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Insights Unlocked

3 Posts authored by: Sigi Gross Employee

Bill Hewlett used to say that measurement is the key to changing behavior. For example, if a driver wants to consume less gasoline in a car, measuring how driving habits affect gas mileage is the way to go. If a homeowner wants to use less electricity, measuring consumption over the course of a typical 24-hour day would reveal where usage is highest and thus where savings can be made. The “aha” moment—whether for consumers or product engineers—almost always comes from measurement. That’s what ends up driving a big change or breakthrough. Measurement is what brings insight, improvement, and innovation. It’s especially true in electronics because human beings do not have the senses to “measure” variations in electrical phenomena. Instrumentation is the only way to do it.

 

I’ve seen proof of the connection between measurement and innovation in the high tech world many times over the years. And I know from experience that the bigger the innovation, the stronger the connection. Here are three scenarios where I think it’s vital for manufacturers to “look beyond the catalog” when working with a measurement vendor. In each of these cases, manufacturers found that collaborating with a measurement supplier as a true partner was the key to bringing innovations to market.

 

Scenario 1: The technology you’re bringing to market goes far beyond existing technologies.

Incremental advances in technology can usually leverage existing test instruments. But big, disruptive advances in technology often require a similar leap forward in test and measurement equipment and processes. One good example is terabit transmission in long-haul optical links. This technology is in high demand and evolving quickly due to the explosive increase in internet traffic. The technological innovation required to achieve terabit transmission speeds was made possible only through the cooperation between measurement companies and manufacturers: Optical modulation technologies could be developed, characterized, and finally produced only by creating a new category of measurement instruments—today’s optical modulation analysis tools. 

 

Scenario 2: Your innovation crosses domains from one market to another.

There are many examples of innovations that were initially developed for one market or industry and then found their way into other markets. Tech-laden innovations from the electronics manufacturing world can make the jump, but quite often, the cross-over requires input from a measurement vendor to address deployment challenges and measurement problems. For example:  

  • Connected car technology. Most cars today have a radio unit that connects the car through the wireless network to the internet, making these cars essentially fast-moving cell phones. Many car makers have experience designing mechanical and electro-mechanical systems, and can benefit from the deep insight a measurement company brings to the game with rich experience in testing wireless systems. Expertise across both domains is table stakes when developing today’s vehicles.
  • Phased-array antenna technology. Widely deployed in aerospace/defense applications, this technology is now crossing over to the automotive world with breakthroughs in adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, and collision avoidance/mitigation systems. The challenge in automotive applications is related to consumer expectations—the technology needs to be small, affordable, and utterly reliable to be viable in consumer applications. While phased-array technology might be new to automotive engineers, it’s well known to measurement vendors who have experience in aerospace/defense. Automotive manufacturers can tap that expertise to more quickly integrate the technology.

 

A Keysight customer recently made the case for collaboration between manufacturers and test vendors when crossing domains. “With 5G…we’re tapping into an area of the radio spectrum that has been a big unknown for the mobile industry,” said Woojune Kim, vice president of Next-Generation Strategy, Samsung Electronics, in a recent press release. “Being able to work closely with Keysight and leveraging their expertise with network simulation, RF, and millimeter wave technologies is an advantage for our product validation efforts.”

 

Scenario 3: You need to transform a manufacturing process to meet business goals.

One of our customers, a large Asian manufacturer of lithium-ion battery cells, had a business challenge, a process challenge, and ultimately a measurement challenge for Keysight. The company’s manufacturing process typically yielded a number of battery cells that got flagged for retesting in post-production test. Retesting is expensive: The cells are charged, measurements are taken over a period of a few weeks, and finally the level of discharge is calculated. The expense comes not only in lost time but also in warehousing: cells needed to be stored somewhere while they’re self-discharging, adding inventory expense to the manufacturing process. The customer had a measurement request for Keysight: Could we find a way to reduce their retest cycle from three or four weeks to one hour? Behind it were the twin business goals of reducing inventory and reducing production-related expenses. Our answer was to invent a new product—a self-discharge analyzer—that uses advanced voltage and current matching techniques to measure a battery’s discharge rate in less than an hour. This solution eliminated both the self-discharge wait time and the inventory storage space for retesting batteries. It’s one of my favorite examples of how collaboration between a measurement vendor and a manufacturer can trigger significant innovations—at the business level, the process level, and the product level.  

