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With all the hype surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT), you might expect that smart refrigerators automatically placing orders to replenish groceries or cars self-repairing faulty parts would be commonplace by now. Although the industry is heading that direction, manufacturers are only beginning to integrate IoT capabilities into existing offerings and design new products and services that will wholly transform business models.
At the LiveWorx 2015 IoT event held earlier this month in Boston, PTC executives, IoT technology providers and companies pioneering IoT-related products and services made the case that IoT is not some promise of the future, but rather workable technology already having an effect on products today. That is true, but most of the Internet of Things use cases presented by pioneers are test case scenarios and limited production products, more in keeping with demonstrating IoT's potential than serving as mainstream products.
Internet of Things pioneers lead the way
"It's still very early on -- we are just beginning to see a lot of real solutions in the marketplace," said Chris Penrose, senior vice president, Internet of Things, for AT&T Mobility. "We are no longer having conversations about the value of putting connectivity in products -- everyone sees that. We are now getting in the use case, and with 22 million devices on a network that aren't phones or tablets, it's a market that's growing at an incredibly rapid pace."
Michael Porter, Bishop William Lawrence University professor at Harvard Business School, outlined four functionality changes manufacturers experience as they embrace the concept of smart, connected products. Initially, connectivity delivers the ability to monitor and measure what's happening to a product in a very granular way, providing the basis for a range of use cases, including remote diagnostics and fix services -- the focus of many Internet of Things pioneers. Connectivity also can provide a path for separating control of the product from the physical product itself, essential for remote control applications, he explained.
As the basis for building new, related services and optimizing utilization, Porter said, manufacturers can collect and analyze data from a product. Once manufacturers are monitoring everything about a product and its environment, he said the next step is autonomy, driven by machine learning, which allows a product to determine what to do next without human intervention.
Internet of Things use cases from pioneering companies
Although it's still early days, pioneers are making headway with offerings that span a range of industries and a variety of Internet of Things use cases. Here are four examples already in the works:
Airbus' factory of the future: The multibillion-dollar aircraft manufacturer has big plans to leverage IoT to transform its commercial airline fleet, but it also believes the technology will play an essential role in streamlining manufacturing. Unlike other industries that fully automate production processes, humans still play a primary role in manufacturing and assembling aircraft.
The margin for error is slim. Any single mistake in the process, which involves tens of thousands of steps, can be costly. At a LiveWorx session, Jean-Bernard Hentz, head of PLM R&T and innovation at Airbus ICT, described a vision the company calls Rosie the Riveter 2.0. As part of this vision, Airbus is developing smart tools and other shop floor systems that create a system of record to ensure operators don't make mistakes by managing and checking on tasks as they are in process. Using smart glasses or tablets, workers can scan an aircraft's frame to determine everything from what size bolt is needed to how much torque is required for proper installation.
All Traffic Solutions' smart signs: To stand out in the crowd of commodity traffic sign hardware manufacturers, All Traffic Solutions made an early bet on a connected strategy, integrating sensors and a cloud-based IoT platform directly into its products. The signs, now used in a variety of cities around the world, are sold with a range of subscription services, including those for remote equipment management, remote diagnostics and road notification messaging.
Evolving the technology piece of an IoT strategy is the easy part, according to Ted Graef, president and co-founder of All Traffic Solutions. "The connection is really the beginning," he said. "You have to figure out what to do with the connection and how to make money off of it and that takes the whole company."
Yankee Candle scent systems: Yankee Candle is leveraging IoT to break out of its mold as a traditional manufacturer of homespun candles. The company is building a new business called "intelligent scent," designed for retailers to incorporate scent into their overall brand impression. Smart scent fixtures, to be released soon, will be connected via the Web to an integrated global network, which then can be controlled by a retailer using a mobile device or Yankee Candle's own command system. The remote control capabilities are used to monitor and fine-tune scent concentration across multiple locations so that -- without requiring employee intervention -- a scent never runs out.
StreetScooter's smart delivery vehicle: Designed from scratch as an optimized electric vehicle, StreetScooter also is unique in that it leverages IoT technology to help reduce engineering complexity. Given a mandate to design and test the vehicle with minimum resources and in a short time period, IoT technology helped streamline engineering processes, according to CEO Peter Burggräf. Project engineers get constant feedback from the car on everything from performance to its state of charge. By comparing real-time data to preliminary requirements, the team has been able to more easily validate designs and avoid over-engineering.
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