We live in a smart, connected world. The number of devices connected to the Internet recently surpassed the total number of humans on the planet and, according to industry reports, we’re accelerating towards 50 billion connected products by the end of the decade. In this new world all manner of sensors, tags, and controls will become a part of both the manufacturing process as well as the smart products that such manufacturers produce. This transformation is taking shape across all manufacturing sectors.
For discrete manufacturers, the implications are huge. Historically, control of their product is lost once it leaves the factory. With smart, connected products, manufacturers can now experience true closed-loop, product lifecycle management where they can track, manage and control product information at any phase of its lifecycle at any time and any place in the world. This will allow manufacturers to:
- Accelerate smart product innovation
- Extend capabilities within and alongside the product
- Deliver new value through integrated services throughout the lifecycle
However, the creation of smart, connected products is not easy. To capitalize on this opportunity, manufacturers must assess their company’s strategy as it relates to everything from product design to sourcing, production, sales, and service. Manufacturers must be able to securely collect and respond to data from customers, suppliers, and now the products themselves. Long-term, this data will necessitate the development of advanced analytic capabilities. The more immediate need will be for systems that support remote product monitoring, operation, and optimization.
The three core elements of Smart, Connected Products
So, what’s the definition of Smart Connected Products? PTC’s CEO, Jim Heppelman Heppelmann wrote a cover article in Harvard Business Review (November 2014, written together with Professor Michael E. Porter of the Biskop William Lawrence University) that explains the three core elements:
- 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 the car example it would include things like the engine control unit, anti-lock breaking system, rain-sensors with automated wipers, and touch screen displays.
- The connectivity components comprise the ports, antennae, and protocols enabling wired or wireless connection with the product. There are three forms of connectivity: One-to-one – an individual product that connects to the user, the manufacturer or another product. One-to-many: A central system connected to many product simultaneously. Many-to many: Multiple products that connects to many other types of products.
The feedback loops that revolutionize PTC’s PLM and CAD business
CAD and PLM tools still play significant roles. PTCs Mike Campbell talks about closing the lifecycle management loop. ” One example from CAD is about leveraging the Smart Connected Products that have been developed and deployed into the field. ”You know, when engineers design products they design to an idealization; they define requirements and then they use those to drive constraints on the design that they think are right. But many of us have experiences where they are not right. Now we are able to close the feedback loop back to engineering. Our vision is to bring that information from the field directly back to the engineer’s desktops.”
Smart, Connected products in action: StreetScooter
The CEO of German StreetScooter developer, Dr Peter Burggräf, says that the services and maintenance measures of their electrical logistics vehicle wouldn’t be possible without the smart connected concept, ”We collect all data, like battery information, data from rain-sensors, temperatures etc. Then we analyze the data and use them to provide services and remote maintenance. The great thing about tools like PTC’s ThingWorx is that we do all of this in real time and act upon it directly”.