 

I’ve seen each of these three scenarios play out over my career. Today I'm more convinced than ever that collaboration is the catalyst for all great innovations in electronics manufacturing. What about you? Where do you think manufacturers and measurement teams are having the biggest impact? Comment on this post and share your story. I’m willing to bet you know additional scenarios where manufacturers and their measurement partners are changing the world.

Is your life ruled by electronics? Mine is. It seems that everything I do—from opening a garage door to adjusting the thermostat to tracking my heartbeats during a workout—relies on electronic sensors that are embedded not just in my devices but in my life. That’s why I’m always surprised to hear people refer to electronic measurement as a “mature” industry. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

The electronics industry that I work in is a hotbed of innovation. It has evolved from the early days when we used sensors to measure the physical and operational nature of devices to confirm that they were working correctly. Today, we tie these sensors into distributed networks, and we connect them to centralized computing engines where state-of-the-art data analysis software makes sense of the data and puts it to work.  So we’re not only collecting vast amounts of measurement data but we are also analyzing it, communicating it, and acting on it.  In this way, the convergence of electronic measurement, centralized data analysis software and communication networks is enabling manufacturers to introduce innovations that were unimaginable a few years ago.  

In my role at Keysight, I see these 5 areas evolving fast, creating new business opportunities for entrepreneurs in electronics manufacturing—and interesting new challenges for companies like mine. 

Transportation: Rolling to autonomy

A car is a rolling measurement system that collects vast amounts of data. Add data analysis and control and it becomes a proactive safety system that sees traffic slowing and applies the brakes, detects ice on the road and reduces power, and alerts you to a car in your blind spot, a deer in the road, or a bicycle behind you. The next evolutionary wave in transportation involves communications: Cars are communicating not just with the driver but with other cars and with regional transportation networks that control traffic flows through our busiest cities. Connected cars will reduce traffic jams, accidents, traffic-related injuries, emergency response times, car insurance rates, our use of fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions—and even the amount of time we spend commuting to work.

 

Healthcare: Giant steps towards personalized insight

You may already own a wristband or watch that can measure your steps, your heartrate, or your respirations when you sleep. Want to take it a step further? Add network-based data analysis and communications and that same data-collection technology can literally save lives—for example, by dialing 9-1-1 if a heart patient has an event or providing an accurate health history to an emergency responder. It may even save you money on your health insurance: If you agree to communicate your data to your health insurance provider, you might be eligible for preferred rates by proving that you run for 30 minutes twice a week or get seven hours of sleep per night. In the near future, healthcare delivery and insurance rates will be customized to you and you alone—like everything else in your digital life.

 

Aging: There’s no place like home

By 2030, one in five Americans will be over the age of 65. An AARP study says that 87 percent of them want to age in place—meaning they hope to live in their homes, not in nursing homes. Sensors and actuators make it possible, centralized data analysis and communications make it feasible. In-home systems can monitor real-time health status, detect emergency situations such as falls, and notify healthcare providers if there’s a problem. This has significant ramifications for the cost of healthcare since home-based care is a fraction of the cost of institutional care. 

 

Retail: Delivery takes off

Five years ago, drone delivery was science fiction. Today, Amazon sounds a lot like NASA, using terms like ConOps (concept of operations) to evaluate low-altitude airspace, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, command and control networks, and sense-and-avoid (SAA) technology. Nokia has already demonstrated a solution that maps a three-dimensional road system for Munich. The app identifies no-fly zones and landmarks, and ties into land- and space-based communication networks to allow retail drones to accurately deliver packages to their intended destination. It’s a great example of how measurement systems, data analysis software, and communications are creating not just new income streams but entirely new business models for established companies.

 

Workplace productivity: Making virtual a reality

In my career, the workplace has changed drastically and for the better. Hi-fidelity audio and video make it easy to have web meetings with people who are a thousand miles away. Camera-tracking technology automatically directs web video to the person who’s speaking, just as though we were sitting across the table. Soon holographic meetings will be mainstream, so virtual teams will literally be in the same room. Think of the impacts on family life, travel budgets, the environment, and product design cycles alone.

 

The convergence of electronics measurement and control, data analysis, and communications will continue to present new business models and opportunities to innovators and entrepreneurs. The transformation is happening so fast that I can barely imagine the digital world my children will inhabit. Whatever their world looks like, I’m proud to say that electronics design and test companies like Keysight will be in the mix, helping to solve these challenges so entrepreneurial companies can continue to amaze us with their innovations.

 

What does your crystal ball tell you? Leave a comment or send me an email, and share your list of the hottest opportunities you see on the horizon.

