Making the Jump to Smart Product Design

Across many industries, the market of everyday consumer products is being transformed by the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), both on the customer side via new functionality and on the manufacturer side with new insight into customers’ responses to products. Data – collection, processing and transmitting – is where value is found. Amidst the changing market, product development companies have to learn how to make the most out of what smart products allow, while competitors race to do the same. There are a few fundamental aspects to smart products that designers face when transitioning into smart products and services.

What Smart Products Look Like

The capacity to handle data is at the heart of what makes a product “smart” – smart products communicate. This is a broader definition than what many people will likely think of, though. Customers understand “smart”as wearables or home automation systems, but early models of smart integration typically start with gathering feedback on product use. Smart product designers should become familiar with three major components to these technologies:

  • The physical component of the product, already extant but potentially in need of new manufacturing processes;
  • The smart component, which gives the product a virtual “presence”, ranging from QR codes to fully embedded interfaces;
  • The means of connectivity, wired or wireless, between the product and the manufacturer or customer.

Challenges of Smart Business Models

Making a product smart requires significant changes in development resources and allocation of funds, with some of the key issues being outside the normal domain of a product design engineer. The smart components added to the product are not purely physical but will also include software apps running on the product or alongside it (e.g. a mobile app that connects to a device or readsaIR tag). Connectivity must also be maintained with 24/7 support; a failure of manufacturer-side infrastructure can potentially interrupt or disable customers’ use of the product, especially as subscription-based models become more common within the IoT space.

The Projected Future of the Market

Predicting what the market will look like as smart products proliferate is difficult, but a few points are certain. Existing 20th century models of industry will swiftly need to be revamped or abandoned to account for digital connections. Product development companies will thrive by engaging with customers and establishing ways to gather insights on user needs and expectations so that your smart product designer can implement improvements that can be pushed out during software updates. Experimentation is critical as well, finding ways in which smart connectivity can further enhance user experience and exploring new business models both internally and in the customer-manufacturer relationship. The main takeaway should be this: pay close attention to developments in smart technology and the IoT and be ready to act.

IoT Circuit Board Design Is Hot Right Now

26The Internet of Things (IoT) has presented a world where the digital and physical worlds can truly live together. It’s no surprise that more companies are interested in providing connected devices that take advantage of this change in the technology landscape. For startups and manufacturers, this means being on the cutting edge of new technology.

Changes in Printed Circuit Boards

It’s even more crucial to be aware of changes if you outsource your work to an electrical engineer. You want to be sure that you have the newest techniques available and some engineers my be working with yesterday’s technology. PCBs are constantly evolving, becoming smaller and providing more features. Having an idea of what is happening lets you focus on finding the right IoT design engineers for your specific needs.

IoT Design Requirements

When you are embarking on product development for wearable tech devices, you need to be aware of what to put your focus on. There are a few different things to be aware of and we encourage you to prioritize steps with your electrical engineer.

  • Security – As more devices become connected to the digital landscape, it’s crucial that security is sufficient to block any threats. It is becoming more common for security through software to be considered insufficient for this purpose. Hardware-based security methods are often a better option. Perhaps a combination hardware with software security options.
  • Battery Life – Unlike many other devices, IoT products are constantly communicating with a network. This means that having an extended battery life is a must. Some of the things an electrical engineer for IoT devices can do is to optimize power consumption during design and to analyze the integrity of the power source.
  • Flexibility – The majority of applications for IoT are small in size and need to be flexible. This is important due to the size of most devices being designed today. HDI and rigid-flex are two of the ways IoT design engineers can meet your needs on a physical basis.
  • High Standards – Industry standards continue to become more restrictive as more consumers delve into the world of IoT devices. Your electrical engineer should be on top of any new standardization and willing to embrace that sort of challenge.

Making Your IoT Devices Work in Harmony

Your electrical engineer for IoT devices should be forward thinking with a complete understanding of the ways IoT design is changing the way people interact with connected devices and cloud based applications. When you contract with an engineer or designer for your new product, consider the above list first. Having trouble finding a IoT design engineer that is forward thinking? Give Definitive Design a call today and perhaps we can help you get started.

