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Software is the product; hardware the platform

04 April 2013

Software is everywhere these days. Most of us cannot get through our day without interacting with a software product. PTC’s Matt Klassen discusses the impact software is having on discrete manufacturing.

Matt Klassen
Matt Klassen

Software is putting the intelligence in all of the smart products we interact with from the alarms on our cell phones, to the navigation in our cars and the security cards we use to access our workplace. Our day is simply not the same without products that rely on software.

Software in products has been a topic of interest for several decades now. However, in the last ten years, a significant shift has occurred for discrete manufacturers. Now the functionality and differentiation in many everyday products is found in the software. As this trend continues, software may in fact become the product, while hardware will be the platform.

Realising the power of software and its growing importance, many leading manufacturers are making changes in the way they develop products, taking on many new approaches.

Driving innovation and differentiation: software allows manufacturers to create a unique user experience with products. Ford’s CTO said that more than half of the buyers of Ford vehicles do so, in part, because of the Ford Sync and Ford My Touch technologies – features driven by software.

Providing more product variants: millions of lines of software are turning cars into computers on wheels, and the software is often the only difference between models. Some offer complex navigation or infotainment systems, while some provide packages that positively influence driving behaviour and improve safety. By simply changing existing software-controlled functionality, automotive manufacturers can offer a variety of models built on a single vehicle platform.

Reducing product manufacturing costs: a company that manufactures ten million units of a product and saves $5 per device by moving functionality from custom hardware components into custom software that runs on a commoditised component, saves $50 million dollars in manufacturing costs. it is really that simple. This approach is being adopted by manufacturers in a variety of sectors, from aerospace to medical device manufacturing.

Improving customer satisfaction after product delivery: there are many ways to improve customer satisfaction, but software updates can actually allow a well-designed product to improve over time. Think about a cell phones or smart devices; simply downloading a software update very quickly provides the user with significant advancements and a completely different experience.

However, for the vast majority of discrete manufacturers, this completely new way of developing products comes with very different and often overwhelming challenges. The rapid transition towards the industrialisation of software has caught many manufacturers off guard.

The resulting exponential growth in the complexity of product development has far exceeded the ability of many organisations to cope with the changes required. Now, companies that we once thought of as hardware companies are, in effect, becoming software companies facing completely new design and development challenges.

Common challenges
Balancing innovation and the proliferation of product variants. In struggling to manage product variants, manufacturers often use manual processes that result in significant overhead and cripple innovation.

Coping with the high velocity and volume of change. For many manufacturers, software accounts for the most significant portion of engineering changes. And because changes are rarely isolated to just one discipline, they have to be managed across software, mechanical, and electrical teams to avoid negative impact on time-to-market, product quality or product cost.

Visibility into software release readiness. Historically, manufacturers have been able to track development and production by seeing the physical results, but software readiness is much harder to see and understand. Without the proper tools, it is nearly impossible to track progress, quality, and compliance.

Ensuring product quality. While software does drive innovation, it does not implicitly improve product quality, making it imperative that quality is designed into the software development process.

Meeting customer requirements. In order to address growing customer demands, manufacturers must be able seamlessly to incorporate requirements into product planning and throughout the entire development lifecycle.

Happily, these challenges can be managed with the right people, processes, and technology. First, the significance of software within an organisation must be recognised by elevating its software management roles to match those of other engineering disciplines. Second, it is critical that key software development processes are standardised across the enterprise. Moreover, an integral lifecycle management approach should be considered such that development artifacts can be managed and connected and processes can be automated.

Discrete manufacturing organisations that make investments to ensure software development is effectively managed and thus accelerate product innovation, will not only become industry leaders, but will ultimately achieve a sustained competitive advantage.

Matt Klassen is product & solution marketing manager of PTC's Integrity Business Unit

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