Manufacturers of all types are beginning to see the tremendous potential the Internet of Things (IoT) presents for their businesses. In basic terms, IoT refers to connections between machines and connections from machine to people (and back), and the resulting capabilities they represent.
Some of our articles have covered the way IoT makes it possible to streamline production and maintenance; this post is about the potential it has to help manufacturers deepen their relationships with customers.
Today, IoT is being widely used to improve product design and performance, but there’s also much being done using the same technologies to improve customers’ experiences with enhanced and expanded services. This means that in addition to selling products, manufacturers that leverage IoT technologies can also generate revenue through services.
Moving Beyond a Product-only Mentality
If you manufacture a product and connect that product through sensors and microprocessors to other smart devices, you create a network that could drive data that allows you to provide a service customers will pay for. If you make commercial sprinkler equipment, for example, you know that your customer must have a service technician inspect the equipment to ensure it’s properly functioning and compliant with local and state codes. With IoT, sensors automatically reporting the health of the system —monitoring water intake, valve performance and other basic functions—give you the ability to remotely inspect the systems.
Data is transmitted automatically to the manufacturer, analytics are applied and technical issues can be automatically resolved. It can also help speed repairs because “red flags” are sent immediately—there’s no waiting for someone to notice that something isn’t working properly.
Beyond that, imagine the possibilities for self-directed customer service: If your IoT initiatives included a dashboard the customer could access to view the overall health and performance of a system, they, too, can set corrective actions in place before a small issue becomes a much larger (and more costly) problem.
Monitoring and tracking customer usage of your equipment gives you the information you need to offer more practical pricing options. Knowing the duration, frequency and seasonality of use, you can offer pricing models that align with needs rather than set prices. This approach may result in greater revenue from some customers and less for others, but it differentiates you among manufacturers and will help make you more attractive to most as you take the extra steps to align with their specific needs.
Develop Better Products
IoT monitoring also helps manufacturers understand their customers’ behaviors, which of course leads to even greater ability to develop products. It tells you how customers use your products, how often, when, why…just about anything you want to know. With this information you can continually modify and fine-tune equipment to function in the way that’s most cost-effective for the customer.
A case that illustrates the way IoT leads to better products is Trane. Based on data collected from dozens of sensors during its HVAC systems’ operation they’ve been able to better understand what happens in real-life operating environments rather than just knowing the initial product design. As a result, they’ve been able to broaden their product design to focus beyond the mechanical aspects of an HVAC unit to also tackle how it relates to other building systems, how it can be managed as part of that system and what incremental functions it could perform, such as matching its operation to building occupancy. This is a significant shift in focus from the time when they made an HVAC unit, sold it to a building owner and only heard from the customer when something went wrong.
Today all this is possible; tomorrow it will be expected. Will you be ready? Talk with one of our manufacturing experts about the potential for IoT to extend your value to customers, and about simple, cost-effective ways we may be able to help you get started.