Great Resources for Generating New Product Ideas

Did you know that your most lucrative and sustainable resource for designing new products is right in front of you? The key finding new ideas for a new product is listening to your customers, frustrated consumers and patients that use various medical devices to monitor activity. In today’s world, the traditional wisdom that says product development should only be an internal process is moot. Customers and consumers you interact with are more connected and engaged than ever, and people love to share details about what frustrates them most about a particular product. Often the best ideas come from solving common problems.

But how can you use online research communities to generate new ideas? Inviting your customers to be a part of your product development team can be an eye opening experience. Here’s how you can leverage your customers insights to come up with new consumer product design ideas.

Determine What Problem You Should Solve

The first step to any product development project, whether your goal is to design medical devices or a home improvement tool, is to figure out what your customers value or what problem with an existing product they are challenged with. Your customer base can help you identify what opportunities you should capitalize on or what problem you should solve. Before you attempt to come up with an idea, make sure your direction is relevant to what your customers want.

Your goal should be to get your customers to validate the direction your solutionis providing. If your customers encourage you to solve a specific problem, chances are that others may have similar challenges with that product. You can listen to your customers’ ideas by reading online reviews about a product, conducting research surveys in Facebook or a crowdsourcing app, or interviewing some customers.

Generate, Analyze, and Synthesize an Idea

Many people today are connected digitally with like-minded affinity groups.How big is that pool of people that can benefit from the new idea you are considering?Conduct customer research by strategically formulating your questions and sharing them in a controlled way without giving too much information about your idea away. Ask open ended questions like, “How would you like to see this item perform?” and then digest and evaluate the answers you get back. “What If…” questions help you fine tune your concepts.

Our consumer product design company has been able to help clients flesh out new features to existing product lines just by buying lunch for the employees one day and whiteboarding what comes out of the team’s imagination. A customer’s workforce is a treasure trove of new ideas if you know how to tap into their creativity. The patients of a clinical practice are also a great resource on how you may want to improve the design of medical devices that were used by them. That is a harder audience to tap as a group due to HIPPA and privacy laws but consulting with them one on one with a trusted clinician can be very beneficial. Product design consulting requires us to be open minded when seeking new ideas we may wish to bring to market.

Visionaries Need Help To See Products Come To Life

Most inventors are visionaries that have been inspired to create something they believe to be useful. Often the idea stems from a specific encounter where they saw or used a device that did not perform as effectively as the inventor thought it should. Sometimes the inspiration comes to this visionary through a colleague that describes a procedure, information system or tool that failed them.

The world needs great visionaries to help improve our lives but too often the idea stalls when tasked with bringing this vision to life. The field of medicine is filled with great thinkers and visionaries, but these same people tend to be very busy and find it difficult to move an inspiration for the next great wearable medical device along the path of product development.

Medical Device Development Requires More Than Inspiration

Most of the wearable medical devices that entered the marketplace in 2017 have spent several months to several years in the development pipeline. The question is where does the inventor begin? Our recommendation is to seek out the product development firms that have a proven track record of bringing other wearable technologies to market. There are skill sets that will be required along the way that the inventor or visionary just won’t have themselves.

More importantly is the new product development process needed for your device to succeed. For example, it does not make sense to meet with a mobile app development company before you have a physical design in place. Always start with a summary of the functionality you want for your device and share your ideas with a trusted product designer after there is a formal agreement that will protect your rights and ideas.

Mechanical, Electrical & Software Engineers Should Work in Synergy

The physical design and appearance of your device is very important to the end users and the marketability of your product. If a patient must wear the device, it needs to look and feel right. If a clinician will be using the device as a handheld unit, the design must be easy to use and conform to the environment it will be used in.

Once you have nailed down the mechanical design, an electrical engineer can work within the physical limitations of the device to layout how the electrical design. Often there will be sensor technology deployed in wearable medical devices. So the mechanical and electrical designers may need to make some adjustments to structure & materials for the components to function flawlessly together. Both disciplines can be very complex and it is rare that one individual shares these design skills.

Therefore the stakeholders should foster a collaboration and a project management team may be assigned to track progress, keep the client informed and oversee all parts of the medical device development process. Once the physical and electrical design phases are near complete, then we can start working with the software and app development teams.

