Tackle the industrialisation hurdle

Intro

The ability to produce complex multi-technology products (e.g. material, electronics, software) economically, in series, adapted to the needs of the market.

Cases

Why consider it?

The shift towards intelligent, connected devices that are increasingly embedded in broader systems offers new opportunities to product builders but is also radically reshaping companies and competition.

The complex nature of smart products has an impact on virtually every function within companies. The core functions (product development, IT, manufacturing, logistics, marketing, sales, and after-sale service) are being redefined, leading to greater coordination between them. The industrialisation phase in particular is feeling the effects. Industrialisation is the step after the development of a proof of concept and before the production stage, where all the elements of the product are defined, put in place and adapted to the needs of the market so that the product can be industrially and economically produced in series adapted to the needs of the market with the right material, components, software, and so on.

The industrialisation of smart products is the main bottleneck preventing large-scale value delivery. Companies may have an excellent smart product vision but failing to solve the industrialisation challenge can be a showstopper.

The industrialisation of smart products involves two challenges:

  • The acceleration of the industrialisation process itself: it is not too hard to produce the prototype or small series of a smart product to validate a concept. However, the next step is much more complicated: preparing the product for industrialisation. Smart products require multidisciplinary expertise as various aspects are complex: the technology, process, component selection, even maintenance.
  • The scaling up of production, starting from small series to mass production. Each increase (from 100 to 10,000, then to 1,000,000 units) entails a review of the product architecture (materials, hardware, robustness level) and the selected technologies (miniaturisation, accuracy, assembly, test and quality control).

Therefore, before companies start the industrialisation process, they need to be aware that the higher degree of complexity involved in industrialising smart products will demand a different approach than the one they know and are used to, and they will have to adopt new methods to be successful.

What does it involve?

The industrialisation of smart products requires a new organisation: manufacturers will need to involve staff with varying working styles and from more diverse backgrounds. For example, the 'clock speed' of software development is much faster than that of traditional manufacturing.

Smart products require companies to build and support an entirely new technology infrastructure. This technology stack is made up of multiple layers, including new product hardware, embedded software, connectivity, a product cloud consisting of software running on remote servers, a suite of security tools, a gateway for external information sources and integration with enterprise business systems. Therefore, the industrialisation of smart products can only be successful if an approach is taken that brings together expertise from different technological areas.

Materials

  • Selection of materials and processes: materials and processes can be found that enable multiple series of the smart product to be produced economically.
  • Selection of the smart function components: these components can be found off the shelf or must be adapted/miniaturised to fulfil the specification requirements. They can require expensive development and investment.

Electronics

  • Energy harvesting: smart functions might require energy that needs to be provided by batteries embedded in the product. The cost of this can affect the industrialisation strategy. 
  • Connectivity: specific technologies must connect smart functions with embedded operating systems, the battery and the communication device to guarantee consistent quality throughout the product's lifespan.

Data

  • Data processing: smart functions generate data. These data can be processed by the product itself  or can be directly transferred to the cloud via a specific communication system. The speed of data acquisition and the frequency at which they are transferred will determine which type of technology is needed and therefore affect the industrialisation cost.
  • Data cloud storage: data must be stored on a system that will remain active throughout the product's lifetime.

Software

  • Software: a smart product manufacturer is a cross between a software company and a traditional product company. Software is in fact becoming an essential part of products. Lessons learnt from the software industry will have to be integrated by manufacturers of smart products, like shorter development cycles, product-as-a-service business models, and so on.
  • Security aspects: every smart, connected device may be a point of network access, a target for hackers or a launch pad for cyberattacks, so a firm’s ability to provide security is becoming a key source of value — and a potential differentiator.

Further information

Contact person Sirris: jacques.halleux@sirris.be