This article is the first in a two-part series of tips for manufacturers, developers and product teams who are exploring smart products or developing a smart product for the first time.
Companies large and small are turning to connectivity solutions and sensors in the Internet of Things (IoT) to make smart products that stand out on the market. But the process of taking a physical object and making it ‘smart’ and connected to the cloud or a smart device involves numerous new processes for product manufacturers. Whether you produce consumer goods, or industrial or agricultural products, there is an entirely new language to learn, new fields to navigate, and new players to find.
We’ve conferred with our experts in hardware and software development, industrial design and IoT project management to find out which common mistakes and missteps manufacturers are often unaware of when they begin to manufacture smart products. We’ve identified the top 10 things to be aware of to cut down on risk, costs and time to market when going smart.
1. Your killer feature matters. A lot.
If you’ve done the research, you’ll know the extent to which smart products have or have not penetrated your industry. However, it is equally as important to research on a granular level and look at competing products that have gone smart. You may be surprised by how many people in your industry have already created smart products, or by the breadth of smart features already on the shelf. You may think your potential smart product is innovative, but more often than not someone is already working on a similar project on some level. If it isn’t on the market, it may be in design or production.
Map out exactly which smart features you see in competing products, to ensure your smart use case offers unique value to consumers.
2. Product design – plan early and in depth
In the Internet of Things (IoT), product design takes into consideration all the later phases of production, including electronic placement, production line assembly, and testing.
Electronics and product design
Once you’ve confidently decided on smart features, it’s time to decide on the placement of those features. This placement is an integral part of the design phase.Smart product design and engineering are intrinsically linked, and you must take into consideration how the electronics will interact with users and each other in order to design a smart product well. For example, if your smart product includes a cable, will it attach to the smart product as seamlessly as your charger attaches to your smartphone? In another example, if you plan to have a built-in speaker for your product, the design must include holes for sound to pass through. If you only decide to implement a speaker later on, going back to redesign the physical product will be a costly but necessary step.
Plan the production line during the smart product design phase
The importance of electronic design and placement affects more than just aesthetics and user experience. Some designs can be more easily manufactured than others, and fitting the electronics can be quite a challenge for the development teams. To save time and costs during the production phase, take ease of assembly into consideration as you design your smart product. Using the expertise of experienced product designers, hardware development companies, and product factories is very helpful for simplifying assembly complications.
Testing and Smart Product Design
One important part of the process relating to product design is the testing phase. If you design a Product Circuit Board (PCB) you will need testing points, which are conductive areas on the surface where the PCB can easily be tested later in production. If you don’t take this into consideration during the smart product design phase, you could end up repeating steps of the process and delaying time to market at great expense.
These are all points to take into consideration as you design your smart product.
3. Get your electronics certified
Electronic components, especially communication solutions, require different certifications. For example, in order for your device to contain Bluetooth and use the Bluetooth logo, you must submit your design to the Bluetooth Qualification Body (BQB), who need to approve it.
Furthermore, any electronic device or product will need to pass the FCC regulation or other regulation per country. If your electronics contain wireless communication, you will need to satisfy the regulatory sections that relate to radio frequency (RF) communication (above and beyond the regular electronics regulations).
Take the regulation process into account when planning your product’s production timeline.
4. Make a firmware spec
Let’s be honest, smart products can be complicated to make. You will need to plan out how the physical product communicates with the cloud, or application, or both, and how it all works seamlessly together. Your product also may be functional in an offline mode, using its internal microprocessor.Someone needs to be responsible for figuring all of this out – and should do so by making a functional spec detailing everything that the hardware does, as well as a technical spec for connection with the app or server.
Think of it as a script or screenplay. You will need to know how to activate connectivity from both app and object – turning a switch on the product, for example, and pressing a button on the app. You will need to specify how the product will signal when connectivity is or isn’t working (e.g., through different colored lights on the physical product). You will also need to define the integration between different parts. This step involves both software and firmware, so you’ll need either someone on your team who understand all the different sides, or findtools that simplify the spec process.
5. With smart products, timing is everything
Leave margins of error at the end of every step of the process. You will use this time for debugging – and when you work with software and electronics, there will be bugs!
Take some time at the end of each phase for integration between teams. In the IoT world, app, hardware and firmware developers work parallel to one another, but they need time to integrate the products. This is often a time for finding bugs and debugging, but if you do not designate time for this step, you won’t make your deadline to market.
The same holds true if you forget to consider the time needed for sourcing hardware. Sourcing affects pricing early on, and pricing impacts the final decision of whether or not you move forward with a given project. Going smart is about sensors and components, and you need to know how to find those components. Without outside assistance, manufacturers must understand which hardware best matches the smart features they want, at the cost they want, and must source the material – a process both time-consuming and involving specialized knowledge. The Seebo platform, with its hardware costing engine andsourcing marketplace,is uniquely adapted to solve hardware selection and sourcing challenges for manufacturers — who usually have to do the lengthy legwork without having experienced teams of hardware integration experts.
Creating a unique smart product challenges manufacturers to get creative, learn about new technologies, and balance research and development alongside traditional product manufacturing. These tips will reduce some of the difficulty in smart product development and help you plan, develop and produce your first smart product successfully, to deadline and at lower cost.
Want to learn more? The next article in this series will discuss potential bottlenecks, prototyping, communication issues and other topics you need to know to build a smart product quickly and at low cost. Stay tuned for the second half of this series next week!
Yarden has exceptional experience in all stages of the product development life cycle and has a strong interest in consumer behavior and cognitive skills development. In her free time, Yarden enjoys modern dance and mastering the latest addictive game!