Sunday, December 14, 2008

Compare and contrast Issues raised in the case of ordinary consumer electronics and commercial or industrial products

Due to the ever changing world and the necessities to keep up with the new technologies and the fast changing customers’ demands, consumer products require constant upgrading during their life time. Commercial and industrial products also face another group of customers who command even more attention for better performances. [Upgrading Method]

Competition is very intense to have products that provide the best performance and at the least cost. In order to ensure that the product can survive as long as possible, ways must be created or found to fulfill the harsh requirements. Unfortunately there are no easy solutions available as the problems come not only internally but also from externally. A suitable model to represent the current situation and which can help to identify the likely sources of obstacles is important.

Derek Hitchins’s Generic Reference Model (GRM) can help. This model takes into consideration both the internalized and externalized view of the product system. The GMR internal viewpoint of a system is covered by its function and form. Basically it will champion in diagnosing and evaluating the product design’s specification. How well the product is accepted by consumer (external viewpoint) is look into by the GR (Behavior) Model. Behaviors are naturally very complex, mostly unpredictable, environmental dependant and situational. This model expresses them as emergent properties (Performance, Availability of Performance and Survivability of Performance). The overall acceptance and therefore it success of a product depends on how well these emergent properties are achieved. [Derek Hitchins, GRM]

Figure 1: Derek Hitchins’s Generic Reference Model - Internal & Emergent Properties

Issues raised in the case of ordinary consumer electronics and commercial or industrial products Upgrading” as defined in the dictionary:
  • to promote to a higher grade or rank: He has been upgraded to senior vice president
  • to improve or enhance the quality or value of: to upgrade property by landscaping it
The second explanation is more appropriate in our assignment. Issue” as defined in the dictionary:
  • “Cause, affair, business, concern, matter, argument, controversy, proposition, question”
  • “Outcome, end, consequence, result”
The first meaning is problem-related and the second is outcome-related. In this assignment, “issue” is problem-related with possible effect on the outcome. [Derek Hitchins, Issue]

Upgrading issues” means the problems caused by upgrading and its outcome effect. For example, Product developers are constantly challenged with disputable issues like greater frequency of providing updates and longer warranty periods. The outcome is that each upgrade provides lesser solution and there is limited warranty for the longer period.

Product upgrading during its life time is necessary but the issues that prompt developer to do so are not identical or universal. Ordinary consumer electronics products tend to upgrade at a faster rate than industrial products.
There are also cases where the products attribute changes from “Commercial or Corporate” to “Consumer Electronics”.

Demand for timely, better “structure” (form) and more “functions” (features).
Consumer expectation changes as time passes by. The expectation of the older generation is drastically different from that of the younger ones. Not so long ago the first hand-phone is bulky and is capable for “wireless” communication only. It is expensive and mostly own by corporate organization. It has then quickly replaced the walkie-talkie used in construction sites and shipbuilding industries because of its convenience in making “longer distance” call, and the demand for such product increased exponentially. More developers jump in this area and development for smaller structure (form) but more powerful (functions) hand-phone gathered momentum. The younger generation loves it as it arrives in their time and has become more affordable. This is the case of upgraded product having “
Evolutionary capability to adapt to a changing environment”. The upgraded product is thus able to satisfy the new demands during that period of time and has very little issues. [Derek Hitchins, GRM], pg. 77.

In contrast, another product for a large company information system faces demand for better performance and emergent properties. This case is not so straight forward as just to produce a better product, but also the need to consider its implementation. A large information system that is required 24/7 like that of the international airports and hospitals, requires intensive planning and long period to migrate to an upgraded system. Singapore General Hospital has about 3,000 PC connected to its servers. An upgrading of its servers from one Windows operation system to another requires that the other 3,000 client PC be upgraded, to be able to connect to the new servers. This task will take about seven months to a year to complete. The 5,000 login consumers’ demand may not be met timely.

Collecting the users’ feedbacks
Developers are constantly alert for changes in end users behavior. By monitoring the habits and other consumption characteristics will enable them to upgrade the products to best suit the users. The feedbacks collected are different for consumer electronics and industrial products. VCR, DVD and nowadays Blu-Ray players are capable of providing more input sources like USB, Antenna and Karaoke Microphone. Video outputs are also numerous like CVBS, YUV, S-Video and the HDMI with full HD quality. Players also come with Analog Stereo, 5.1 Channels, Digital Coaxial and Optical audio outputs. The consumer products feedbacks are “Influence” type which relies on the users’ attractions of life, culture, work, play, and environment, economic, political, religious, geographic and technological factors. [Derek Hitchins, GRM], pg. 80.

