Sustainable Product Development, Product-Service Systems, Value Constellations, Design capabilities


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