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Design Thinking Meets Informed Manufacturing (Part 1)


When it comes to manufacturing innovation, smart and connected products are now table stakes. As a result, manufacturers must analyze their product portfolios and roadmaps, and apply human-centered design principles to ensure they deliver experiences that make good on today’s market reality.

The industrial Internet of Things (IoT) is paving the way to the future for asset-intensive companies. The key question for manufacturers, therefore, is not “why” but “how” and “when” to plug into the smart product movement. This means taking a new approach to product development, from selecting the right suppliers, to aligning digital infrastructure development with product launch, while also successfully navigating the continuous shifts in consumer preferences and integrating demand/supply synchronization. Ultimately, this requires a transformation of raw materials into a shape and form that delivers a unique product experience. 

To accomplish this feat, every node in the value chain needs to be re-thought, with the focus on delivering a superior experience to consumers and differentiating the organizations that deliver it. We call this approach “informed manufacturing,” a strategy in which relevant and contextual information is made available to all stakeholders – products, processes, people and infrastructure – across the extended enterprise. By adopting an informed manufacturing strategy, manufacturers can completely transform the value chain, bringing about operational efficiencies and effectiveness. 

How 'Informed' Is Your Manufacturing?

Informed manufacturing begins with a human-centered approach to product and experience design, widely known as design thinking. Design thinking embodies a bold approach to innovation that centers on understanding and analyzing the behaviors of people at the center of change. Based on these insights, designers take an iterative and agile approach to ideating, prototyping and testing their ideas.  

However, many manufacturers struggle to deliver a superior experience to customers and employees because they take a piecemeal or siloed approach to implementing the underlying digital technologies. To ensure the right mindset and strategy, manufacturers must undertake three key challenges that drive effective product design: 

  • Understand why “experience” matters.

  • Master technological convergence, which is key to competitive differentiation through superior customer and employee experiences.

  • Learn to apply design-thinking principles. 

Why Experience Matters in the Industrial World

Both employees and customers now expect the same digital experiences at work as they do in their personal lives. Amid an increasingly dynamic and complex environment, plant managers expect similar real-time experiences in the industrial setting to what they receive when transacting online as a consumer. It’s vital for manufacturers to take a systematic approach to understanding how people in different roles interact with industrial systems across various processes.

In a manufacturing plant, for example, the first step toward designing more informed supply chains is instrumenting machines to gather vital performance parameters and KPIs (such as runtime, tool life, yield). Understanding how this data can be used to create an experience for the plant manager is critical to building systems to deliver business value. 

Using a design thinking approach, manufacturers can examine this from a variety of perspectives, uncovering and analyzing stated, unstated and latent needs and behaviors. They can then map these insights to designing features that help plant managers ensure certainty and predictability of plans. Connecting people across business functions and providing them with relevant information and design experiences in real-time will provide intelligent design, better operations and maintenance, as well as higher quality service and safety. This is also the core concept of informed people, a cornerstone of informed manufacturing.

This exercise is particularly critical for the next-generation workforce, which is completely tuned into digital and is comfortable with multi-tasking across devices. The challenge for industrial manufacturers is to create a work environment that is both productive and seamless for these digital natives. Attracting millennial talent into manufacturing will require new experiences that infuse design-thinking into product development and plant operations processes. 

Mastering Convergence 2.0

Historically, the use of robotics and unmanned systems in manufacturing was limited to the factory floor; automation was applied to assembly lines, using deeply integrated stacks and communication standards, while supply chain planning and customer demand environments largely operated as silos. 

With the advent of informed products, however, these environments are rapidly changing. A new business architecture is emerging that encompasses sensory-enabled devices and advanced physical systems, such as drones. Robots combined with cloud-enabled information infrastructures facilitate easier information exchange with multiple partners in the value chain. Consider an automotive logistics environment, in which thousands of vehicles are maintained in fleet yards, and real-time information (collected by drones, for example) on vehicle and yard conditions (i.e., blizzards and hurricanes) can help optimize business planning, from supply chain through sales planning.  

Organizations must embrace the business innovations sparked by the rapid proliferation of breakthrough technologies such as consumer devices, 3-D printing, robotics, drones and artificial intelligence by integrating them into the design of their enterprise solutions. Although these technologies applied in isolation may not lead to breakthrough results, their combined impact may be transformational. Product development teams must embrace these technologies on several fronts: the product itself, around the product (through connectivity and entity/partner-level integration) and beyond the product (individuals within and outside the enterprise, including consumers/customers).

Applying Design Thinking 

Organizations that seek to adopt human-centered design must create closed-loop processes, using real-world observations that culminate in the creation of a prototype. Scaling the resulting solutions and features (after obtaining meaningful feedback and conducting design iterations) is the final step in the process. 

Design thinking is increasingly becoming a key to achieving competitive advantage in today’s business world, especially in manufacturing, where physical products and software experiences are quickly converging. Ambient information generated and collected by connected devices, telematics and SMAC Stack technologies (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) that comprise the IoT is accelerating this change. Such connectivity is not only bridging the information gap between consumers and producers but is also optimizing manufacturing processes across the supply chain, enabling manufacturers to increase operational efficiencies. 

Instrumented devices, for example, offer a feedback loop on usage, behavior, likes/dislikes, etc. This data can be distilled and analyzed for product improvements and enhancements that lead to differentiated product experiences, improving customer loyalty and delivering more engaging, rewarding and meaningful experiences.

In our informed manufacturing survey, a multitude of professionals cited informed products as being high on the priority list of the C-suite in terms of delivering a superior user experience. This new emphasis is changing the landscape of traditional products. Honeywell CEO Dave Coty, in fact, has declared that he wants his company to become the Apple of the industrial sector.” Consider the example of Nest, which threatens to disrupt thermostat manufacturing. 

Design thinking needs to be embedded into the organization’s DNA. Applying these principles to the processes of creating, manufacturing and connecting products to a larger ecosystem is crucial to serving customers through the lifecycle of the product itself. 

Future-Forward: Design Thinking for Co-Creation 

User experience is the new driver of product success, and is core to the strategy of many consumer-centric businesses. Converging the digital and physical elements of products and processes, while applying design thinking at the front end of product design innovation, is the way forward. 

To transform employee and consumer experiences, manufacturers must take a persona-centered approach by integrating business information and analyzing work behavior. With the combination of design thinking and the capabilities enabled by informed manufacturing, manufacturers can meet customer and employee demands for a superior user experience, enabling them to deepen their customer relationships, as well as open up new strategic opportunities and ever-increasing operational efficiencies.

To learn more about the IoT's role in manufacturing, please read our related Perspectives articles on analytics and monetization, and visit the Manufacturing and IoT sections of our website.

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