How to Leverage CAD Computer Software to Get Product Insights Faster

Written By: Dave Martin
  • CAD
  • 1/24/2019
  • Read Time : 2 min
Smart, connected assistant wired to send data back to manufacturer

Years ago, I was the in-house Creo Parametric support person in charge of process development, training, and user support for Amazon’s Lab126 division. If you’ve never heard of Lab126, it is the Silicon Valley-based hardware division, responsible for designing tablets, readers, Fire TV, and Amazon Echo.

Amazon prides itself on being a data-driven company, and this can be seen in its success from its flagship website to Amazon Web Services (the cloud), to its electronics products. (The Echo is almost everywhere these days and “Alexa” has become part of our cultural lexicon.)

Why is being data driven so critical to success? Because harnessing data-- specifically, data about your products and how your customers use them - provides you with product insights. And computer-aided design (CAD) software can help you with this.

What Are Product Insights?

Product insights tell us how our products are being used and more importantly how we can make them better. Product insights get to the truth about our customers.
Software- and internet-based companies have traditionally had an advantage in harvesting these insights over companies that make physical products. Software and apps can send in-depth usage reports back to the home company via internet and cloud solutions. Physical and hardware products didn’t have those capabilities - at least, not until the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT).

In the past, once a physical product left the factory, product development organizations had no direct knowledge of how the product was being used. To gain product insights, companies solicited information from customers in the forms of surveys, interviews, questionnaires, service reports, and so on, hoping the responses truly represented their audience. This approach obviously has flaws and limitations.

Product Insights tell us how products are used

With the advent of smart, connected products, devices can now provide the information directly to us. (Amazon discovered this secret years ago; virtually every product from Lab126 from Day One has been smart and connected.)

Using CAD to Design Products That “Call Home”

How do we use CAD to gain better product insights fast? There are essentially two ways, and they are related:

  • Design products with internet connectivity. For customers, connected products can receive software updates and provide a broad-range of wireless features. For product developers, connectivity can report on which product functions our customers access and how long they engage with the product.
  • Embed sensors directly in our products to measure performance and health. Sensors can measure quantities like strain, pressure, and temperature so we can understand the operating environments of our products. Add some of internet connectivity, and sensors provide data we can then feed back into our CAD models as load cases to our simulation and analysis models.

Including these electronics as part of our design pays off. They help us quickly see:

  • Opportunities to cut the number of physical prototypes and tests needed during development.
  • What changes we need to make to our existing products - while they’re in the field.
  • What products to make in the next generation.

Tips and Tricks for CAD Designers

  • To locate these smart components, we apply Middle-Out design techniques. That is, we add devices like antennas, receivers, transmitters, and processors, as well as sensors for measuring product health, just as you would aftermarket elements like fasteners and cabling.
  • Electrical clearance and creepage analysis within the CAD system can validate that we’re placing these components in the right place.
  • To make the most of the data, we also add analytics to help make sense of the what products are trying to tell us.

Product insights allow design engineers to respond to the needs of the customer faster, allowing us to change or pivot as necessary to increase customer satisfaction and market share. CAD can help us achieve this.

Infographic: Design for the IoT

 

Tags:
  • CAD

About the Author

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is a former Creo, Windchill, and Mathcad instructor and consultant. After leaving PTC, he was the Creo specialist for Amazon; and a mechanical engineer, Creo administrator, and Windchill administrator for Amazon Prime Air. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and currently works as an avionics engineer for Blue Origin. 


Martin is the author of the books Design Intent in Creo Parametric and Top Down Design in Creo Parametric--both available at www.amazon.com. He can be reached at dmartin@creowindchill.com.