Live Product Innovation, Part 2: IoT, Big Data, and Smart Connected Products

John McNiff

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how in-memory computing affects live product innovation. In Part 2, we explore the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data on smart connected products. In Part 3, we’ll approach the topic from the perspective of process industries.

Live engineering? Live product innovation? Live R&D?

To some people, these concepts sound implausible. When you talk about individualized product launches with lifecycles of days or weeks, people in industries like aerospace and defense (A&D) look askance.

But today, most industries—not just consumer-driven ones—need timely insights and the ability to respond quickly. Even A&D manufacturers want to understand the impact of changes before they continue with designs that could be difficult to make at the right quantity or prone to problems in the field.

The Internet of Everything?

Internet of Things (IoT) technologies promise to give manufacturers these insights. But there’s still a lot of confusion around IoT. Some people think it is about connected appliances; others think it’s just a rebranded “shop floor to top floor.”

The better way to think about IoT is from the perspective of data: We want to get data from the connected “thing.” If you’re the manufacturer, that thing is a product. If you buy the product and sell it to an end customer, that thing is an asset. If you’re the end customer, that thing is a fleet. Each stakeholder wants different data in different volumes for different reasons.

It’s also important to remember that the Internet has existed for far longer than IoT.

There’s a huge amount of non-IoT data that can offer useful insights. Point-of-sale data, news feeds, and market insights from social channels are all valuable. And think about how much infrastructure is now connected in “smart” cities. So in addition to products, assets, and fleets, there are also people, markets, and infrastructure. Big Data is everywhere, and it should influence what you release and when.

New data, new processes

It has been said that data in the 21st century is like oil in the 18th century: an immense, valuable, yet untapped asset. But if data is the new oil, then do we need a new refinery? The answer is yes.

On top of business data, we now have a plethora of information sources outside our company walls. Ownership of, and access to, this data is becoming complex. Manufacturers collecting data about equipment at customer sites, for example, may want to sell that data to customers as an add-on service. But those customers are likely using equipment from multiple manufacturers, and they likely have their own unique uses for the information.

So the new information refinery needs to capture information from everywhere and turn it into something that has meaning for the end user. It needs to leverage data science and machine learning to remove the noise and add insight and intelligence. It also needs to be an open platform to gather information from all six sources (products, assets, fleets, people, markets, infrastructure).

And wouldn’t it be great if the data refinery ran on the same platform as your business processes, so that you could sense, respond, and act to achieve your business goals?

Digital product innovation platform

If you start with the concept of a smart connected product, the data refinery — the digital product innovation platform — has five requirements:

  1. Systems design — Manufacturers need to design across disciplines in a systems approach. Mechanical, mechatronic, electrical, electronics, and software all need to be supported, with modeling capabilities that cover physical, functional, and logical structures.
  1. Requirements-linked platform design — Designers need to think about where and how to embed sensors and intelligence to match functional requirements. This will need to be forward-thinking to cover unforeseen methods of machine-to-machine interactions. In a world of performance-based contracts, it will be important to minimize the impact of design changes as innovation opportunities grow.
  1. Instant impact and insight environment — The platform must support fully traceable requirements throughout the lifecycle, from design concept to asset performance.
  1. Product-based enterprise processes — The platform needs to share model-based product data visually — through electrical CAD, electronic CAD, 3D, and software functions — to the people who need it. This isn’t new, but what’s different is that the platform can’t wait for complex integrations between systems. Think about software-enabled innovation or virtual inventory made possible by on-demand 3D printing. Production is almost real time, so design will have to be as well.
  1. Product and thing network — A complex, cross-domain design process involves a growing number of partners. That calls for a product network to allow for secure collaboration across functions and outside the company walls. Instead of every partner having its own portal for product data, the product network would store digital twins and allow instant sharing of asset intelligence.

If the network is connected to the digital product innovation platform, you can control the lifecycle both internally and externally — and take the product right into the service and maintenance domain. You can then provide field information directly from the assets back to design to inform what to update, and when. Add over-the-air software compatibility checks and updates, and discrete manufacturers can achieve a true live engineering environment.

Sound like a dream? It’s coming sooner than you think.

Come to SAPPHIRE NOW 2017 in Orlando, Florida from May 16 – 18th, 2017, and check out my session “Boost Visibility into Operations for Connected Products with SAP Leonardo” on Tuesday, May 16th, 2017 from 1-1:40 p.m. in Business Application BA324, or check out our R&D sessions.

Follow the conversation on @SCMatSAP and #SAPPHIRENOW.


John McNiff

About John McNiff

John McNiff is the Vice President of Solution Management for the R&D/Engineering line-of-business business unit at SAP. John has held a number of sales and business development roles at SAP, focused on the manufacturing and engineering topics.