 

Siegfried  Gross is vice president and general manager of Automotive and Energy Solutions for Keysight Technologies. Read his bio.

Early in my career, I was leading a small R&D team and found ourselves in a challenge to meet a key customer’s needs and timelines.  A proposal was made for a “minimum-viable” product that could be delivered within two years. I asked my team: Should we spend the next two years of our lives, not to mention our intellect and energy, developing something that has already been done or is barely acceptable? Their answer was “No,” and what followed was a proposal for a highly differentiated product—the world’s first protocol exerciser for that technology, the descendants of which are still in use decades later in validation labs worldwide.

 

That formative experience turned my belief in innovation into an obsession. It may be an overused term, but innovation—call it disruption if you prefer—is the most important aspect of a technology company, yet it’s often sacrificed for expediency. It doesn’t have to be that way. Over the past three decades, I’ve learned that innovation is repeatable and sustainable if you do five things.

 

1. Refuse to be a fast follower.

The mistake we almost made on that early project was focusing on our competitor. If you set your strategy based on what your competitor is doing, then by definition, your competitor is the leader and you’re the follower. True, it’s important to keep tabs on competitors, but make sure your customers’ needs are driving strategy. What do they need to succeed? What problems are not being addressed? What new challenges are coming? You have to understand your customer’s business almost better than they do to identify challenges and opportunities. But that level of understanding puts you in a unique position. Rather than being a seller of products or services, you’re a value creator. You’ll find yourself creating products that don’t currently exist to solve problems your customers haven’t even identified. Think of it as a Declaration of Innovation: commit to doing something that hasn’t been done.

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2. Replace your products.

 

I truly believe that resting on success is one of the biggest failures of most companies and teams. Yet it’s what large companies often do. That’s why disruption tends to come from new, nimble startups. Large companies make a big investment in their products, and if things go well, they see a steady income stream from the investment. It’s hard to walk away, but that’s exactly what needs to happen. We’re lucky in the electronics test business because each generation of new technology renders the last generation of test equipment obsolete. You can’t do a good job testing 5G technology, for example, with 4G equipment. Last quarter’s big breakthrough? It’s in the past. The best innovators accept it and move on.

 

3. Focus on opportunities, not obstacles.

When learning to ride a motorcycle, instructors usually teach you  to deal with emergencies by focusing on the path  you want to take, not the obstacle  you’re trying to avoid. The same is true for driving a company forward. Fix your gaze on where you want to go—on solving your customer’s Big Problem with a Big Idea. To be sure, obstacles will be placed in your path. You’ll hear from your internal teams that there’s not enough budget, not enough time, or too few resources to deliver what’s being asked. Don’t believe it. Convince your team that the opportunity is non-negotiable, and change the assumptions instead. Get resources reassigned to the project. Reallocate funds. Buy time by outsourcing. Revisit the timeline. Do whatever it takes to bring your Big Idea to life. Because while meeting schedules and staying on budget are important, that’s not what the customer will remember. Solve their problem, make them successful, and you and your team will be the stuff of legend.

 

4. Get specific.

Often I hear from teams, “If we want to do this, we’ll need 2X our current budget.” My response is almost always:  Tell me exactly how much you need, why you need it, and how it will be used. Only with specifics can you get to the root cause of a problem, and that’s where innovation is born. I learned that lesson years ago with a Japanese customer that asked my team to reprogram a pulse generator in a way that really wasn’t feasible. Rather than telling the customer they couldn’t have what they wanted, we got more details. We visited their site, dug into their business, and discovered they were trying to solve an entirely different problem around productivity. So we developed a new product that met their exact needs, became a best seller for us, and opened a major new revenue stream. 

 

5. Let your team lead.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were technical geniuses, but I think one of their best inventions was on the management side of the business. They pioneered the concept of management by objective, or MBO, and it was the key to decades of innovation at Hewlett Packard. The concept behind MBO is that you define an objective, get agreement from the team that it’s the right objective, then let your team decide how to get there. And agreement means really agreeing, not dictating. It’s a conversation, an honest exploration of restrictions and ideas to build consensus. Once you have agreement, give your team the resources they need, then step aside and let them race forward. As long as the objective is clear, they’ll get there.

 

What are your keys to making innovation happen? How do you make it sustainable and repeatable? Leave a comment here and let’s keep the dream of innovation alive for a new generation of engineers.

 

Siegfried  Gross is vice president and general manager of Automotive and Energy Solutions for Keysight Technologies. Read his bio.