Prototyping and Testing Helps Dictate Manufacturing Needs

If an entrepreneur was to hire individuals to tackle the above tasks, chances are you may invest months to identify the right players and several more months to get them to a point where they are producing. Outsourcing your engineering design services has become the norm for most visionaries seeking how to get your invention started. For the prototyping and testing phases alone, it makes sense to choose a partner that has access to 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies. This world of making functional prototypes has moved very fast and is allowing startups get to market much faster although the equipment and materials can be very costly. Testing will allow you to adjust your design and materials as you discover bugs you never anticipated.

Since actual manufacturing is often the most expensive piece of the puzzle, this engineering for manufacturing stage considers material costs, production methods, anticipated run sizes and delivery schedules. A fully functional prototype will also allow you to present your design to venture capitalists and investors. A manufacturer will need you to show them the money before they invest in materials.

As a medical product design firm in Pennsylvania, Definitive Design has seen the shift towards wearable technologies several years ago. We have partnered with Connected Device Group to bring together the skills you will need to all under one roof. A visionary simply can not do all that is required without the help of a solid team of design professionals.

How a Design Process Helps Inventors Succeed

You have an amazing idea for a new product that you know will be a hit, but you are not quite sure how to design it. This is where following a tried and true design process comes in. Following the design process that is common in the product design engineering field can help you to quickly move through the design phases so you can get your product from concept into production and into the hands of buyers faster. Here’s a look at this process.

Create a Design Brief

A design brief is like your blueprint. It explains what your product idea is, including how it is used and how it may look. It can give the new product development company you choose to work with all the information it needs to develop your idea and create the product you have been imagining in your head. It is essential to share every detail you can think of at this stage, so your product comes out closer to what you have envisioned. Any missing information may lead to re-designs and increased costs down the road.

Create the Specifications List

In addition to the brief, you want a list of the specification of the product. This will include three dimensional sizes, materials, potential colors, functionality and even packaging ideas. These details of the product will provide designers a good idea of what this product really should look like and how you anticipate it will be used.

Design the Product

At this point, you and your engineering design firm will begin the actual mechanical design of the product en-route to developing a 3D model or physical prototype of your product. In the hands of a experienced mechanical engineer with the help of the appropriate CAD software, you may start to discover all the intricacies of developing a new product and any physical limitations your original idea may encounter prior to production.Often there will be adjustments to size, materials and functionality done during this phase of development. This is where you will start to see your new product idea comes to life. The first prototype or 3D model is often generated weeks before any testing takes place and it is our experience that you will have to fine tune your design several times along the way. Be patient with the process.

Test the Product

This step is fairly self-explanatory. It involves testing the prototype you have designed to see if it functions as you imagined it would. It allows you to work out any flaws or issues and identify problems that may need fixed long before signing a production agreement with a vendor. Production costs and materials used in the production process need to be re-evaluated during this testing stage. There must be a return on your investment without sacrificing quality. Most buyers are looking for valuable solutions that solve problems rather than just another widget. So it is important your product is viewed as valuable. Consumer testing and focus groups may be part of this testing phase.

Finalize the Design

After testing, you can then work on the final design. Take a hard look at what you discovered during the testing phase and may the necessary adjustments to the final design that will help your product sell at a fair price, be deemed valuable, be sought after by future buyers and have the longevity to withstand future competition. This is going to be the messaging you present when trying to sell your product to investors or end users.

3D Printing a Final Prototype and Test Again

3D printing and additive manufacturing has come a very long way by 2018. Many of the machines being used for 3D printing today can be used to actually manufacture products on demand using synthetic materials that resemble all types of metals, plastics, stone and other mass produced structural products.

We recommend to many clients that have tapped us as their invention designer in PA to consider additive manufacturing when appropriate for the final prototype. This design process above leverages the best practices of product design engineering that a new product development company must follow when they are involved in the early design stages.

