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Revolutionizing User Experiences: The Role of Advanced Technologies in Enhancing Everyday Products

In a marketplace brimming with innovation, products must do more than function to stay ahead of the competition—they must captivate. Users expect smart, seamlessly connected experiences, propelled by the rapid evolution of technology. As such innovations become the norm, a new standard is set, catalyzing further advances. This intricate dance of user expectations, technological breakthroughs, and product adaptability defines a brand’s ability to excel. Companies must master this dynamic, continuous interaction to innovate and win customer loyalty. Fortunately, a new generation of technologies and processes have emerged and are playing a critical role in how companies gather feedback and assess user interactions, thereby enabling product teams to make adjustments or improvements as needed. These technologies and feedback loops, along with an ecosystem of partners, enable today’s newly enhanced data-driven devices to come to life.

Implementing a 360-degree feedback loop for continuous improvement

Customers and their feedback are at the core of innovation. Before connected devices were commonplace, brands gathered valuable data through production support tickets, consumer surveys, and product test groups. As the Internet of Things (IoT) and connectivity became more widespread, brands began to actively monitor how users interacted with products and what hurdles they experienced. However, this also came with challenges. In many cases, companies began to see the value but not at the cost of the extra technology required and the complexities associated with connecting devices within consumers’ homes and ecosystems, and storing the data.

Fortunately for companies, consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with connecting their own devices. At the same time, cloud services have helped lower the costs of data storage and maintenance requirements. With these improvements, leading brands who may have previously taken a bite of the connected device apple and found a bitter taste, are now reconsidering.

Those who have pressed forward and refined their feedback model have discovered that data can revolutionize their business and unearth new forms of value. Companies that can collect, assess, and actionize their user data are finding opportunities to support information needs across the entire enterprise. Robust data mining strategies improve customer interactions, enable the ability to work more efficiently with suppliers, reduce costs associated with product returns and redistribution, and ultimately allow companies to remain competitive and differentiated. Now, we enter a new era, in which premium end-user interfaces are rapidly advancing to become more human-like. Powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), advanced technologies can recognize needs and respond to multi-sensory inputs such as touch, voice, vision, and audio cues, almost instantaneously. The digitization of everything, or digital twins, and the use of simulation tools are accelerating this advancement and allowing companies to test out changes in products and the supply chain, providing a strategy for long-term competitiveness. Ultimately, this revolutionizes the user experience, drawing upon a broad set of capabilities and technologies from multiple industries.

At Flex, we are experiencing this first-hand. In just the last 10 years, we have seen human-machine interface (HMI) interactions such as voice go from simple menu prompts with voice commands, to allow users to speak more naturally with products. Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri are just a few pioneering product examples that first introduced to the market the capability of receiving and processing voice commands at a more sophisticated level. These advancements have provided a foundation for further developments and innovation for other consumer and industry applications.

A few years ago, Flex partnered with a kitchen appliance brand to develop a voice-based solution to address unique environmental challenges. Ambient background noise and the likelihood of multiple users speaking at once necessitated the ability to differentiate between users by voice. Flex improved voice models to make the solution responsive and predictive, allowing users to be heard in a noisy environment and to speak naturally without having to call the device by name. This was made possible by developing unique microphone arrays and voice processing, as well as utilizing rudimentary AI.

Fast-forward three to four years and technology has drastically improved. Hardware and AI models have advanced, allowing products to discern more sounds, filter out certain noises, and accept instructions from users. What’s more, systems can now predict user interactions, making it a highly viable HMI solution for noisy environments. For example,  in a recent demonstration showcasing the transformative power of AI technology for a premium coffee machine client, Flex demonstrated that interactive equipment can engage in natural dialogues with users, providing tailored advice—from flavor pairing based on weather and mood to guided maintenance for optimal performance. Leveraging AI, these smart machines contain on-board technical support and marketing content, allowing consumers to voice command instructions without the hassle of manuals. This seamless integration enhances the user experience without significantly increasing existing device costs.

Tapping into cross-industry knowledge and solutions

When it comes to innovating, it is beneficial to draw insights from other industries. This can not only provide novel perspectives and answers to existing problems but also save time, money, and effort. For example, Flex had a customer from the medical industry request a hands-free voice solution for surgeons to operate their equipment. Unlike the previous kitchen product examples, where interruptions in connectivity would be deemed annoying, in the operating room any disruption could mean the difference between life and death.

Considering the requirement and our learnings from 360-degree feedback with the customer, we identified the need for a more robust voice model that could be processed at the edge with support from the cloud. We learned that there was a need for a voice model that could be trained faster, enable smoother speech, filter out more noise, and deploy a wider range of solutions. Our cross-industry expertise allowed us to pull from our learnings and develop a voice solution that can support a range of products, across a wide range of markets including consumer, lifestyle, healthcare, industrial, automotive, cloud, enterprise, and communications.

