Developing New Microwave Technology

The Challenge

Plextek was approached by a leading global domestic appliance brand with a new microwave oven concept for cooking different foods together, but at different temperatures. If it could successfully deliver the concept it would be able to cook better quality microwave food more conveniently; and compared to a conventional oven, cook more energy efficiently leading to an improved sustainability footprint. But while the company had expertise in magnetrons it recognised it didn’t have the expertise it would need in solid state RF electronics.

The Approach

Using our expertise in solid state electronics and antenna propagation, we created a proof of principle demonstrator in a very short time with multiple patch antennas. While it was unsightly and bulky it allowed us to quickly run a set of experiments with different foods in different areas of the oven (“what, ice cream AND sausages?”). The experiments dimensionalized the potential technical performance for the concept and proved its feasibility. This rough demonstration was presented to the company’s senior leadership and won go ahead for a formal development.

Over the following 9 months a joint team from the customer, a key component partner and Plextek designed and developed a fully functional unit. In particular Plextek led the development of the control system, antennas, power supply and the cooling mechanism.

The Outcome

During the development we overcame multiple technical challenges resulting in a regular sized “looks-like and works-like” prototype. In the final days of the project we worked with the customer’s development chefs to successfully cook conventionally challenging foods for microwaves such as meatloaf, popcorn and swordfish.

Following another successful demonstration to the company’s senior management, we introduced the concept back into the customer’s core R&D department for development through its internal stage gates.

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Finding Technical Competitive Advantage

The Challenge

A leading consumer products brand was considering how to enter a new digitised category. Recognising it was not an expert in electronics, our client asked us to tear down a range of the existing products in the marketplace to help them understand if any of the incumbents had a technical competitive advantage.

The Approach

We started with a forensic review of instructions, understanding the software functionality (by trial) and interrogating CE/FCC information about the history of the hardware. In order to evaluate the functional performance, we conducted technical tests for each of the products. We then disassembled the products to extract the hardware and created a costed Bill of Materials (BOM) for each. We analysed the PCB construction and the key electronics components, identifying device operating principles, implications for manufacturing, relative design choices and the comparative technical advantages of each device.

The Outcome

We compiled a report of our findings with estimated costs and our conclusions about the relative technical advantage of each product platform. The report was shared directly with the divisional CEO who is feeding the data into their strategy for entering this new market.

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Innovation Design: New technology to transform luxury products

The Challenge

The technology inside consumer electronics often goes unnoticed by the end user. There is an expectation for products to be easily accessible, reliable and energy efficient.

Ignite Exponential has been helping a household brand to redefine their category through the implementation of a new technology that would drive a step-change in consumer experience.

Our customer wanted to understand how a given technology might revolutionise their existing product offering and the new areas where it could play and win with the technology.

The Approach

We first conducted fundamental scientific and technical research to explore how the existing technology might be used in this category for the first time. Using a combination of theoretical analysis and experimentation, we created a proof of concepts to test the technology.

Due to the complexity of the challenge, we needed to ‘pivot’ our entire technical approach at several stages to ensure it delivered on the customers’ vision and met the needs of their consumers.

This agile approach to collaboration was particularly important to our success.

The Outcome

We delivered a ‘works-like’ demonstrator representing an exciting new market opportunity for our customer and proving the possibility of the technology.

Ignite Exponential transformed this breakthrough technology opportunity into a clear proposition with known risks which the customer is now developing into a future product internally.

As well as improving performances and re-defining the category, the approach taken could have the potential to hugely reduce the overall power consumption of their products in the longer term.

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Innovation Strategy – CamelBak: How can we successfully innovate in connected products?

The Challenge

CamelBak provides a range of innovative hydration packs, backpacks, and water bottles. Its consumers know when they buy CamelBak, they are purchasing a durable, high-quality product, but after purchase they may not interact with the brand for several more years.

Consumers are increasingly using digital technologies such as smart watches, phones, and apps to manage their lives. CamelBak has previously embarked on a few digital technology projects but has encountered a range of challenges in successfully developing connected products.

CamelBak wanted to understand how other natively ‘physical’ product companies successfully made the transition to complementary connected offerings; and how it should structure and guide its own innovation in connected products.

The Approach

Through an Ignite Exponential Learning Exchange, we brought CamelBak’s senior R&D and Product Management team together with experienced corporate innovation leaders from our network who have successfully navigated similar challenges in their own industries.

We screened more than 100 companies to shortlist those from whom CamelBak could learn the most. We set up virtual meetings, briefed the participants, and moderated the discussions translating insights between industries and sharing our own experience.

After the meetings we helped CamelBak distill what we learned through collaborative virtual workshops and to build a strategic framework for innovating in connected devices, and for transitioning from a physical to ‘digitally connected’ organization.

The Outcome

Our approach allowed CamelBak to learn about the technical and commercial capabilities it would need, as well as the impact of ‘soft’ factors such as partnership, purpose, and organizational culture. By drawing directly on the real-world experience of non-competing leaders it was able to build its confidence and internal alignment in a strategy for future connected products. The programme also created a rich network of cross-industry peers that can provide partnership to CamelBak long after the meetings.

CamelBak’s Director of R&D said, “The Learning Exchange process really helped us to recognize the value of partnership. It was like being able to see the future – by learning from these other companies we could see the challenges we’d face and what it would take to succeed before we started our journey. Without doubt, the project goal was met and this is now one of the biggest opportunities we have as a brand.”

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Test System for 5g Broadband

The Challenge

We worked with a broadband company that is developing an ecosystem of products designed to simplify and improve our connected lives. At the centre of this is a proprietary 5G mmWave technology that offers customers high-speed broadband access, the vital ‘last mile’ delivery stage for any broadband provider. Testing this technology at mm-Wave frequencies in mass production takes fresh thinking. Connected ports are not desirable for multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) devices at mmWave frequencies, so a radiated test setup is required. This is the conventional way for laboratory testing, but when you have a mass-produced product, creating a high volume, automated test setup is no mean feat.

The Approach

Plextek built a series of custom anechoic chambers and an automated over the air test system that could confirm correct operation of our customer’s proprietary 5G protocol.

We worked closely with our client’s technical team, adapting the test station as the product evolved during NPI (New Product Introduction). All systems were built in the UK and deployed to sites in the US.

The Outcome

Plextek helped our customer to commission and manufacture a comprehensive test system to support the mass testing of their multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO) devices, which operate at mmWave frequencies. This was done using a radiated test setup. Plextek’s test chambers were deployed on-time to meet an aggressive production schedule allowing full over the air test coverage of an NPI product. Our customer subsequently adopted a similar system for their regression testing, as part of a continuous development pipeline process.

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