Blog: A product’s life starts when unwrapped and powered on

A product’s life starts when unwrapped and powered on

A traditional manufacturer completes the development cycle of a new product: According to waterfall stage-gate processes R&D will sign off its delivery once the quality has met defined criteria, the product then leaves the labs as manufacturability has been accepted by the factory, and then R&D is off to the next project.
Consequently, the product launched is put on display in the stores, and potential customers may buy it as is. At the manufacturer’s lab an engineering team stays alert for identifying cost savings and fixing problems at the assembly line or in the market.

The traditional after sales cycle

Customers quickly spot the quirky parts and weaknesses. This begs the question why many companies then treat the product as “out of sight out of mind” and discontinue R&D when it hits the customers?
As the automobile industry and others are aware, the value of service and maintenance can constitute a substantial part of the total value during the product’s lifetime. For several years the car industry has tried recapturing the customer’s loyalty by service contracts and among others including updates free of charge to the latest SW releases – the one spare part not available as a cheap OEM variant.
A concrete example of exceptional customer service (yet not very scalable): In Copenhagen, there is a car dealer that as a part of its service rides with customers while listening to their feedback, noting the vehicle’s behaviour, and is eventually able to add sales, besides taking care of the actual service.

The product is never complete

An automated and connected version of the car dealer would be the product itself reporting back daily use from numerous sensors and behavioural data analytics .
A method deployed already in the wind turbine industry, the R&D organisation now embraces lifecycle management of the deployed products. Continuous improvements are implemented and distributed as software updates, once becoming available.
Tesla has the full autonomous driving algorithms performing a ‘shadow mode’ in the background, to gather statistical data to show false positives and false negatives of the software comparing itself to the human driver in all driving situations, eventually to prove it is safer than the human at the steering wheel.

Winning organisations encompass continuous R&D

For a less fancy product than a Tesla examples from industrial and consumer products are similarly changing from “out of sight” to continuous updates:
Industrial components are traditionally tailor-made with exact memory capacity and processing power to fit exactly the purpose from planning inception. The slim-fit design can be traced back to a time where developing dedicated electronics, every bit and byte represented a considerable expense.
Fully customised solutions are as smaller production series too expensive compared to mass-produced standard COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) platform offering versatility and full tool chain for fast development and deployment.
Adding more processing power and memory than initially assumed necessary thus opens for continued product development and improvements after shipping either by service technicians’ SW updates or automatically Over-The-Air.

Create new IoT services in-market

Smaller IoT systems do not normally undergo an aftersales explosion of added functionality similar to PC’s or smartphones but as runtime and market data are gathered, it may be profitable to upgrade the install base with new subscription features and optimised parameters rather than expecting a resell of entire new products.
As an example, a “SKF Wireless Machine Condition Detector” is magnetically connected to the machinery and measures vibrations. Results are sent to a mobile App using Bluetooth – which means the sensing device itself can be updated with improved algorithms while the smartphone or tablet analyses the results collected. In case the result warrants further evaluation, the data recorded will be sent for expert evaluation at SKF.
Hence the ability to upgrade and improve the product install base may add business value throughout the product lifecycle – besides the greener foot-print from keeping products alive for a longer time span.

More information:

Partner, Jakob Appel, jakob.appel@glaze.dk, +45 26 17 18 58

Positioning technologies currently applied across industries:

Global Navigational Satellite System: Outdoor positioning requires line-of-sight to satellites, e.g. GPS: the tracking device calculates its position from 4 satellites’ timing signals then transmits to receiving network
–    via local data network, e.g. wifi, proprietary Wide Area Network
–    via public/global data network, e.g. 3G/4G

Active RFID: A local wireless positioning infrastructure built on premises indoor or outdoor calculates the position based on Time of Flight from emitted signal & ID from the tracking device to at least 3 receivers or when passing through a portal. The network is operating in frequency areas such as 2.4 GHz WiFi, 868 MHz, 3.7 GHz (UWB – Ultra Wide Band), the former integrating with existing data network, the latter promising an impressive 0.3 m accuracy. Tracking devices are battery powered.

Passive RFID: Proximity tracking devices are passive tags detected and identified by a reader within close range. Example: Price tags with built-in RFID will set off an alarm if leaving the store. Numerous proprietary systems are on the market. NFC (Near Field Communications) signifies a system where the reader performs the identification by almost touching the tag.

Beacons: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals sent from a fixed position to a mobile device, which then roughly calculates its proximity based on the fading of the signal strength. For robotic vacuum cleaners an infrared light beacon can be used to guide the vehicle towards the charging station.

Dead Reckoning: Measure via incremental counting of driving wheels’ rotation and steering wheel’s angle. Small variations in sizes of wheel or slip of the surface may introduce an accumulated error, hence this method is often combined with other systems for obtaining an exact re-positioning reset.

Scan and draw map: Laser beam reflections are measured and used for calculating the perimeter of a room and objects. Used for instance when positioning fork-lifts in storage facilities.

Visual recognition: The most advanced degree of vision is required in fully autonomous vehicles using Laser/Radar (Lidar) for recognition of all kinds of object and obstructions. A much simpler method can be used for calculating a position indoor tracking printed 2D barcodes placed at regular intervals in a matrix across the ceiling. An upwards facing camera identifies each pattern and the skewed projection of the viewed angle.

Inertia: A relative movement detection likewise classical gyroscopes in aircrafts now miniaturised to be contained on a chip. From a known starting position and velocity this method measures acceleration as well as rotation in all 3 dimensions which describes any change in movement.

Magnetic field: a digital compass (on chip) can identify the orientation provided no other magnetic signals are causing distortion.

Mix and Improve: Multiple of the listed technologies supplement each other, well-proven or novel, each contributing to precision and robustness of the system. Set a fixpoint via portals or a visual reference to reset dead reckoning & relative movement; supplement satellite signal with known fixpoint: “real time kinematics” refines GPS accuracy to mere centimetres; combine Dead Reckoning and visual recognition of 2D barcodes in the ceiling.