Digitizing a Thing’s Lifecycle, Part I: Life Beyond Maintenance

Digitization has a profound effect on the lifecycle of a Thing from its design to its decommissioning.

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Don’t we love stories of IoT (Internet of Things) and how predictive maintenance delivers economic value? We are fascinated by the phase of a Thing’s life that deals with operations and maintenance. Many consider a digital twin as a means to proactively monitor the beloved Thing while it is being used, a shadow.

What happens when the Thing is born? What happens before it is born? Does digitization impact the poor Thing’s Lifecycle?

This article is the first in a series discussing the digitization of a Thing’s lifecycle from design to demise. We’ll look at the lifecycle of a Thing from a builder’s and buyer’s perspective, across design, manufacturing, procurement, and use.

Let’s explore if we can give it more care through its life, not just when it is about to break and we have to send in the cavalry to prevent it from breaking.

Digitizing a Thing’s Lifecycle = Product and Asset Lifecycle

To do justice to a Thing’s life, we need to look at the creation side of its life and the consumption side of its life.

Creators (Makers) call the Thing a product, buyers of the thing consider it an asset.

A discussion on the Thing Lifecycle must then include both builder and buyer perspectives.

The graphic below shows the Thing Lifecycle in 4 lifecycle stages across creation and consumption, shown left to right from the builder and the buyer perspectives.

Digitization Process - Buyer vs. Builder Perspective
  1. Design: How the product is conceived and prototyped by the builder
  2. Manufacture: How the product is built in volume and the logistics of inventory, shipping, and returns are managed by the builder
  3. Procure: How the asset and associated services are procured by the buyer (e.g. owned vs. leased)
  4. Use: How the asset is put to productive use by the buyer over its economic life until it is decommissioned. This includes its operations and maintenance.

In these still early days of IoT, most discussions are focused on extracting efficiencies in stage 4 where the asset is put to daily use, e.g. maximizing overall equipment efficiencies (OEE) for equipment on a manufacturing floor.

However, digitization of a thing impacts all four lifecycle stages. There are efficiencies to be had from each stage: efficiencies in materials and processes, optimizing durability and strength etc. We are still in the beginning stages of re-imagining the Thing across its entire lifecycle to maximize value extraction.

A Thing’s Life Zoomed In

Here is a closer look at the Thing’s Life across the four lifecycle stages. The following illustrates key capabilities and activities we perform in each stage.

Digitization Lifecycle, Product and Asset Lifecycle

Everything goes aflutter with digitization. All aspects of the four stages are changing.

Each stage impacts the other. Technology innovations and consumption preferences ripple through all stages.

Here are the key changes in each phase due to digitization:

  1. Design: Assets are connected, intelligent, and use modern materials. Designers leverage modern robotic and additive manufacturing processes for fabrication. Contract Manufacturers (CM) participate in the design stage and become Original Design Manufacturers (ODM).
  2. Manufacture: New manufacturing processes (e.g. Robotics and 3D printing) bring more flexibility to fabrication. This allows for not just built-to-order improvements and mass customization, but it reduces waste, alters forward and reverse logistics, increases durability, and reduces the number of parts.
  3. Procure: Beyond owning or leasing, an asset can be purchased including its operations. Asset-as-a-service business models are becoming more prevalent with IoT. How the asset is accounted for (capital lease vs. operating lease vs. subscription) is changing. How the asset is insured is changing due to changes in expected economic life, residual value, and liability for operations (e.g. onus to insure autonomous cars split between driver and automotive OEM).
  4. Use: This is the most commonly discussed phase in IoT. All aspects of the asset’s operation can be monitored, recorded and optimized. Assets can be remotely controlled. Asset’s life can be extended via selective parts upgrades vs. full replacement.

Twins for Life: Bridging Design and Use

Digital prototypes have existed ever since computer-aided design (CAD) came into prominence. However, digital prototypes were never used by buyers or builders across the lifecycle of the product or asset.

Digitization Process, Physical vs. Digital Twin

Always-on connectivity is bridging that divide between physical and digital twins, from phase 1 through phase 4.

IoT enables the Thing and its twin to stay in touch throughout its life, not just during conception.

As the physical thing “ages” in the field, the digital twin can virtually inherit its properties, making the Thing’s twin live.

A few examples of how this lifecycle view is driving vendor behaviour in design and use stages:

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Summary

Digitization has a profound effect on the lifecycle of a Thing from its design to its decommissioning. That effect goes beyond new degrees of freedom in design and manufacturing stages to procurement and use. Design is influenced by new ways of producing, owning, and operating smart and connected products.

Product strategies, M&A’s, alliances and sourcing strategies change for product firms as the thing lifecycle is digitized. Digital twin is no longer a static digital prototype, but stays connected to the physical thing and ages with it.

In the 21st century, a thing and its digital twin are very much intertwined.

Stay tuned for future discussions on how digitization impacts each stage of a Thing’s Life.