Shapeways interviews Sivam Krish of Genometri

We now got to interview Dr. Sivam Krish, the Co-founder of Genometri. Sivam studied aerospace engineering and architecture and became a university lecturer. The next logical step was of course to found Singapore based Genometri a software company that sells generative design software. Whereas a lot of companies are starting to get into personalization and coming up with mass customization tools Genometri is ahead of the curve and wants to be a vendor that supplies easy to use mass customization to companies by using generative design software.

Joris Peels: What is Genometri?

Sivam Krish: Genometri is about genes and
geometry
. I believe that the future of design is going to be based on
biological models
. We developed technologies that will help designers
create genetic representations of design that may be used for
generative design or mass customization.

Joris Peels: So you sell software? What kind of companies do you sell it to? Who do you expect will be your customers in the future?

Sivam Krish: We were one of the first movers in generative design. We were a bit too
early. We had to explain to people what generative design was all about
and we found designers to be very resistant. That has changed now,
especially in architecture. We made a mistake of focusing on product
design
. What has taken off in the last few years is parametric design
(not generative design) Parametric design  is an essential step for
generative design. Generative designs will allow computers to spew out
thousands of designs and let designers select and improve them
. This is
not happening yet, but it is about to. This technology has now reached
adolescence – but is not producing babies yet
.  The time is now right
for the technology we have developed. We are currently revising our
strategy to focus on design education and make our technology widely
available.

The Genometri team, Sivam is on the far right.


Joris Peels: Do you see every company getting into the mass customization business?
Or do you see specialized mass customization companies doing this?

Sivam Krish: Mass customization is in its very early stages. There are few companies
that have succeeded in this and many have failed. So, there is some
learning from this and knowledge about this is now being consolidated
by scholars like Prof.Frank Piller who has studied many initiatives on
mass customization. Currently, everybody seems to be re-inventing the
wheel
– which is a costly and risky exercise. It’s ok for big companies
to muddle through this and experiment with massive
expenditure and learn expensive lessons. But even smaller companies
seem to want to re-invent the wheel and build everything from scratch.
They all seem to think that “mass customization” is their big idea. As
mass customization matures, we will see some consolidation, and the
launching customization initiatives on lower cost prebuilt platforms.

Our company has developed technologies for simple mass customization and more complex customization using generative models.  . We want to provide this base technology to other companies to build products and online services.

Joris Peels: What is the history of Genometri, where are you now as a company?

Sivam Krish: Genometri was founded as a technology company. It was a spin-off from the National University of Singapore and was funded by SPRING Singapore  of Singapore). We are also supported by MDA (Media Development Authority of Singapore) for the development of some of our advanced design technology. Being ahead of the curve has issues that come with it especially in Asia, since most companies here are fast followers but not pioneers. Our business is now being developed into two sectors by our new CEO Pari Annamalai.

One will be a technology/software business further developing generative design and color technology and the other will focus on personalization and mass customization.

Joris Peels: What is Canvas?

Sivam Krish: Canvas is a hosted online solution for companies that wish to offer online personalization. Currently most companies are building their own web applications for personalization. This is both inefficient and expensive. Canvas is a prebuilt platform that companies can now use to enable product personalization within their own sites.

Joris Peels:  Do you also want to get involved in crowd sourcing software?

Sivam Krish: Well, this is an interesting question. We are about to launch an open platform for generative design.  Despite many claims generative design does not have strong framework. We believe that we will be able to provide this as we are ahead of the curve on this. We want to make this frame work openly so that others can build on it.

Joris Peels: On your site you say that you want to “power the co-creation economy.” Do you think it will be that big?

Sivam Krish: Ha ! What do you mean by will it be ? It is already very big. Co-creation is happening in a big way, but perhaps not in the way we like it to happen. All companies are reaching out to customers and getting them involved in the creative process. But not all of it is  happening online. One day it will. Let’s hope that it will be soon.

Joris Peels: Will people want to customize, personalize and design everything?

Sivam Krish: Perhaps we thought so some time ago. But not now. Not everything will be personalized. Personalization has to accompany the creation of additional value.  Creating this additional value is the greatest  challenge for us and in my opinion for companies like  Shapeways & Ponoko and other companies that are in the customization business.  The print personalization business is now highly saturated. As personalization moves onto 3D products new technologies will have to be used. Most of these technologies cannot compete with mass manufacturing technologies in cost and quality of finish – so it will be lacking in many aspects. So there has to be the creation of additional value that offsets the short comings and the additional cost. This I believe is the single biggest barrier.

