SD&I Exclusive Roundtable: Leaders in R&D

Oct. 27, 2008

Manufacturers and distributors are the research and development gurus of the industry. Without their work at the drawing tables and laboratories and their intense commitment to the latest quality technology, the industry would surely be moving at a snail’s pace—and that’s definitely not the case. We’ve tapped some of the most well-known companies in the industry to ask them about their leadership in research and development and here’s what they had to say:

What are your firm’s goals when it comes to R&D—are you trying to enhance product or create new product niches and services, or both?

Michael Korkin, Arecont:
  We conduct our R&D with the objective of enhancing existing products and to develop new products and technologies. Here is a recent example of enhancing our main product line: the long-standing barrier slowing down the acceptance of megapixel IP cameras in the marketplace has been the large storage and network bandwidth requirements. We made a strategic decision at the end of 2006 to become the first in the industry to break this barrier by offering H.264 compression technology for the entire line of our megapixel IP cameras based on our in-house world-class expertise in hardware-based image processing.  At the same time, we are developing new product niches and are the only megapixel camera manufacturer to offer multi-sensor panoramic IP cameras with a choice of 180 and 360 degree coverage.  

Jeff Swan, Bosch:
We work to achieve a balance between the enhancement of existing products and the creation of new products or new categories of products. It is important that we continually enhance our existing intrusion products so they meet customers’ needs and remain relevant as new technologies or standards emerge. This helps dealers and integrators optimize their investment in Bosch--in training, product knowledge and other factors--while allowing their customers to take advantage of the benefits  a new technology can provide. Equally as important, we use market information to anticipate key industry trends for determining how to deploy R&D resources on advanced technologies. We create brand new platform approaches that solve the limitations of current systems while providing long product life for our customers.

Ken Addy, Honeywell:
Honeywell has been in the business of technology development for over 100 years and is in the top 70  companies worldwide in terms of R&D investment. The Honeywell Security business unit itself has R&D activities that are very broad, with operations in all areas of security product and service development, including many well known product lines in intrusion, access control and video. We have engineers and scientists engaged in all aspects of technology development, i.e. advanced research, new product development, product enhancement and product sustaining activities.

Dvir Doron, ioimage:
ioimage is still at a very innovative phase in the industry’s life cycle. In order to remain at the forefront of technology, as well as maintain a leadership position, we are making substantial investments in R&D, which are dramatically higher (in proportion) in comparison to more established companies. We are constantly improving the existing product line, keeping in mind our huge installed base. ioimage is unique in the video analytics sector, having a very broad set of R&D disciplines and skill sets in-house--developing hardware, embedded technology, software and algorithmic research. This enables us to come out with new products relatively fast, delivering enhanced value to capture new niches.

Frank DeFina, Panasonic:
  Panasonic has always had a strong corporate commitment to R&D and in the security industry we have been a market innovator for over 50 years. While we continue to strongly support and enhance our existing products that have widespread presence in the market and in our installed base, we also place great importance on breakthrough technologies and emerging markets. For example, our core competency in outstanding image quality has always been a hallmark of our analog cameras, which feature unique technology like Super Dynamic III (SDIII). As the industry migrates to an IP-based platform, we are taking a leadership position by bringing to market new IP solutions engineered to incorporate SDIII as well as other “black box” or core technologies such as our digital slip ring and auto back focus.

Mark Goldstein, Quantum:
We are enhancing our current products by constantly looking for ways to reduce our manufacturing costs. This not only helps maximize profits, it is necessary to keep up with our competitors’ resale prices and the customer always wanting the lower price. Through this reduction of costs, we find better subcomponents and ways to modify our current technology to meet today’s standards. At the same time, we are developing new products to meet our customers’ needs and technological changes.

Dan Hawkinson, System Sensor: We manage our R&D resources to accomplish both. As members of the life safety industry, our work carries a degree of importance that goes beyond just cosmetic or superficial product enhancements. Our engineers conduct their research to improve products that notify and lead people to safety during emergency evacuations. For example, ease of installation, ease of operation, faster fire detection, and unambiguous notification methods are built into our products to guide occupants to safety in potentially dangerous situations. Ultimately, it’s about delivering maximum value to our customers, whether it is an enhanced product or a new offering.  Our SpectrAlert Advance notification appliances and ExitPoint directional sounder are examples of products that have grown more sophisticated with each iteration.  Recently, we identified new opportunities in the carbon monoxide (CO) detection market and responded by developing CO detection devices.

Where do you conduct R&D, on-site or off-site and what are some of the characteristics of the testing facility? 

