The Crucial Role of ODMs in Overcoming IoT Project Challenges

How partnering with an original design manufacturer (ODM) can accelerate product time to market, broaden access to skills and expertise, and streamline certification processes.

5 Min Read
Smart grid runs on smart IoT product design, engineering, manufacturing
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At a Glance

  • What an ODM is and does
  • Benefits to applications
  • Key project implementation steps

The successful incorporation of IoT capability into a new product depends on how well many different teams align to bring compelling new offerings to the marketplace. The fundamental ingredients for winning include time-to-market; total cost of the solution; regulatory compliance; proper certification (for all markets); security; and a future-proofed development path. These success factors traverse a series of disciplines including R&D, design, engineering, manufacturing, and front-office business considerations.

Getting your timing right is essential to avoiding pitfalls: Go to market too early and sales targets will suffer; too late and rivals will have dominated the market. If your product is great but cost spirals out of control it will be too expensive for the business case to sustain. If you don’t know which certifications and regulations apply, and how to gain approvals, you will encounter delays that can extend into many months. Finally, you need to optimize all your processes from the original idea through R&D through every step through market distribution.

Overcoming these challenges requires a long shopping list of skills, resources, and the capacity for your organization to assemble and integrate them. Beyond a few outside of the world’s largest companies, most organizations will find it impractical to build these abilities in-house in the short timeframe that most IoT projects face. In addition, for many companies, their core skill doesn't include immersing themselves in the intricacies of IoT device regulations in a distant region or gaining an in-depth understanding of the latest low-power cellular technologies.

What’s needed is a means to accelerate and simplify IoT product introduction.

IoT powers point-of-sale retail devices

What an ODM provides

One answer to these challenges that is becoming increasingly popular is to collaborate with an original design manufacturer (ODM). The ODM either creates or takes the original specifications of the company it serves and then builds a design to meet product specifications. An ODM makes it possible to take a product to market without having to completely design hardware and without needing massive investment in development teams or production facilities. The ODM essentially provides a service under which the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) retains ownership of the design, having created the specification, and the ODM handles much of the complexity involved in bringing a design to reality.

ODMs such as Ikotek, established in 2019 in San Diego, California, USA, offer the flexibility for organizations to take advantage of flexible engagement models for services in the ODM portfolio such as electronic manufacturing services (EMS), joint development, and manufacturing. Companies can choose what they use to accelerate their projects — from retaining some internal resources to effectively outsourcing everything to an ODM.

What does “everything” mean? The full-ODM approach typically encompasses the determination of product specifications; system design; selection of preferred suppliers; mechanical designs; schematics entry; placement and routing; design validation; and EMS, which incorporates design for manufacturing or test (DFX) services. The customer organization is only tasked with setting out its goals and the final approval of the solution.

IoT devices power distribution & logistics.png

Ways an ODM can benefit applications

Consider, for example, a machine maker who wants to add asset tracking capability to its hardware to serve customers—or a logistics firm needing IoT capability to track over-the-road trailers or a shipping fleet. The solution needs more than connectivity; it also needs to ensure a global service footprint is enabled as well as customizations to accommodate different cellular technologies or frequency bands. In addition, it would require considerations such as the proprietary dimensioning of software client mechanisms during the introduction of deep sleep, specific connection retrying, or watchdog functions.

Consider another application, smart-grid metering: OEMs need flexible offerings for different markets, therefore IoT devices must accommodate plug-and-play communications solutions. Meters need the ability to move from one cellular technology to another or to replace cellular with an alternative. The situation is made more challenging than many applications because of the long lifespan of devices. In this market, total cost of ownership (TCO) is also a priority because meters need to be equipped with features that support remote maintenance and troubleshooting mechanisms.

Steps for Successful IoT Implementation

ODMs can solve the common challenges of large-scale IoT rollouts such as these by applying in-depth experience and knowledge of best practices to deployments of all types. Ikotek has set out the key steps for successful implementations. These include:

  • Selection of the correct communication technology,

  • Specification of an optimal communication module

  • Tailored printed circuit board design,

  • Component sourcing

  • Desired level of robustness and durability

  • Setting of parameters for software client behavior

  • Smooth integration of hardware and software into the target environment

  • Test plan optimization and execution in the lab and the field

  • Quality assurance from design to manufacturing

Since its establishment, Ikotek has been helping customers create and manufacture devices such as trackers for assets, shipping, electric bikes and vehicles, smart meters for electricity, gas & water utilities; industrial PDA and point of sale equipment; edge IoT products; and networking equipment for fixed wireless access and customer premise equipment.

With manufacturing locations in China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brazil, Ikotek also has a global network of R&D centers and sales offices. These include centers in Vancouver, Canada, Belgrade, Serbia, Penang, Malaysia, and Shanghai, China. The company has more than 4,000 square meters of total laboratory area, comprising more than 5,000 test stations. Ikotek also offers testing services for customers’ devices to help them reduce costs and accelerate time to market.

IoT is rapidly maturing as formerly discrete products become connected and new business cases are created either based on new concepts or relying on adding connectivity to established products. Delay and inefficiency can cause projects to fail so the appeal of utilizing an ODM is growing in appeal. What it comes down to is that ODMs can get you to market faster, more cost-effectively, and with greater flexibility and performance.

About the Author(s)

Steve Burrington

Vice President of Engineering, NA, Ikotek

Steve Burrington, Ikotek vice president of engineering, NA, is a 25-year veteran of leading large and medium-sized wireless product development teams. He has extensive experience getting a diverse range of products to market using both organic development and JDM partnerships. He comes to Ikotek from CalAmp, where he served as vice president of engineering for telematics-based products. He also held vice president of Engineering roles at Netgear and Sierra Wireless.

 Vladimir Rakic

EMEA R&D Director, Ikotek

Vladimir Rakic, Ikotek EMEA R&D director, brings more than 15 years of engineering, sales, and management expertise to Ikotek, with strong technical skills gained in IoT design, consulting, and certification services for Tier 1 mobile operators and device vendors. He has extensive experience across IoT verticals including automotive, energy, payment, and healthcare. Previous roles include software development director at Ibis Solutions; head of IoT at umlaut’s global division; and the engineering team at mobile network operator A1.

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