Simulation for a faster, more sustainable product design process

Product designers have always been tasked with imagining the end user and the way they will use the product. Now, with 360-degree feedback, cross-industry technology, and knowledge-sharing, Flex is bringing the entire product lifecycle into the digital world by developing tools and methods to extract data and run simulations. Simulations can help solve product challenges, optimize supply chains and manufacturing processes, and enable brands to bring their products to market faster, more reliably, and more cost-effectively. In addition, companies can imagine different hypotheses for how consumers may use a device and simulate how effective the device can be in achieving the hypothesis throughout the entire product lifecycle—saving hours of development time in the process.

For example, a customer recently came to Flex with data suggesting that the noise their product produced was an inhibitor to the overall customer experience. Our Audio team had the expertise and technology to simulate structural changes to the product design and noise-canceling capabilities. These changes resulted in a 10-decibel reduction in the product’s noise level, greatly improving the customer experience. Then, the team ran simulations on the supply chain to understand any potential risks associated with the changes. Our digital twin simulation technologies enabled us to simulate how the new product would need to be built and leverage performance changes to refine the manufacturing process, thereby achieving greater efficiency, reliability, and lower costs.

Simulation is critical not only for achieving success but also for quickly identifying failures. In a recent project, Flex used simulation to assess the viability of a new heating technology for a customer’s product. Although the technology met the heating efficiency and control objectives, the cost was prohibitive for the target market. Traditionally, determining the feasibility of such technology would involve time-consuming and expensive design and prototyping cycles, which can take over six months and cost more than $50,000. However, using simulation allowed Flex to reach the same conclusion in less than two months and for less than $5,000 of engineering hours, thereby demonstrating that simulation is an efficient method to ‘fail fast’ and save resources.

Human-Machine Interface: The connection point between the consumer and the product

Advancements in HMI technologies have transformed the connection between consumers and products into an intuitive and interactive bridge. HMIs are the touchpoints where user experiences are defined and where innovation is most tangibly recognized. Historically, basic devices like vacuums or toothbrushes relied on nothing more than a simple on/off switch for operation. However, modern HMI developments have allowed even these fundamental products to possess sophisticated features using integrated sensors, such as automatic shutdowns to prevent hazards.

Today, such intelligent capabilities are not just luxuries but essential components that consumers expect as standard, serving to enhance both safety and convenience across a brand’s entire product range. For top-tier products, HMIs now integrate an array of sensors, connectivity, and premium materials that elevate user interaction and forge a deeper, more personalized relationship between the consumer and the brand.

HMIs stand at the forefront of product interaction and their significance extends beyond initial user engagement. Through advanced technologies, HMIs deliver a robust feedback mechanism that is essential for brands to evolve their product lines and provide world-class customer experiences. Data-centric devices and the integration of IoT technology are predictive and proactive, often addressing customer issues before they even arise. These interconnected technologies create a seamless and responsive loop, accommodating and anticipating consumer needs, and driving a cycle of continuous enhancement in both product and experience.

Develop world-class experiences with the right partner

Striking the right balance between developing premium experiences, controlling cost, mitigating risk, and accelerating time-to-market are the greatest challenges of product design and crafting a superior user experience. Oftentimes, the most practical and cost-effective way to gain agility and mitigate risk is to select a trusted design and manufacturing partner with a broad set of capabilities and expertise to support the entire product lifecycle.

Delivering innovative, intuitive HMI and a premium user experience requires experience and investments in multiple areas that range from electrical and mechanical engineering to software development and supply chain. This can be an overwhelming and costly process to start from scratch. However, with a well-resourced design and manufacturing partner, companies do not have to make that level of investment themselves.

Instead, companies can find benefit from working with a partner that has already invested in the technologies, tools, methods, and supply chain network to bring the best version of the product to life. Partners can help companies design for scalability and make the critical transition from prototyping to high-volume manufacturing while optimizing design, cost, and quality, and utilizing advanced enabling technologies like HMI to deliver a premium user experience. As consumer products continue their evolution into interface-rich, intuitive devices, the right partner and today’s technological advancements can help companies increase brand competitiveness and strengthen customer loyalty, all while navigating customer expectations, new products, and emerging technologies.

Dave Gonsiorowski

Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Lifestyle Solutions at Flex discusses how advanced technologies are transforming user experiences, shaping product development, driving customer loyalty, and propelling a cycle of constant innovation and 360-degree feedback. By leveraging IoT, Artificial Intelligence, and other technologies, companies can better understand user interactions and make improvements. These technologies and feedback loops, along with an ecosystem of partners, are enabling the success of today's smart, connected devices.

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