The internet of things (IoT), the growing collection of devices connected to the internet with the capacity to share and receive data, lent a hand to many during the pandemic.

Whether it was smartwatches that helped people stay fit whilst gyms were closed or the virtual reality (VR) headsets that provided immersive entertainment for video games, these handy devices allowed many of us to carry on during lockdown and adapt to our new lifestyles.

The IoT is most widely known for its consumer benefits in health and leisure and entertainment. But it also creates a whole world of opportunities for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Leveraging data from IoT-connected devices

IoT-connected devices use sensors to detect information like motion and temperature, amongst many other things.

This data can help businesses streamline operations by increasing productivity, saving money and offering specific services to customers. For example, insurance companies can use black boxes to gain information about how their customers drive to provide personalised insurance policies.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags can even be used in changing room mirrors, enabling retailers to identify the item the customer is trying on and recommend purchasing options for an optimised in-store experience.

Sensors are also used in essential appliances to provide functional operations data for use across a range of sectors.

Take commercial refrigerators and freezers as an example. Because sensors can constantly monitor the temperature, no manual checking is required. Real-time, remote monitoring can also alert users when temperatures rise or fall, making for a more convenient appliance.

However, perhaps the best example of the value of sensors lies in the medical sector. Sensors can be used to monitor temperature, heart rate, electrical activity in the brain and skeletal muscles, and measure oxygen and glucose levels in the blood.

This information is fed into medical devices, like ventilators and dialysis machines, which doctors use to get live, accurate updates on patient health. Thanks to the IoT, these updates can be communicated remotely — meaning immunocompromised or immobile patients can be monitored safely at home. Remote monitoring also helps to free up capacity at hospitals.

Considerations for manufacturing connected devices

There are a few things to keep in mind when developing an IoT device.

Wearable technology, for instance, must be comfortable to use. Devices such as smartwatches need to be small and light — meaning electronics manufacturers must fit components onto smaller printed circuit boards (PCBs) or even use flexible PCBs.

Because many IoT devices are taking on increasingly important tasks, like in the medical and automotive industries, there is little room for error. To prevent moisture, vibration and high temperatures from causing component damage and interfering with performance, electronics manufacturers must consider protection, such as potting and encapsulation or conformal coating.

Certain quality standards, such as IPC-A-610 for PCB assemblies and IPC/WHMA-A-620 for cable assemblies, should also be met to ensure product reliability.

Furthermore, the IoT-connected devices that we are most familiar with — computers and mobile phones — have different network requirements to embedded sensors. Remote sensors send small packets of data at regular intervals rather than large volumes of data at irregular intervals.

As such, electronics manufacturers need to use networks designed to send small amounts of data from numerous low-power devices at longer intervals. These Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN), such as Sigfox and LoRa-based standards, are particularly common within building management, industrial controls and the medical sector.

To capitalise on technological developments such as the IoT and guarantee these considerations are met, OEMs should work with a trusted manufacturer.

As electronics manufacturing specialists, we have the knowledge and expertise to offer a range of services to assist with the end-to-end development of high-quality IoT-connected devices. To speak to our team about how our services can help you develop the right IoT devices for your business, contact us at +44 (0)1256 461894 or email today.