The Why and How of IoT-Enabled Design

31 May, 2017 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Connecting products to the Internet isn’t the stuff of Tomorrowland anymore, and presenters at PTC’s LiveWorx 17 conference showed just how real-world it has become.

If you haven’t scrutinized Internet of Things (IoT) technology, you could easily assume it’s trendy or futuristic — a concept lacking practical application, all fluff and no stuff.

That assumption might have been true even a few short years ago, but today’s IoT is getting real. With more than 55% of discrete manufacturers researching, piloting, or in production with IoT initiatives, according to software developer PTC and research firm IDC, IoT is less the wave of the future and more about the here and now. From autos and airplanes to watches and whiskey bottles, IoT applications are producing qualitative and quantitative benefits for product developers of all kinds.

At LiveWorx 17 in Boston last week, attendees heard firsthand how to tap IoT for its design benefits. Presented by PTC, the event was billed as a “global technology conference and marketplace for solutions engineered for a smart, connected world” — “the largest industrial event of the year,” comprising more than 230 technical sessions; more than 100 exhibitors; and approximately 6,000 attendees, according to PTC, including dozens of international journalists and industry analysts hosted by the company. Presenters shared advice and lessons learned through their experience in IoT design, including how to build IoT strategy and effectively plan projects, and some dos and don’ts of integrating sensors in the design process to better understand how products are used and how they behave in the field.

“It can open up a plethora of opportunities [when you] clearly understand how all your products are being used,” said Paul Sagar, vice-president of CAD product management at PTC. Data collected via IoT “can give you insight you never had before.”

How IoT Works

PTC calls them “smart, connected” products. They are the things — consumer goods, vehicles, equipment, industrial machinery, and more — that house sensors that collect data about the item’s use, operation, and environment, then transmit that data via the Internet to store, process, and analyze. Sensor-equipped clothing, or wearables, can collect a person’s heart rate during a workout to display in a smartphone app, for example. Heavy equipment can collect data regarding forces applied during use, for on-going examination by design engineers. Factories can use IoT to monitor machinery operations in an effort to identify the conditions that precipitate a breakdown — and head off future outages. A company can collect data from similar products all over the world, or from unique things in various locations to simulate and analyze real-world conditions.

Real-world data such as stresses and temperatures feed back to the 3D CAD model, updating boundary conditions, for example, to enable more accurate simulations. Populated with precise, real boundary conditions and other information, this model effectively becomes the physical product’s digital twin, a precise replica of the real-world design.

The digital twin provides a deep understanding of how a product will perform in the physical world, said Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC. “We gain incredible insights into the products’ design, operation, and service.” You can look at this digital model in CAD, sourcing data from all areas of product use in one place, and see how the real-world data impacts your design, right on your screen.

Going one step further, you can view and interact with the model in a virtual setting by publishing the digital twin directly from CAD to an augmented reality (AR) environment.

PTC: Why IoT?

PTC comes into the IoT picture as what can justifiably be described as the leading developer of IoT-enabled technologies. Building on its extensive history in CAD (first Pro/ENGINEER, which has evolved into the Creo family of modular CAD/CAE applications) and product lifecycle management (PLM) with Windchill, the company now has progressed into IoT and AR, which Heppelmann sees as the next generation of PLM. “I never fully bought into the concept of PLM, because it wasn’t really managing the lifecycle,” he said. “Once products left the factory, you weren’t managing them.” IoT changes that. BOMs, change management — all that is still important, he said, but now companies can [be involved in the lifecycle] after the product leaves the factory and learn things to make products better. “We see this as the future.”

PTC’s ThingWorx is the foundation of its IoT offerings as the engine that aggregates data from connected products. Apps work on top of the ThingWorx platform to apply data to specific use cases. Creo Product Insight, integrated with ThingWorx, is the bridge that carries real-world data back to the CAD model. Mike Campbell, executive vice-president, ThingWorx Platform, said, “We are reimagining CAD in the environment of IoT. Creo developers are thinking about design for connectivity. ‘How do we enable people to contemplate connectivity and design capabilities into their products?’”

PTC is extending the concept of digital engineering beyond CAD and PLM to include augmented and virtual reality and IoT-based design and manufacturing.

Why IoT Is Good for Product Design

Campbell said, “Part of the value of IoT is understanding what’s happening out in the world and bringing it back.” Design begins with engineering requirements, he explained, but many of those are assumptions — typically leading to designs that are over- or under-engineered, both of which will cost your company. Real-world data collected via IoT allows you to design for actual, not assumed, use and operations. When you use a product such as Creo Product Insight, you bring data back to the CAD model for validating assumptions that you made during initial design. Users can

  • analyze and apply multiple streams of performance data from instrumented prototypes and test equipment more efficiently;
  • improve current and next-generation product quality, performance , and durability by enabling a new dimension of IoT data-driven design based on data gathered from assets in the field;
  • optimize sensor placement and use to capture critical data and reduce cost by accurately capturing data to support downstream processes; and
  • leverage product insight as a service to create more business opportunities.

When you design connectivity into your product and use the correct sensors to collect specific information, Campbell said, you can being to truly understand how your product is used and how it performs in the real world — and use that insight to improve design features and quality, reliability, servicing, and ultimately, customer satisfaction going forward.

Fred Bellio has a variety of IoT-enabled products under his belt thanks to previous work at Whirlpool and his current role as managing partner of DRIVEN-4, a consultant in PLM, IoT, and cyber-security. IoT, he said, allows companies to refresh existing designs more often: “You ‘touch base’ with customers more frequently, and not just when something breaks. ... It changes how you deliver the product.”

A variety of IoT use cases and customer stories are available on the PTC web site.

How to Get Started

Bellio emphasized that companies must develop the business logic for any IoT project before work begins, including a ten-year vision for refreshing products that addresses product features, safety concerns, and the like. Then pinpoint the data you really need to better understand your design. “With all the new data you collect,” Bellio explained, “you’ll have a lot of concerns to deal with that you never had before. You can collect terabytes of data in weeks, but it takes time and money to process it. Decide in advance exactly what you want; don’t go overboard.”

PTC encourages companies to start with a pilot project when embarking on the IoT journey, using a free version of ThingWorx. Kathleen Miford, executive vice-president of product and market strategy, said, “We have ThingWorx apps that help customers get started with something simple. They can expand from there to meet greater needs and more unique needs.”

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more coverage of LiveWorx 17, including updates about the industrial IoT (IIoT) and the role of ThingWorx for the digital factory.

About the Author: Nancy Spurling Johnson

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