The upgrading issue starts from the issue of collecting feedbacks from the huge consumer population that may be spread across the world. 24/7 hotlines, help lines and internet websites are required to assist in the data collection. Such information requires specialists to compile before anything meaningful can be recognized. Collecting data and interpreting them before deciding on which upgrade to perform already takes up a lot of effort and time.

Collecting data from industrial product could be relatively easier. A power plant equipped with a generator would most likely feedback its “Potential” data. These data includes the Power, Capacity and Redundancy information. Power plant does not change unless there is a change in the power requirement. Information on any immediate future plan to increase the power requirement is important to the machine vendor.

Another 1,000 years from now the power station may need to check whether their machine can cope with the year change from 2999 to 3000. This is similar to the Y2K problem that occurs 8 years ago. Therefore there are minimum upgrading required and lesser upgrading issues.

Ease of use and realization of benefits after upgrading.
Consumer products are relatively easy to use and its benefits can be realized almost immediately, for example, the user is able to take pictures using the hand-phone. Transferring the photos to other device such as the DVD player or PC is very easy. The users are able to learn the new features by themselves, often with very little help from others. The startup guide book provides enough information to allow the user to enjoy the benefits of the new product. The user can quickly adapt to the upgraded product. Hence, after upgrading, the developer has very little issues and even if there is, is relatively simple to solve.

The industrial products upgrading could be another full scale system integration project. There will be new instrumentations and equipments that require special skills to operate. The new system with its new PLC and other controller may have different operating procedures. The operating staffs need specialized training before able to operate the system independently. A period of time is necessary for the new system to be fully functional and the full benefits of the upgrading are realized.

Upgrading cost and profit margin
Consumer electronics product due to the rapid need to modify and develop new features has low marginal returns because the market is near saturation. This means that the profit margin for upgrading is low. The developer is unable to realize the return for his investment because of the short time to the next upgrading. The opportunity costs may also be high, that is, what is scarified by the developer cannot be recovered and is not worth doing so. The developer could be trying to minimize the cost at the expense of other successful products. Therefore he is better off doing some thing else instead of tussling with the high cost and diminishing return issue.

The vendor supplying the industrial products or system is also faced with fierce competition and is forced to cut price until the minimum. He may just barely cover the cost of supplying the upgrade package, unless he is capable enough to claim the variation costs. One advantage is, as the supplying vendor, he stands a better chance to win the maintenance contract. This will allow him and his team workers to sustain in this industry for the time being. Upgrading costs are often difficult to estimate unless the vendor is very familiar with the existing system.

Quality of the upgraded product
Consumer electronics product are put through a series of test to ensure its quality and safety standard. Electrically, the products must comply with the IEC 61000-4-2 standard. In order to maintain the quality at international standards, the product design needs to conform to the International Standardization of Organization, ISO 9001:2000. Home Theater System, VCR, DVD and Blu-Ray players and recorders must go through a series of playability, electrical, mechanical, transportation, climatic and burn-in tests before entering the market. Some 300 different commercial playability discs that give problems in the past models are used for the playability testing. Another 100 standard playability discs are used to verify the player’s basic functionality. All these rigorous tests have to be conducted whenever an upgrading has to be done. The outcome is a more solid and reliable product for the consumer. The emergent properties and its achievements are evident in consumer electronics products, as they are able to perform up to expectation for a long time.

Typically, users are still skeptical about the upgraded consumer electronics products. In recent time such products are found to have attractive external appearance but its performance deteriorate and break down even before reaching the end of the warranty period. For example the electric thermo flask last for less than half a year. Electric rice cooker last for a few days. It then seems that upgraded new models are worse than before, which happens to be obsolete.

Industrial products have to go through more rigorous test so that it can withstand more hazardous environment. The products could be designed for medium or high voltage system. The difference in voltage warrants different sophisticated testing methods. Products may be designed for a wide range of uses. For example circuit breakers have different grades. Grade A is meant for domestic usage. Grade B is for residential buildings and offices. Grade C is for industrial use. Grade D is for device that is continuously pulsating. Similarly, product for military use belongs to another higher grade. Military products should also be able to operate for a wider temperature range. Obviously industrial products are designed with high quality standard and are meant to last for a long time. After the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT), Installation, Commissioning and System Acceptance Test are carried out, the products in a well designed system should last for a long time. Upgrading is rarely carried out. It is replaced by maintenance testing instead.

