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Will The Wave of New Wearable Products Change Product Development?

With this market gaining momentum, a key question needs to be addressed: How prepared are manufacturers to design and deliver these new and innovative types of products time and time again?  To answer this question, manufacturers have several factors to consider.

The buzz around wearable technology has been escalating the past several months. In fact, wearable technology has moved beyond product concepts to actual products worn by consumers. These include virtual reality eyeglasses, sophisticated health monitoring devices housed within an elastic wristband, sensor-based canes for the blind, and smartwatches with many features. Wearable products tend to be more transparent, practical and integrated in a consumer’s daily life than previous mobile devices.

With this market gaining momentum, a key question needs to be addressed: How prepared are manufacturers to design and deliver these new and innovative types of products time and time again?  To answer this question, manufacturers have several factors to consider. One is the need to adopt an end-to-end approach to product development and supply chain management that addresses the uniqueness and complexities of these devices. It’s critical they address challenges such as:

  • Coordinating and integrating activities of disparate, and potentially new, design, engineering and production specialties; these include apparel, footwear, fabric, industrial design, human factors, biomedical, mechanical, electrical, and software;
  • Managing and synchronizing product design and validation data from each specialty during the product’s evolution from initial idea until market retirement; 
  • Tracing in-market product configurations to support upgrades and/or maintenance;
  • Working within stringent product regulations and compliance rules especially with wearable devices with medical features.

Major challenge: a plethora of potential uses and designs

Major challenges in developing an end-to-end product development strategy for wearable products are their many potential uses, designs and markets. These include embedded accessories, from watches to stethoscopes, and encompass multiple industry disciplines in garment making, consumer goods, medical devices, semiconductors and more. It is a complex design, engineering, procurement and production chain with various types of companies that usually haven’t worked together. Complicating this further are a high degree of specialization and tools used to design, engineer and validate these products. Wearable devices merge the fashion and high-tech markets, two of the most intense regarding time-to-market demands and shortest product demand windows. A sophisticated and streamlined product development process workflow is needed to deliver devices on time amid a ramp-up fraught with delay risks, integration issues and fixed market deadlines.

Need to leverage product lifecycle management capabilities

To capitalize on this nascent market’s potential, manufacturers need to rethink and refine their current processes leveraging end-to-end product lifecycle management (PLM) capabilities tailored to efficiently and consistently deliver wearable devices to market.  PLM describes the overall capability supporting a product’s evolution. This includes initial product ideation, requirement definition, conception, design, development, test, launch, ramp up, enhancement and retirement.  PLM integrates business processes, product data and vested parties to create a streamlined and unified workflow for efficiently delivering products to market. For more, go to Accenture’s Billion Dollar Lever PLM Report

Designing a standard PLM approach for wearable technology

The right product lifecycle management approach will be dictated by the needs of the specific wearable technology to be designed and manufactured, coupled with resources available to make that happen. Although this will often be a tailored process, Accenture’s PLM experiences point to a consistent set of steps manufacturers can take to enhance their PLM implementation:

  1. Understand your current PLM processes

Manufacturers should document, examine and streamline their innovation, product development and supply chain processes. This includes reviewing applications, metrics, organization, collaborators and data that enable the current end-to-end processes and evaluating effectiveness and value of each component. Questions that should be addressed: What is working? What isn’t?  What can be kept? Where are there redundancies? Where can changes be made to streamline production?

  1. Build a single enterprise PLM roadmap

It’s paramount to have a single unified PLM roadmap connecting and consolidating all current PLM capabilities, thereby improving activities and investments. This will help provide a baseline of current maturity levels and reduce redundant or conflicting procedures within product development and the supply chain.  Using one roadmap will also offer a common language and plan to align constituents, thereby increasing the likelihood of quick adoption for PLM improvements. Once the roadmap is formalized, appointing a standalone group within the company to govern PLM evolution will further optimize PLM investments.

  1. Make your PLM accessible

Walled-off corporate silos are a deterrent to successfully implementing PLM in  wearable technology markets. Numerous internal and external parties, who need to be informed about what others are doing, are likely to be involved. Working in a vacuum will create a more expensive, lower quality product.  It’s crucial all PLM parties link to each other’s work processes and share a consistent data source. 

  1. Invest, invest, invest

PLM is the capability that underpins the critical world of product development.  If gaps are identified in people, processes and technologies, manufacturers should devote resources to bridge them. Ignoring this problem to save money, or creating a temporary workaround, will exacerbate matters and may cause a chain reaction that compounds problems in other supply chain areas.  Manufacturers who lack expertise in wearable technologies should develop solid relationships with more knowledgeable parties, collaborators and start-up companies. Manufacturing wearable technology involves multiple disciplines, it’s unlikely all the needed capacities exist in-house.

  1. Use corporate and product priorities to measure the effectiveness of your PLM strategy

The group in charge of pushing the PLM framework should outline five-to-ten business metrics for tracking its effectiveness. To pinpoint those metrics, these questions need to be addressed: What are the goals they are trying to accomplish? Is this supply chain component getting the job done? These metrics ensure PLM meets its key targets and all available resources are being used efficiently. Without controls in place, it’s easy for wearable technology production operations to get sidetracked. Manufacturers should consistently check these metrics.

A solid product lifecycle management foundation will provide core capabilities for managing new complexities of designing and producing wearable technologies.  Along the way, PLM can be con­figured and expanded to further increase business performance. Manufacturers with foresight to create and align their PLM frameworks to the needs of wearable products will greatly improve their odds of capturing profits and market share in this promising new market.

Kevin Prendeville is a Managing Director with Accenture’s Product Lifecycle Services practice. He can be reached at [email protected].

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