Information technology is revolutionizing each of the manufacturing sector resulting in innovative and path-breaking Smart and Connected products. Once composed solely of mechanical and electrical parts, products have become complex systems that combine hardware, sensors, data storage, microprocessors, software, and connectivity.
Smart & Connected products offer exponentially expanding opportunities for new functionality and capabilities that transcend traditional product boundaries.
Have you witnessed Johnnie Walker ‘Smart Bottle’ which can tell if the bottle has been opened or not? It can also send a personalized message to every customer who waves a Smartphone in front of it, whether it’s a promotional offer or a cocktail recipe. In addition, the bottle can be tracked across the supply chain, from its point of manufacture to its point of consumption.
Can you imagine how you will feel, when your raincoat alerts you, “Take me because it’s going to rain outside.” Raincoat with an embedded chip could take a third-party weather feed from a mobile device and alert you the same.
Medtronic’s digital blood-glucose meter uses a sensor inserted under the patient’s skin to measure glucose levels in tissue fluid and connects wirelessly to a device that alerts patients and clinicians up to 30 minutes before a patient reaches a threshold blood-glucose level, enabling appropriate therapy adjustments.
Big Ass ceiling fans sense and engage automatically when a person enters a room, regulate speed on the basis of temperature and humidity, and recognize individual user preferences and adjust accordingly.
How pleasing it will be if your car alerts you for servicing or drives to service center based on the built-in self-checks.
All these smart products examples are just glimpses of Smart Connect Product Era. However, these examples enlighten that OEMs need to really reinvent the way existing products are being Built, Manufactured, Marketed, Sold, and Deployed as well as Serviced or Maintained.
These “Smart, Connected Products” – made possible by vast improvements in processing power and device miniaturization and by the network benefits of ubiquitous wireless connectivity – have unleashed a new era of competition for OEMs.
What is Smart Connected Product?
Smart, connected products have three core elements: physical components, “smart” components, and connectivity components. Smart components amplify the capabilities and value of the physical components, while connectivity amplifies the capabilities and value of the smart components and enable some of them to exist outside the physical product itself including remote monitoring and control.
Physical components comprise the product’s mechanical and electrical parts. In a car, for example, these include the engine block, tires, and batteries.
Smart components comprise the sensors, microprocessors, data storage, controls, software, and, typically, an embedded operating system and enhanced user interface. In a car, for example, smart components include the engine control unit, antilock braking system, rain-sensing windshields with automated wipers, and touchscreen displays. In many products, software replaces some hardware components or enables a single physical device to perform at a variety of levels.
Connectivity components comprise the ports, antennae, and protocols enabling wired or wireless connections with the product.
What Smart Connected Product can do?
Intelligence and connectivity enable an entirely new set of product functions and capabilities, which can be grouped into four areas: monitoring, control, optimization, and autonomy.
What OEMs needs to do to transform the product?
The analysts and experts forecast there will be almost 25 to 50 billion connected devices or things by the end of 2020. If the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to grow as fast as is projected, companies will need to start by tailoring products to existing consumer needs.
To address this, OEMs will have to provide seamless connectivity to the existing as well as new devices over the existing local area network and as well as across the IoT access networks. For the existing product line, OEMs would need to re-engineer the existing product to make them smarter as well as provide connectivity option. For enabling connectivity to the existing product, OEMs would need to consider short-term gateway solution which would enable the communicating and integration with the external information sources as well as enterprise business systems.
As far as the new product line is concerned, OEMs will need to adopt new connectivity and embedded software technology to address the demanding smart connected product market.
Smart, connected products require that companies build an entirely new technology infrastructure, consisting of a series of layers known as a “technology stack”. This includes modified hardware, software applications, and an operating system embedded in the product itself; network communications to support connectivity; and a product cloud (software running on the manufacturer’s or a third-party server) containing the product- database, a platform for building software applications, a rules engine and analytics platform, and smart product applications that are not embedded in the product.
As far as “technology stack” is concerned, “Machine to Machine (M2M) and IoT are becoming an essential constituent of the global economy and opening up a world of new ubiquitous products. Based on the company strategy, they would need to consider such open or closed systems. Such technologies would bring new challenges and opportunities, especially to OEMs. However, expertise in systems engineering is essential to integrate a product’s hardware, electronics, software, operating system, and connectivity components and such expertise is not well developed in many manufacturing companies.
Smart, connected products create major new human resource requirements and challenges. The most urgent of these is the need to recruit new skill sets, many of which are in high demand. Engineering departments, traditionally staffed with mechanical engineers, must add talent in software development, systems engineering, product clouds, big data analytics, and other areas.
OEMs need to develop the full set of smart, connected product capabilities and infrastructure internally or outsource to vendors and partners. For the faster development cycle, a company can choose which layers of technology to develop and maintain in-house and which to outsource to suppliers and partners.
However, product companies need to get on board, and fast, to ensure they are not left behind in the quickly intensifying and accelerating smart product market. In addition, product development processes will need to be more agile to accommodate late-stage and post-purchase feature inclusions and enhancement more smoothly, quickly and efficiently.