Manufacturing for the connected consumer: Evolving product innovation – part 1

In a bid to convert ideas into invoices as effectively as possible, manufacturers follow specific processes featuring discrete stages. These are designed to manage the entire lifecycle of each product from the concept, design, production, sales, operation, maintenance and finally retirement or replacement. With the right product and process, manufacturers can drive their revenues up whilst managing their costs effectively, creating their competitive advantage and most importantly profitable growth.

But, in an era where consumers are continually seeking more innovative products that are personalised to their individual needs and packed full of intelligence that creates a positive experience of ownership, how can manufacturers improve their ability to get ahead of these demands? In the first of this two-part series, I discuss how manufacturers must prepare themselves for the future and respond to consumer demands for personalisation.

How ready is your business?

It’s important not to just leap into action, so a great place to start is some form of readiness assessment. This will give you a benchmark on your current level of ability to personalise and collaborate, flexibly design and manufacture and step into the world of connected services. Each one of these is transformational to a manufacturing organisation and whilst an assessment cannot give you definitive answers it can give you something more important – a place to start.

Serving markets of one

Most products incorporate a level of engineering logic which, once identified and captured can be built into design tools, increasing productivity and enabling your organisation to move towards a more configurable solution. Once captured, design and engineering rules can be pushed out to the rest of the business, particularly to sales. This enables non-engineering staff to offer customers greater possibilities to explore more ‘what if’ scenarios in the field whilst remaining within sound engineering rules and predictable costs. Once automated, this level of customisation can be used as a competitive advantage, which as we know, customers are willing to pay a premium for; if combined with quality and speed of delivery. For instance, footwear companies such as Feetz are paving the way for highly customised manufacturing. Using the Feetz app, customers can take an image of each foot from three different angles and, in under a minute, get a 3D model of their foot. Their shoes are then manufactured to their exact measurements.

Designing collaboratively in real-time

Every design or engineering process involves capturing certain requirements in order to complete a specification. Once identified, this collaboration network can be connected via a platform that’s accessible to all and already integrated into their daily lives. Once established, an agile collaboration platform can be connected to other digital communication platforms such as social media, turning the collaboration process into an ‘always-on’ system where customer feedback, input and ideas can be captured and acted upon 24/7. Ideal Standard International for example, has integrated Building Information Modelling (BIM) data into its bathroom designs to enable it to work more closely with its housebuilding clients, such as Hill Partnerships.

Look out for my second part in this series, where I’ll be exploring the idea of flexible manufacturing, increasing customer experience and developing products for the connected era.

Author profile:
Asif Moghal is the manufacturing industry manager at Autodesk