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  • Tim Kannegieter

Moving beyond the IoT hype to drive productivity

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

The Internet of Things (IoT) hype curve hit its peak around 2015, with the trough of disillusionment growing through to about 2020. Since then, early adopters have been increasingly focused on ways of reaching the “plateau of productivity”.

Key examples of driving productivity, applicable to multiple industries, includes:

  • Asset tracking: This use case is interesting in that the device can be both a wearable and attachable for the same application. The objects can be tracked with a cheap attachable device that acts as a beacon. The person handling the object may have a wearable that can both detect the object and provide directions to locate it.

  • Inventory management: In addition to asset tracking, the same devices can be used for inventory management and logistics. Wearables can facilitate the automatic logging of people handling an object and what they do with it.

  • Maintenance: Attachables can be used for monitoring equipment for use in predictive maintenance. Similarly, wearables can be used to assist technicians to efficiently execute maintenance tasks, even to the extent of using augmented reality to guide them.

  • Workplace health and safety applications of wearables include heat stress, falls, proximity monitoring, drowsiness and lifting heavy objects to name a few. There are certain use cases where such wearables come into their own such as lone working, where the organisation has an obligation to continually monitor their employee’s wellbeing as well as proving panic/duress alarms that are with them at all times.

  • Movement efficiency: The very same wearables may also be used to enhance productivity, by optimising movement, routes and other operational factors.

  • Operational efficiency: Smart sensors monitoring environmental conditions or the status of supply chains can drive decision making around when take action, including everything from sowing a crop to ordering more product.

The above are just a few examples and many of these elements have been integrated into a holistic approach known as Industry 4.0. However, Industry 4.0 has largely been taken up only by very large manufacturing organisations. In other industries, for small to medium sized enterprises and for product developers selling devices into an industry, the applications of IoT technology have been more focused on narrow verticals with a single application.

There are two key applications of IoT technology – wearables and “attachables”, attaching devices to either people or objects. The devices are essentially the same with different enclosure options adapted to the use case.

To date, the wearables market has been dominated by smart watches for wellness applications with a standard set of sensors and optimised for cellular connectivity. However industrial applications will often have a requirement for LPWAN communication backbone (e.g. NBIoT, LoraWAN) or similar. This has driven the market for IoT devices.

However, most “IoT devices” come with a standard set of sensors, typically those that are integrated with standard chipsets. This standardised approach offers little in the way of competitive advantage. The key to competitiveness is the deployment of non-standard sensors in conjunction with innovative business models or, alternatively, innovative bespoke sensors developed in collaboration with research institutions.

For example, the NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN) is focused on helping commercialise hundreds of advanced sensor research projects across nine universities in NSW and the ACT. If you can imagine a new way of doing things based on a novel sensor, it is likely one of the thousands of sensor researchers across NSW will be working on it or have it well aligned with their skill sets. NSSN has a very handy tool that allows you to search across their database of researchers that you can use to identify the right people to be talking to.

While there will almost aways be a Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) IoT solution that meets 90% of your needs, it’s the last 10% that has bedevilled the widespread adoption of wearables and attachables. As the IoT trend starts moving up the “slope of enlightenment”, this 10% gap is driving the trend toward developing bespoke wearables and attachables.

The key challenge in these niche or bespoke applications is affordability – in other words the Total Landed / ex-Works cost of the device. Most productivity-oriented business cases are highly price sensitive. While anyone can design a gold-plated device to enhance any business process, doing so cost effectively is still a challenge.

The key to affordability is volume manufacturing. As soon as production exceeds a few thousand devices per annum, the design and development costs start to fade in significance. Certainly, once annual volumes hit five figures, the business case is relatively easy to mount.

What most product developers do is develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with the core features as cheaply and quickly as possible. This is what the Genesys Wireless Wearable Sensor platform is designed to do. The platform facilitates both proof-of-concepts (POC) and commercial products suitable for low volume production. The idea of MVPs is to test the market and determine what features users/customers really want. The next step is to refine the design to bring the Total Landed Cost down.

At this point, “design for manufacture” factors come into play. For example, the cost of testing a device can exceed the assembly costs. There are multiple other factors related to production management, managing your bill of materials, completeness of your Gerber files and having clear assembly instructions. Circuitwise has a 44 point checklist for people looking to manufacture their own device.

Apart from affordability, another big inhibitor of wearables/attachables uptake is the cybersecurity threat these devices pose. Until recently, remote devices like cameras were a key attack vector for malicious actors as they were not normally deployed with enterprise security in mind and retailers of such devices simply didn’t care. In addition, devices with embedded electronics didn’t usually have the same fully fledged cybersecurity features that are now standard in smart phones. As a result, enterprises have been reluctant to rush into widespread deployment of IoT devices.

However, the cybersecurity industry has caught up, with numerous standards and guidelines providing best practices for wearables. Unfortunately, there are so many guides it can be hard to know where to start. Genesys has sorted through the plethora of standards to develop its own robust approach that is compliant with the highest level of regulatory requirements. See the Genesys Cybersecurity Guidance for Wearables and IoT.

This is just an introduction to the complex world of IoT enabled product development and manufacturing. Contact us for more information or to discuss your innovative idea.

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