IoT Design Take Mobile Apps To A New Level

Smart technology takes home appliances to a whole new level. Smart products that rely on mobile apps for control are changing how consumers interact with products. Appliances that use smart technology have to be concerned about mobile application issues as well as a product’s design. Consumers judge connected appliances that are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) by the quality of their mobile apps, not only by how well the product works. Here are some guidelines for IoT design for manufacturers:

Consider the Person Using the Product

Although you may consider the product’s hardware the center of gravity for use, the consumer looks at the mobile app as the product. The app has to be a focal point of design through the design process. You can’t design the mobile app as an afterthought. Instead, the IoT product design has to integrate user experience of the mobile app as part of the integrated, holistic design throughout the entire process.

Savvy consumers expect a lot out of their mobile apps. Smart product applications have to be easy to install, navigate and update. The aesthetics of the app must give the user a great experience, which means that as a manufacturer, you can’t cut corners on app development.

Investing in the Future

Today’s smart products will continue to add capabilities as the technology becomes available. When you code software for IoT apps, your company will need to anticipate functionality updates that consumers may demand in the future. It might be cheaper to use hybrid codes when developing the program, but custom, native coding may make your app design more flexible and easier to update when your developers are responsible for the coding.

Mobile App Testing

IoT apps must be tested for quality, simplicity, functionality and UX at several stages of the development process. There is a complex interplay between the device, the software, cloud applications and more. As a manufacture, you need to include in your project management several layers of testing. Many manufacturers underestimate the time testing phases takes and the time required for corrections to be completed. It is better to iron out as many design flaws as possible early in the development process

Create Minimum Viability for Data

Many manufacturers want to create the biggest and best mobile app experience, packing in as many new and exciting features that they can into the app. With IoT products, it’s better to aim basic product functionality primarily for the first release. Get to market quickly with the primary features, then collect data based on actual customer usage for future updates.

Although your product might be your “baby,” you can benefit from the expertise of an industrial design firm in PA to be onboard before you start doing any prototypes or application testing. A creative new product design engineer with some skills in IoT design for manufacturers and design for medical products can be invaluable in taking your smart appliance idea to the next level and make it work for consumers.

How IoT Devices Are Driving Manufacturers to Reinvent

Smart manufacturing can entail many different things combined into one. At the end of the day, companies need to develop devices and machines that allow them to implement new technologies that connect to the internet of things, share data with private servers and analyze this data for improved performance. This data capture and analysis allows businesses to grow and develop more effectively without having to halt production. For an industrial design firm, this tasks design engineers to develop new devices that leverage the Internet of Things for industrial machinery.

Companies often task an engineer to assist with developing new sensors and devices for manufacturing mechanisms. When choosing an engineer, he/she should be familiar with smart manufacturing.

Business Owners Are Recognizing the Importance of Data

The biggest advantage in which IoT devices help greatly is with the collection of data as a usable asset. Many different types of devices can be used to monitor manufacturing equipment, and as a business owner, you can use that data to improve various processes. IoT capabilities are now embedded in with manufacturing equipment, material handling equipment and robotics that are used everywhere today. Naturally, the executive team needs to know how to use this data in an advantageous manner. A designer of smart manufacturing equipment can work with business owners to customize solutions that work best for an organization.

This data can be used to improve processes, help develop solutions for workforce challenges, utilize production forecasting more effectively and even develop valuation reports for potential investors. The data serves as a diagnostic tool to determine where weak points are located. Automation that incorporated Big Data is a must have for companies to service in today’s economy and can show you where your company is heading in the near future.

Manufacturers Are More Aware of the Importance of Employees

Automation does not always lead to a replacement of jobs, just different skills required to do these jobs.Today companies are hiring IoT design engineers that specialize in manufacturing to build customized solutions. Equipment operators are tasked with programming equipment and work harmoniously with CAD/CAM technicians. Data analysis tools are part of the arsenal, but professionals need to make sense of the data and communicate information effectively with management. This this blending of IoT technology, manufacturing equipment and smart people are now part of the company culture today.

A smart manufacturing designer at an industrial design firm has become part of the fabric of many new product development companies. IoT devices are here to stay, so for a business to remain competitive and abreast of the competition, employers need to keep up. Whether your goal is to enhance efficiency, reduce expenses or increase sales, you are bound to benefit from the perks of smart manufacturing.