The IoT upgrade: exploring what IoT means for manufacturers & the supply chain

Author : John Johnston | NPI Director | Chemigraphic

01 August 2019

Chemigraphic_The IoT Upgrade

In a recent Gartner report, the research & management advisory firm predicted that there will be 25 billion Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices on the market by 2020. The opportunities IoT offers electronics OEMs are vast.

This article was originally featured in the August 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

IoT-enabled products can: optimise and improve manufacturing processes; add automation, performance and personalisation to consumer products; enable more smart military capabilities; or develop more intuitive healthcare services. And that, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. Yet, as John Johnston, NPI Director at EMS provider, Chemigraphic warns, there are some notable IoT challenges for OEMs – and risks that still stand in the way of success.

IoT is frequently misunderstood as a ‘thing’ or a certain set of technologies that can be applied to a product. In fact, IoT’s implications for supply chain decisions and product design run much deeper than this suggests. The IoT is actually best understood as a massive leap in the evolution of technical communication.

The IoT party

Imagine a large group of people attending a party. They all speak different languages and the handful of translators the host has kindly supplied are really struggling to keep up with the demand, let alone the multiple potential combinations of conversations requiring translation from one language to another.

The result is slow, stiff, awkward, largely unproductive and uninspiring interactions – which make for a very dull party.

And now imagine how things would be different if the host had developed a new language that all the invited guests could speak in common, allowing them to interact with and understand each other with ease.

Suddenly everyone is able to converse, be amused, entertained and learn from each other. The effect is explosive and dynamic, offering an even better fizz, bubble and sparkle to the party than even the most potent punch bowl could.

The opportunities for interactions are now huge, if slightly chaotic. This is a party that could potentially head in many new directions and take several surprising turns. A party which needs the right levels of organisation and resources to work properly, but in which the possibilities are exciting and potentially endless.

This is the IoT party – and you’re invited.

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The IoT upgrade

Electronic products and devices that have been dancing to the old beat now need an ‘IoT upgrade’ if they are to join the fun.

But this will not happen by simply adding ‘something’ to existing products. It will require a new way of thinking, a new way of designing and to take advantage of the latest manufacturing capabilities to succeed.

The IoT upgrade starts from the ground up, and it’s important that it does not occur in isolation.

The growth in IoT and embedded connectivity needs to, and is, taking place alongside a number of factors. These include:

–  A continuous drive for ever greater miniaturisation of electronic products

–  A market demand for constant innovation and ever-enhanced product functionality

–  An increased need for electronic product designers and manufacturers to be fast in reaching the market through faster and more efficient procedures

–  And competition levels that demand extremely tight unit costs can be achieved

The IoT upgrade itself has the potential to upset long-established market dynamics, and it takes place in a global supply chain climate that is extremely fluid and fast moving.

OEMs who succeed in this climate will have developed the ability to maintain a flexible, responsive and agile production operation. And critical to this are the partnerships they forge with key EMS service providers.

IoT challenges

There are many challenges for OEMs undergoing the IoT upgrade.

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There are potential issues with the power requirements of edge devices that will typically be required to operate from small batteries. The choice of low-power requirement connectivity solutions can greatly aid in maintaining product size requirements.

There is also a very fine balance to be struck between allowing for rapid innovation, but also ensuring that everything is safe, secure and rigorously tested.

The supply chain has already created significant issues for some OEMs, as lead times have been compromised when sudden growth in popularity around certain devices or technology has led to a shortage of parts or components. As more OEMs undergo the IoT upgrade we can only expect this to become a greater challenge.

There is also the issue of cybersecurity. Big brands have already suffered hacks, notably Ford, Chrysler and Tesla’s infotainment systems, as well as V-Tech, whose IoT toys were targeted, leading to more than six million children’s personal information being compromised.

When considering medical, defence or aerospace OEMs and products, security has to be of utmost importance. This is best achieved using a ‘security-by-design’ approach, where devices are built from the ground up to be secure, rather than having security features added after they have been delivered and deployed. It is also a factor that can be affected by the choice of protocol used (such as open, closed, digital, analogue and so on).

The IOT upgrade and early EMS design engagement

The challenges faced by OEMs undergoing the IoT upgrade can be minimised and managed by an early engagement with manufacturing and supply chain partners.

EMS design teams can advise on suitability and availability of parts, components and techniques that each product’s manufacturing process can be best served by.

This early engagement ensures that expensive discoveries or delays caused at a later development stage are avoided.


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