Designing for the Internet of Things
Calyn Yap 
Many SMEs still have little knowledge of IoT and how to best benefit from it, says Ranga
THE Internet of Things (IoT) is not a passing fad. It is here to stay and expected to foster greater connectivity between people, data and intelligent devices.

IoT is gaining momentum and will become mainstream as more global organisations embrace technological changes.

Businesses, especially SMEs, are already feeling pressured due to increasing global competition to deliver reliable products quickly while keeping costs low.

Hence, advancements in technology have become a boon as well as a curse in such efforts.

While automation helps smaller companies, the rapid pace of technological change also means they struggle to keep up with the times.

Against this backdrop, IoT has a far-reaching impact on productivity, efficiency, operations and product development.

Despite this, the IoT remains surreal as a large number of SMEs still regard it as something beyond their understanding.

Many have little knowledge of IoT and how best to benefit from it, says Altair Engineering Sdn Bhd managing director Srirangam R Srirangarajan, who is better known as Ranga.

IoT revolves around a system of interactions between three basic aspects – the device, gateway and Cloud.

“IoT essentially means connecting things. It’s all about connecting various devices with sensors, transferring and collecting data via gateways, and then gaining feedback on that data through the Cloud,” he says.

Automation enables increased efficiency and productivity among other benefits.

But IoT takes it a step further by changing business operations and enabling companies to introduce new products and services.

Ranga calls it realigning to meet the needs of consumers, in the age of customer centricity and experience.

He says: “If we align ourselves around customer experience, change a bit and try to create products required for the new era, we’ll have a great run.

“It’s happening at a fast pace. You can delay it but you can’t escape it, so [companies] have better align themselves to the new reality.”

It is difficult to survive and beat competitors with thinning profit margins. But IoT is one technology SMEs can leverage on to meet this challenge.

The trend is growing at a fast pace, and autonomous vehicles are no longer a pipe dream


“Every other original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is trying to squeeze you in terms of supplying a better product at lower cost, and that’s the trend.

“So how do you survive in such a segment?” Ranga asks.

Additionally, large corporations are already moving towards IoT and autonomous vehicles will become a reality within the next five years.

The automotive industry will no longer develop engines that use fossil fuels but produce electric vehicles.

Ranga says the writing is on the wall for suppliers and manufacturers of such traditional components.

This is why SMEs, in particular, must change and move up the value chain.

They can do so by shifting from manufacturing traditional components to producing IoT devices such as sensors and other products to increase productivity and their bottom lines.

For instance, manufacturers can attach sensors to their machines, collect data and make informed decisions to increase performance.

Wastage can be captured by sensors monitoring speed and temperature as well as other related elements, which cause low performance and output.

Manufacturers can then take corrective measures using the data.

Altair is undertaking a small project at an SME factory to automate and increase its productivity.

In terms of resources, Ranga says that sensors are not pricey and there are many affordable platforms to collect data.

However, analysing the data can be very time-consuming.

Most importantly, company owners must have a clear idea on what parameters make a big difference and apply their experience and expertise when deploying such sensors.

“It should be a combination of technology and all the experience they’ve accumulated.

“We can start with increasing productivity, then move on to creating or realigning products which is the next stage,” he says.

Proof of concept

Ranga believes the country will be among the early adopters of IoT, namely in autonomous vehicles, due to good infrastructure and strong support from the government.

There are already some companies here that are in the process of integrating IoT into their businesses.

“We’ve started conducting some proof of concept. When it comes to local SMEs, they can adopt IoT because Malaysia and Singapore are better poised to make the change, but the countries can’t be complacent.

“SMEs can’t just compete within Malaysia or Asean, but must do so on a global scale,” he says.

One such product Altair is working on is a smart lock, where users can set their phone via the bluetooth proximity sensor to unlock their doors within a certain range, or trigger an action on their phone to enable access for someone else while away from home.

Apart from that, the company is also working with others in different industries such as visual analytics, variable insurance and agriculture.

Some SME manufacturers are taking the plunge into IoT, while others remain uncertain , according to feedback from the Malaysia Automotive Institute (MAI) Intelligent Technology Systems Centre.

The Centre was a result of a collaboration between Altair and MAI that started in H2 last year. It aims to help local companies in the automotive sector move up the value chain.

“The industry is going from build-to-print to build-to-specifications, and moving away from pure manufacturing orientation to design and manufacture.

“We set up a centre with MAI to train SMEs to design their own intellectual property products and better performing components or parts that can be supplied to OEMs.

“But it’s a process. It takes three to four years to improve the technological content of companies,” he says.

Bridging gaps in design and development

FOUNDED in 1985, simulation technology and engineering services company Altair opened its regional office in Kuala Lumpur in late 2014 to spearhead its Southeast Asia expansion plans.

The company, which started consulting for the automotive industry, began innovating software and new technology as it wanted to radically change the way organisations design products and make decisions, says Altair Engineering Sdn Bhd managing director Srirangam R Srirangarajan (Ranga).

Today, it is one of the leading companies in computer-aided engineering and provides software and engineering services.

Its flagship engineering software, which enables computer-aided engineering in a virtual environment for testing, makes it easier and more cost effective to run multiple variations and simulations to create the best performing product.

As such, it can help bridge the gap by reducing the time taken in the product design and development cycle as well as testing and analysis. 

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 244.