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Smart & Connected Products

When we talk about smart products, we expect to hear about more than the sensors and intelligence inside a product. Other options include connectivity with users and other products, and cloud applications and digitally supported services linked to the product. It is not a given that all these digital technologies are incorporated in the product in the right way. Sirris therefore helps companies in their transition to smart connected products. We have a team of experts to help companies find answers.  In 2020, we worked on various research projects to design demonstrators and draw up guidelines to accelerate their product development process.

Cost-effective use of relevant product data

The InsightProducts project was set up to research how best to support companies to optimise their product and service offering by means of a cost-effective approach to relevant and qualitative product data acquisition and use. This for the purpose of digital servitisation. 
On 18 November 2020, the InsightProducts project user group met for the final time. Led by Sirris in conjunction with its German partners Hahn-Schickard and Forschungszentrum Informatik, the project ran from September 2018 and involved an industrial user group of 25 companies from both Belgium and Germany. The InsightProducts project was set up to help companies optimise their product and service offering by means of a cost-effective approach to relevant and qualitative product data acquisition and use for the purpose of digital servitisation.

Project results

The main project results address three areas: technological building blocks; industrial demonstrators; knowledge transfer, dissemination and exploitation. 

InsightProducts paved the way for the collection and processing of qualitative product data, by applying a step-by-step approach from architectural design to technology acceptance (appropriate technology to handle and process data, improved design and sensor application). This was done using fast prototyping, resulting in the experimental SPICY toolkit and demonstrator, and finally the actual product services and costs.

Specific approach for conceptual development of smart connected products

Many companies would like to make their products smart and connected and are therefore looking for a suitable development approach. In 2018, Sirris and Fraunhofer IEM jointly set up the AddSmart collective research project with the support of VLAIO (Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship), to draw up a specific approach aimed at helping companies with the conceptual development of their smart connected products. The project concluded in April 2020.

Project findings

Which steps lead to a concept? How to decide which technology to use? How to build a proof of concept? Sirris wanted to answer these and other questions with their AddSmart project.

The insight gained during the AddSmart project will be used to accelerate the target group’s transition to smart connected products, by teaching companies about the conceptual development of products with smart connected technology. We took insights into the conceptual development of smart-connected products and combined them in the following concrete project findings:

  • An overview of smart product strategies for creating value with smart, connected products.
  • A step-by-step approach to develop a smart, connected product from idea to solution concept.
  • A starter kit with technological building blocks for a proof-of-concept.
  • Four demonstrators explaining these findings by means of industrial case studies.

Starter kit: hardware and software building blocks to accelerate the development of a proof of concept for smart products.

Smart suitcase demonstrator: integrated sensors to track the status of the suitcase and its contents, wireless connection to a mobile user app, optimised energy consumption and data visualisation in the cloud.

Smart milling machine demonstrator: secure data connection to the cloud via gateway, dashboard to track machine productivity and to predict cutting tool wear via machine learning. 

Creating added value in your product using digital technology

Many companies that build physical products are increasingly aware of the potential of smart(er) products and the Internet of Things, and are exploring what this can mean for their product and business. But this is easier said than done. On top of new technologies and a different approach to development, the business model and its operations may also change. No wonder that product builders sometimes get stuck among the many options as they search for the 'golden' product idea. With the support of VLAIO (Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship), Sirris and Imec have joined forces in the Orientation and decision-making in smart product exploration COOCK project to develop tools to help companies find a better smart product concept more quickly. The project began in the second quarter of 2020.

The tools focus on:

  • Smart product scenarios that a company can use as a blueprint for their own product concept.
  • An approach whereby a company can evaluate its product concept in terms of value creation, required technology and expertise, risks and potential partners.
  • An approach according to which a company can manage risks – both technological and market-fit risks, among others – by means of proofs of concept of the product.
An example of such a smart product scenario is “offering a maintenance service”, whereby the product manufacturer’s offer changes into a total solution that covers more of the customer's needs. In addition to higher margins on the service provided, this creates closer customer relations and increases the level of understanding of the customer's needs. Of course, the organisation should also become more service-oriented, the product information must be managed centrally, and the products must be provided with the necessary connectivity.

Analysis of sensor data in the fight against stale indoor air and COVID-19

Air quality is a significant factor in people’s performance, concentration and health in the workplace. The need to ventilate indoor spaces is often underestimated and neglected, despite creating a safe and productive environment for employees being considered a high priority. The Wal-e-Cities ENR EFRO-project focuses on monitoring indoor air quality values such as CO2, temperature, humidity and VOCs in the areas visited by sensor users. Users wear the sensor during their working day. The air quality values measured are linked to the location within the building using Bluetooth low energy beacons placed in the relevant areas. The test was performed at Sirris, in an office, in a staff canteen and in a 3D printing laboratory, and the results were subsequently analysed. User location was recorded throughout the day, then summarised in a timeline of relevant events, to provide for the processing of the data and the analysis of the air quality in all three areas. Fluctuations in air quality and VOCs were detected based on the number of people in the area and the work done there (e.g. the VOC values were twice as high in the 3D printing laboratory than in the office area). The effect of ventilation was clearly visible. 

Air quality and COVID-19

COVID-19 is mainly spread indoors. Research has also demonstrated that air pollution can increase the spread of the virus. Poorly ventilated rooms have an impact on the airborne transmission of the virus, meaning that ventilation can contribute towards a safer environment by decreasing the level of pollution indoors. Tools – such as the one developed by the Wal-eCities ENR-project – can help to detect ventilation needs and therefore prevent COVID-19 infections at company premises. Transmission of the virus within the workplace should, after all, only constitute a negligible proportion of the total number of infections in Belgium.