Keeping Manufacturing in Sync During the Age of IoT

By 2020, the installed base of IoT devices is expected to reach 31 billion, while the global market grows from $8.9 trillion. A large part of that growth is tied to manufacturers.

Looking at the numbers, it’s obvious the world has become obsessed with the Internet of Things (IoT), a global network of connected devices, appliances, equipment, and people to provide performance insights that greatly improve the way the world manufactures products.

By 2020, the installed base of IoT devices is expected to reach 31 billion, while the global market grows from $8.9 trillion. A large part of that growth is tied to manufacturers around the world that are expected to spend up to $70 billion in IoT solutions, up from the $29 billion spent in 2015.

Manufacturers continue to introduce more IoT capabilities because they provide critical knowledge that helps them save money and improve product quality by tracking equipment performance during and after production. But these improvements introduce greater complexity and risks to operations and the overall supply chain as distributed teams struggle to manage terabytes, or even petabytes of data across multiple systems and platforms.

IoT, along with increasing regulations and globalization of teams and partners, is changing the landscape of new product development and introduction (NPDI). Product innovators are now forced to contend with a deluge of data as they struggle to effectively coordinate with dispersed teams to design, validate and build new products on tighter schedules and budgets.  

OEMs and ODMs are constantly improving the way their products integrate with a wide array of IoT protocols (e.g., JSON-LD, Wi-Fi, IPv4/IPv6, Bluetooth) and devices. Many consumer and industrial products are already equipped with wireless technologies that serve as IoT gateways to collect information from products in the field or identify design and quality weaknesses. 

In the process, IoT connected devices are generating vast amounts of data for NPDI teams to sort, evaluate, and use. Product companies and their distributed teams must protect the privacy of customer information to increase customer adoption and loyalty. With this new IoT paradigm, multidisciplinary design and development team collaboration early and throughout the entire product lifecycle is essential to product launch success. 

Here are some key ways manufacturers can control and improve NPDI processes in the age of IoT.

Collaborate Around the Entire, Complex BOM 

Design teams continue to use a myriad of electrical, mechanical and software design tools to manage each aspect of the complex product. The advent of IoT has tremendously increased the amount of software included in products requiring more interdisciplinary cooperation.

It is critical to bring the entire product bill of materials (BOM) and associated drawings, software, firmware, and documents together to ensure interoperability as early in the design process as possible. Otherwise, product design flaws will go unnoticed until later in the development cycle, which increases costs, delays product launches, and produces quality issues that lead to recalls.

Whether companies create and manage BOMs in engineering design systems, spreadsheets, or even document-centric tools, they need a controlled way to manage a hierarchical, relational BOM to track and control revisions. Design systems need a way to pass the entire BOM directly to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems the moment product teams approve the final design.

With IoT functionality, the best way to manage the entire BOM, from the final assembly of the finished product down to the lowest level component, is by managing all aspects of the design and associated drawings, documents, and files from a single system. The single system needs to be easy to use and understand not just by engineering, but by purchasing, manufacturing, and many supply chain partners including unsophisticated partners like machine shops. 

Collaborate Transparently Between Mechanical, Electrical and Software Designs

Various systems like manual spreadsheets and CAD-centric product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions can manage part of the product design and BOM. However, spreadsheets fail to provide relational connections to associated components, change orders, quality processes, and project information, which is hard to control as more people are added to the review process.  

On the other hand, CAD-centric PLM solutions typically focus on one aspect of the design, like mechanical CAD, and are not designed to manage software and electrical designs such as printer circuit control boards or PCBAs. They also lack transparency and the ability to collaborate with the downstream ERP systems.

The untapped potential of IoT is still unfolding. While information shared via IoT can produce meaningful insights during production and customer use, it has yet to be leveraged to automate continual improvement of the product design.

IoT is somewhat like the Wild West and the advantages and potential dangers continue to evolve as product companies seek to derive greater insights around product design, development, and customer adoption behavior.

However, one thing is certain—the need to manage huge amounts of IoT data securely will determine IoT winners and losers in the months and years ahead. The sheer complexity of products that rely heavily on sensors, software, and electrical components requires that today’s innovators get their entire team on the same page.

Scott Reedy is the senior director of marketing at Arena Solutions.