Disposal, reuse and recycle of parts resulting from upgrading
After numerous upgrading, one followed by another, product developers will have to consider whether the older models are to be disposed or alternatively to recycle it. Derek K Hitchins’s GRM (Function) takes into consideration the disposal of unwanted resources or waste. The waste from upgrading of consumer electronics products must be disposed off in an effective, efficient, safe and desirable manner. [Derek Hitchins, GRM], pg. 78.

For consumer electronics products, direct disposing is not the best solution. Reuse some parts of the product might create another business opportunity. Those parts that cannot be reused, recycling them can help to promote the ecological green environment.

one ton of mobile phone circuits can yield the same amount of precious metals as mining 110 tons of gold ore.[Mobilemuster, July 2008]

Industrial products create waste too, and must also be disposed off properly, reuse or recycle so as to increase sustainability of resources. There are calls to build more ecological industrial products that are friendlier to the ecological environment. [Sustainability]


One of the methods to have better product is by upgrading an existing stable model to become the most desirable model to the consumer. It will be very stressful in the consumer electronics sector, with having to continuously and rapidly searching for the upgrading solutions.

Products used by basic industries, especially those that are customized, special and huge, like power station generator, do not have this problem. However, there are imminent problems to search for the “accessories” to work with this main product. It is no longer a product but a system integration problem. One generator will requires programmable logic controller (PLC), power distribution boards, motor control center (MCC), cables, relay panels, circuit breakers and many other electrical products in order to function. The owner is most properly the government. Once a vendor is chosen to built the system, chances is that the same vendor will be called to do the next similar project regardless of whether the product has upgraded or not.

Upgraded consumer electronics product can be easily adapted by the users and very little or no training is required. The new features and its benefits can be easily realized. On the contrary, an upgrading a large information system will takes time for all the users to become familiar with the new system.

Consumer electronics product developer needs to constantly monitor the user’s behavior in order to come out timely with a suitable product. Basic industries requirement seldom change, unless it is in a very rapidly changing environment. Its immediate future requirements are mostly predictable.

Upgrading the consumer electronics and industrial product, both mostly faces the same problem of high costs and low profit margin. This is due to the existing fierce competitive environment. Quality of the upgraded product may drop.

Developer and vendor of both types of products have the responsibility to take care of the waste produced. It has to be disposed off, reuses or recycled in an efficient, effective and safe manner. Products have the “eco-friendly” issue.

It is inevitable that things change with time. Developers of products need to react accordingly in order that their products remain viable in the market. The Managing Director of one company told his staffs the philosophy, “Strive to be the best in whatever you do and work smartly.” The same applies to product developers. They must outsmart their competitors to come out with the most sellable products.

[The contributor of this article is embarking on a new project to create a machine capable of flying and submerging into water with just US$80,000.]

Reference list:

[Upgrading Method]
(Author: Young-Hoon Park, Min Ding, and Vithala R. Rao) A Web-Based Upgrading Method - upgrade from a “bare-bones” product to a more desirable product configuration.

[Derek Hitchins, Wikipedia]
This Wikipedia free encyclopedia website provides the links to Prof Derek K Hitchins’s Homepage, Books and Articles.
To obtain the related System Engineering books to start the assignment.
The need for upgrading resembles closely the concept of Generic Reference Model especially the function part - Mission, Resource and Viability Management.
Essential Systems Engineering guide. This is the original on which the IEE's Draft Guide to the Proper Practice of Systems engineering was based.

[Mobilemuster, July 2008]
Mobile technology upgrade presents recycling opportunity, Wednesday, 9 July 2008.


Sustainability Communities and Industrial Ecology

[Derek Hitchins, GRM] Derek K Hitchins, 1993, Putting Systems to Work, first published 1992 by Wiley (ISBN: 0-471-93426-7), Chichester, Chapter 4, Page 75 to 85, The Generic Reference Model

[Derek Hitchins, Issue] Derek K Hitchins, 1993, Putting Systems to Work, first published 1992 by Wiley (ISBN: 0-471-93426-7), Chichester, Chapter 8.1, Page 153, Addressing issues. What is an ” issue?