Speeding Innovation in the Smart Tech World

As smart technologies proliferate in the modern world, the industry is experiencing a widening gap between coming up with ideas and having the ability to execute them.

“If we look at product innovation across the electronics industry and across all markets, we see trend where complexity of product design goes through the roof,” Dr. Erik H. Volkerink, chief technology officer of Flextronics, told EBN in an interview. “The tools are not keeping pace. That growing gap is causing a lot of challenges, while time to market pressures is paramount. Fundamentally, a different paradigm is required for product innovation.”

Dr. Erik H. Volkerink, CTO, Flextronics.

Dr. Erik H. Volkerink, CTO, Flextronics.

Today, Volkerink will present a keynote on this topic at the Silicon Valley Open Innovation Summit, being held in conjunction with EE Live!, being held in San Jose. The talk, titled Accelerating Product Innovation: Solving Complexity and Productivity Gap, hopes to propose a new approach to product innovation.

As the electronics industry moves from the old school analog past, through its current digital approach to a market that is focused almost solely on smart products, the approach that designers take needs to evolve too, Volkerink believes. “Smart products are really about putting more intelligence in products,” he added, pointing to the adaptability, context awareness, location awareness, and networkability of these devices. “It adds a tremendous amount of complexity for engineers.”

To maintain and accelerate the speed of innovation, the electronics industry needs to move from a system of closed innovation to one of open innovation, Volkerink said. “We can go deeper with product innovations if we have building blocks in key areas: sensors and actuators, human machine interface, connectivity, semiconductors, smart software, flexible technologies, and battery and power,” he added.

These seven areas are all interrupters of innovation. “It takes a lot of time and effort to understand what these building blocks are about,” said Volkerink. “By creating an ecosystem and building blocks, we hope to provide better time to market by creating a foundation that products can be built on.”

This open development approach would bring together members from throughout the electronics industry to qualify technology building blocks. “To turn outside technologies from electronic design companies, universities, startups, or research institutes into a usable building block requires a rigorous process,” Volkerink said. “I think that, together as an industry, we could figure out what qualification should like.”

Ensuring that building blocks work seamlessly together would require a close look at all the elements of a product, including physical, mechanical, electromechanical, communications standards, supply chain certifications, logistics, and business challenges. The end result of this type of collaboration would be the development of common terminology, standards, and tools, Volkerink said.

Open source initiatives are nothing new in the technology, with open source Web servers and Mozilla providing excellent examples of successful collaboration. “Those are really examples of a large ecosystem of people working together,” said Volkerink. “So the call to action is for people to work together on the standardization of smart products, including tool providers, test providers, component providers, venture capitalists, startups, large OEMs, institutes, universities, and more.”

9 comments on “Speeding Innovation in the Smart Tech World

  1. t.alex
    April 3, 2014

    With internet and open-source approach towards development, innovation is reaching a higher speed. New knowledge can be acquired faster, new market can be easily developed and companies have to keep on learning and innovating. 

  2. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    April 4, 2014

    I think that involvement in open source projects is going to be, in the not too distant future, a matter of course for most engineers. It's a good way to demonstrate expertise, it helps products to evolve more quickly and in new directions, and i think innovation is improved when many thinkers spur each other on.

  3. _hm
    April 5, 2014

    It is very difficult for me understand that – how one can plan and speed up innovation? If that can be done, is that innovation or just new design.

    Innovation can happen anywhere and one may be innovator with very little resources. Time line for this pretty much random. But how can you plan and speed up innovation?

  4. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    April 9, 2014

    I think that it may be a matter of allowing designers “white space” time for playing around wiht new technologies or researching new ideas. Those engineers that are forced to keep their nose to the grindstone all the time simply won't ever have an opportunity to think about anything other than what is happening right now.

  5. _hm
    April 10, 2014

    @Hailey: Yes, that is what is happening. And due to this, new ideas which lead to some innovation gets compromised.


  6. SunitaT
    April 25, 2014

    More design complexities mean:

    1.            More pressure created in designers and engineers

    2.            Without understanding the product design, marketing cannot be done efficiently

    3.            Lots of resources necessary to understand and use the building blocks of product design

    However, this gap will slowly reduce itself, because if some parts of the industry are moving slow, other parts of the industry are moving fast, and the knowledge from these parts will affect the design and marketing principles for a product. Only technology can solve the problems associated with designing. The building blocks will be easily understood if designers follow that kind of technology which makes the designing of a product with the use of these blocks easy.

  7. Anand
    April 26, 2014

    @t.alex: True enough. Though the knowledge that is acquired (as far as management is concerned) has to be different from the competition otherwise the marketing of a product would suffer similar hiccups if it is to follow the footsteps of other marketing ideas.

  8. t.alex
    May 6, 2014

    anandvy, in that case let's just remove the management 🙂 let the actual innovators drive!

    August 19, 2014


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