Customized products are a new type of identity. The product world has had many years of markets, museums and magazines to create the additional value in the eyes of consumers. 3D customized products were born yesterday. New born babies are not immediately attractive – they get to be as they grow and people get emotionally attached to them. So it is going to take some time. I do not think that any one of these companies are going to pull it off all by themselves – it’s too big a challenge. It seems, that the need to be seen as unique is perhaps preventing them from working together in creating new consumer value propositions.  I expect to see some infrastructure companies emerging that will make it easy and cost effective for companies and entrepreneurs to setup customization businesses online and as usual, many companies will fail before a few succeed.

The co-creation market has been a bit slow to take off. Perhaps because, some of the exciting co- creation offerings are focused on designers.  The designer market is far too small and works on a different type of logic – which is good to make cool stuff, but not big enough to create viable businesses.

Joris Peels: What do you think the main advantages are of generative design? Where is it headed?

Sivam Krish: Generative design needs to be defined first. There are hundreds of academic papers on it and many designers claim to use it, but nobody seems to be able to define it. However everybody agrees that it is growing very fast. So we need a definition first. Now that we have a new CEO, it will be give me more time to focus on building an open frame work for generative design  I have started www.opengenerativedesign.com to  build code and community around this

I now run a very active generative design group on Linked In and am very inspired by what’s happening in this area. There is a new school of thinking that is emerging. It is  by practitioners, by people who are using computers to explore design possibilities – each in their own way. They are discovering new possibilities and sharing what they know.  The MacNeel (owner of Rhino) group has done a great job building a community around Grasshopper. Autodesk is making belated but powerful strides in moving from selling drawing tools to intelligent modeling tools, with acquisitions that are going to make them a powerful contender. Google too has entered the 3D game with Sketchup. So we are into exciting times. So finally, generative design is beginning to happen – in a way that is going to be greatly disorienting to many as it will re-write the rules of design.

The real problem in generative design is not going to be generating designs. It’s going to be generating viable designs. This is where we have an edge and some IPR around it.

Joris Peels: Are there products that are ideally suited to generative design?

Sivam Krish: Generative design is suitable for a very wide range of design problems. Currently, it’s only architects who are excited about it. They are in the game of form play. Also more importantly architecture unlike product design is an older and vigorous academic discipline. Design researchers in architecture have been exploring many ways of using computers for design for quite some time now and companies like Bentley and Autodesk have taken the lead in promoting better ways of designing. So architecture is where it is beginning to happen. But I believe that every form design activity will use generative design in the same way that they reluctantly started using CAD.

Generative design can be used for creating superior singular products for mass productions, or the production of single items (such as buildings) or for design mass customization. So there are many possible applications. It will start happening when people are willing to pay for it. So we need to look at possibilities where unique form creates some special value.

Joris Peels:  you started off automating gem cutting, is personalizing jewelry not the potentially biggest market?

Sivam Krish: Yes, I did my PhD in automating gem cutting. I was fortunate to work on a very unique problem. Each stone is different. People pay for the beauty of the stone. Beauty was thought to be undefinable. So when you find a rough natural stone what is the best way to cut it ? My PhD was about cracking this problem.

The one thing that I learnt that is relevant here is that stones have no value. Most gemstones can now be synthesized with performance that match or exceed natural stones.  But the market value of natural stones is very different from lab-made stones. So, I was taught an important lesson – that value does not reside on the stone. It is created by society. In the case of gemstones it took thousands of years of lore to invest value in diamonds on stones that are optically attractive.

So the question that I ask myself is who is going to endow personalized products with such value? It’s challenge that is beyond the scope of companies that are into personalization. This to me, is the greatest challenge. Personalized products hold great value only for a person, it’s not tradable commodity at the same value (unlike diamonds). So we are creating a new type of product and its value proposition is problematic –in that it is yet to gain social value. Cheap cool t-shirts are good examples of personalized products creating social value for the wearer, so it can happen but not on every product.


Joris Peels: What is the mass customization dream?

Sivam Krish: I think the mass customization dream is similar to the one I had about gem cutting: To devise a system and method for taking natural material (each different at start) understanding what people value and creating within cost, marketing, manufacturing, ecological, cultural and other complex constraints – something that delights them.

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