Using Customer IoT Data to Improve Products

Companies are mining IoT data from the field to track customer usage and improve design.

As companies figure out how to manage IoT data, how to store it, and how to analyze it, it’s becoming clear that data coming back from customer usage can have a considerable impact on the next iteration of the product. There’s plenty of promise for connecting cloud-based PLM systems to IoT management systems. As a result, engineers could get data that reveals exactly how the product acts in the hands of the customer.

Arena Solutions, IoT, field data, product design, design team, quality team, privacy, securityHow about a coffeemaker that’s connected via IoT? That may sound silly, but there are connected coffee makes already on the market by Nespresso, Starbucks, and others.

With IoT data coming from the coffee maker, engineers can find out:

  •       How many cups of coffee customers are making every day
  •       Whether the coffeemaker is in a warm office or a garage
  •       How well it’s performing
  •       How often it's being used
  •       Whether the coffee is hot when it comes out of the filter

And so on. Information like this might lead to the creation of an entirely new product: a coffee maker designed to make perfect coffee in a cold garage.

The product data will give the design team an accurate view of the aggregate use of the product, which can alter future design decisions. “With the telemetric data coming from an IoT-connected product, you can see the environment of the product and see how the product is used,” Steve Chalgren, EVP of engineering and CTO at Arena Solutions, told Design News. “You can see how many cups of coffee the user is making. If they’re turning it on twice a day to make 10 cups, how long with that switch last?”

The Feedback Loop in the Cloud

The data coming in from the product changes the nature of the company that’s making the product. Suddenly, software becomes a critical part of the company’s management. “The IoT makes a physical product company into a cloud company,” said Chalgren. “From product development side, it’s a feedback loop that hasn’t existed with physical products before.”

One of the industrial sectors that most aggressively seeks customer behavior is the automotive industry. “The feedback is invaluable for automotive companies. Automakers get to see how customers are using their vehicles. That feedback is the holy grail for physical product companies,” said Chalgren. “Before, you had to do surveys from warrantee cards. Then they’d go to maintenance records to see if customers are driving the car hard.”

For the design team, data on how customers use the product can go right into the design of the next generation of the product. “It’s amazing how the feedback informs the product development process. It takes the guesswork out. In the past, you talked with customers to get feedback after the fact. But that’s like a crime scene where everything is remembered inaccurately,” said Chalgren. “Now you can see whether people are actually using a particular feature. It becomes this virtuous cycle of product information.”

What About Customer Privacy?

For Arena Solutions, the notion of watching how customers use the product is not an abstract concept. Arena watches how its PLM tools are getting deploy by users. “We see an opportunity to use IoT data, and we’re working to deliver it for our customers. At Arena, we can see user and customer behavior. We use it to make the product better,” said Chalgren. “It’s part of the loop to enhance our product. We can see how they’re using each page -- are they getting stuck and cancelling out?”



Chalgren makes it clear there are boundaries and procedures to make sure that observing product usage does not include observing individual customers. “Watching customer behavior doesn’t require personal data. We have very strict data security, so we’re not roaming around in people’s data,” said Chalgren. “There are standard operating procedures. We look at customer processes and we see it in an aggregate way.”

What Are Companies Doing with IoT-Obtained Data?

As well as feeding IoT data to the design team, it can also be piped to the quality team. “You can use the data to track quality issues. How many devices are out there? What’s the acceptable rate of bad devices? If the rate of bad devices goes above an acceptable rate, does it trigger a response?” said Chalgren. “You can connect the data into the PLM or quality management system. Pragmatically, it’s very easy to do. Those integrations are not hard to write.”

The concept of monitoring IoT data on products in the field has been around for a few years. But is it in fact happening, or is it just talk, just a promise? “When I talk to people in the Valley, they have the data and they’re looking at the data as part of their product development,” said Chalgren. “That is surely happening. They’re connecting the data into the PLM. Yet in most cases outside the Valley, it’s more of a promise than it’s actually being done.”


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Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Image courtesy of Arena Solutions.

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