Just as the Internet has transformed the world as we knew it in just a few decades, it is widely predicted that the next radical transformation of our lives will be ushered in by The Internet of Things or IoT as it is called. According to https://www.huffpost.com, which quotes a Cisco report, by 2020, the number of Internet-connected devices will exceed 50 billion. According to research, by 2020 the number of Internet-connected devices may be predicted to be in the range of 75 billion. Among many things, IoT will also radically affect Product Lifecycle Management with its positive “domino effect” that will serve to create enhanced product effectiveness spanning the complete lifecycle of the product.
Traditional Product Lifecycle Management
Before the advent of the era of automated data collection, typically, product developers needed to rely on customers’ feedback to know what had appealed to users and what were the negatives. Unfortunately, as researchers found out to their dismay that often when the users complained about the product being ‘below expectations’, ‘poor quality,’ not user-friendly, ‘too slow,’ and so on, it was impossible to get meaningful insights and apply corrective action promptly enough to be able to make a difference. Product managers also had to face the challenge of trying to satisfy customers with dated information since data collection was not in real-time. The real challenges of traditional product lifecycle management were thus two-fold; the inability of collecting performance data in real-time and the time taken to manually identify the problems and initiate corrective action. The advantages resulting from intelligent automation that did not rely on human intervention for diagnosing and recommending action is clear. This is the driving force behind the evolution of IoT that relies on automatic data collection in real-time through sensors and intelligent automation as a solution to the woes of traditional PLM.
The domino effect of IoT
It is evident that when products are connected to the Internet, customer usage behavior can be very easily collected by product developers. One single action may very often initiate a chain of related actions that can result in a cumulative effect, but the advanced data collection method can permit the analysis of each of the actions that resulted in the domino effect, both individually and on an aggregate basis to new perspectives into user behavior that can lead to different areas of probable product evolution. Because IoT can take inputs from different sensors placed at various stages of the product usage, it allows the gathering of an unprecedented level of user behavior and feedback and that too in real-time. These insights can catalyze product development and innovation and customers can also get an opportunity to be benefited from improvements arising out of their usage habits.
The different impacts of IoT over the complete product lifecycle
The product lifecycle typically follows different phases and the Internet of Things has a significant impact on them. The first phase is a period when businesses are trying to think of products and services that not only have enough market potential but also a viable business model that can sustain the business over time. Some phases are as follows.
Product development – The definition phase that follows constitutes a period when the business tries to obtain a better understanding and appreciation of the needs of the customers either to develop completely new products or to refine existing products and services to meet new needs or achieve a significantly better performance delivery. IoT makes data capturing possible on a continuous and real-time basis from existing products in the market across various touchpoints, which can be used for new-gen product development.
Product improvement – Typically, product managers use the data to understand issues like reliability, product failure, as well as customer complaints regarding the performance of the product in specific usage conditions. IoT data can provide a wealth of information for product quality improvement about important issues like the mean time between component failures, rates of repair and replacement, and even the cost of disposal at the end of the life cycle. The importance of IoT to capture data regarding the performance of the product, its availability, reliability, maintenance, and safety of use cannot be understated, as it is this information that can be used to not only improve product quality but also reduce the repetition of errors and reduce the time and effort taken for product development. Using proven and successful designs paves the way for more product reliability, fewer changes to the manufacturing process, and most importantly, increased customer satisfaction stemming from better performance and reliability.
Manufacturing and assembling – IoT can also play a very important role during the manufacturing and assembling process. Since the components, as well as the assembling process itself, can be tracked in a detailed manner in real-time, anything which goes wrong can be instantaneously rectified. For example, if it is found that during the assembling, a component has been positioned incorrectly, it is immediately flagged, and the necessary correction is made.
Support and maintenance – With the help of IoT, products can be tracked every time they are used during their entire lifetime. If a product fails, the customer needs to report it to the service center, as the support people will already have detailed information on what the problem is and what needs to be done to restore the product. The use of IoT also offers the business loads of opportunities for understanding the behavior of the products over their lifecycle and this information can be productively used to optimize their use as well as the maintenance. The entire maintenance practice can be shifted from carrying out post-breakdown repairs to predictive maintenance based on the usage behavior and component wear and tear. This results in the reduction of maintenance costs and downtime.
End of life disposal – When the time finally comes for the product to be retired or recycled, product identification and tracking can ensure that they are scrapped in an environmentally responsible manner or recycled based on the usage and maintenance history.
The potential beneficiaries of IoT are only limited by our imagination. It is easy to understand that as our farms, factories, cities, homes, healthcare, civic bodies, and other domains get connected and make data farming easily possible, product developers will no longer have to work on hypothetical concepts or even wait to improve products with anecdotal evidence but be able to take advantage of real-time data collection in a closed-loop response feedback system to be able to develop and refine products that deliver better on customer needs and expectations.