Korkin: We do most of our R&D on-site with the exception of regulatory compliance testing (FCC), as well as some environmental testing.  These are conducted at third-party facilities.  For our final product testing we employ a dedicated  set of computer and networking equipment featuring all major models of such equipment and software available in the marketplace and used by our customers.  In addition, we frequently invite our integration partners to our testing facilities where they are able to bring their own equipment and software to test with our cameras.

Swan: As a global company, Bosch has R&D locations in several countries, and each has its own testing facility.  For example, at our Intrusion R&D facility in North America, we create test scenarios as close to real-world situations as possible.  When testing our intrusion detectors or benchmarking against the competition, we use remotely controlled devices that replicate human bodies and animals to supplement live person and pet testing. We also rapidly increase and decrease the temperature of the test facility, use fans to create motion and drafts, change the lighting, etc. to closely simulate stressors the products will experience in the application. Bosch strives to produce and test products that go beyond the minimum compliance requirements as a part of our standard Product Development Process.  Our testing is then verified using independent certified compliance organizations. 

Addy: Honeywell Security has engineering teams performing R&D in 17 sites globally. Following completion of the engineering phases of the new product development process, the products undergo extensive internal testing before being considered for release. Both hardware and firmware/software testing is performed by independently managed teams of technicians to ensure full compliance with specifications. We operate Quality Assurance facilities in three locations (U.S., Europe and Asia) and we are able to perform all major tests including radio frequency immunity, radiated emissions, temperature, humidity, electrostatic discharge and electrical overstress. Additionally we perform regulatory testing internally when possible. Of course some testing can only be performed by specific labs, in which case we use external test facilities.

Doron: We conduct all of our R&D on site at our headquarters in Israel, leveraging the local talent and security know-how. We are testing and certifying the system in various testing fields throughout the country, and also getting assistance from critical customers and partners.

DeFina: As a global Fortune 50 manufacturing corporation, Panasonic has tremendous company-wide R&D resources that we share among our companies and divisions. We primarily do all our own R&D and have pioneered a number of shared technologies including, more recently our SD memory card and imaging process technology (CCD). Our open infrastructure initiative has brought Panasonic together with other leading manufacturers to help meet the needs and requirements of interoperability on a networked platform, so many customers have benefited from the R&D capabilities of our collaborators as well. This led to our creation of the Panasonic Solution Developer Network (PSDN) to foster these technology partnerships and further open the borders to the converged network.

Goldstein: On-site, we have a special test facility for testing in CO at extreme temperature and humidity for very long times like one year and 30 days of preconditioning.  We also use UL, CSA and ETL test labs for third party testing. 

Hawkinson: Most of our R&D is on-site.  We have a complete test lab and can reproduce most global agency test requirements.  This gives us more control of timing during development because we can replicate third-party results and proceed to next stages without losing time or momentum.  We regard the agency standards as the baseline for product performance, making our internal tests far more stringent than industry requirements.  Life safety has many facets to it. Our global design sites give us a universal perspective on life safety. Through our relationship with Honeywell, we have access to Honeywell Research Laboratories. 

How has testing changed over the years?

Korkin: Overall, the components used in our products have become more reliable and durable over the years.  In addition, many of the components are now available with built-in test capabilities, which we also employ when testing our products.  We have also incorporated multiple product-specific built-in test features that we use in manufacturing and are able to invoke remotely over the Internet after a product is shipped to the customer and installed.  The durability of our products is also improved by their field upgradeability, including the upgradeability of hardware.

Swan: Over the years, testing has moved from manual to automated for more standardized assessment. For example, we can automate testing of commands for our intrusion keypads and control panels or use machines that standardize and simulate normal operating conditions.  Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) machines that very rapidly take pictures of all the circuit board components for proper placement and alignment during manufacturing are standard in our factory. 

Addy: Testing has changed enormously over the years. Not only have new standards been introduced, but many standards have evolved over the years to make products much more robust in field operation. Test systems are more automated than yesteryear, so the consistency of measurements is excellent and the equipment itself allows harsher tests to be performed, making the product that the integrator, installer and end-user see a more reliable device. A good example is in the area of RF immunity – Honeywell’s investment in state of the art anechoic chambers for this type of testing allows very high radio frequency field strengths to be generated that confirm that the design specifications have indeed been met.

Doron: As the industry evolved, customers learned to demand more “real-world” testing and performance – withstanding various environmental conditions and detection scenarios, for example. For example, we worked closely with the Israeli Defense Forces to put our video analytics to the test. They tested our products in normal outdoor conditions, such as with cloudy skies overhead, in the sun and rain, but also in extreme conditions. In addition, we, as manufacturers, have gathered more and more information and experience with a great variety of installation environments.

DeFina: Testing has become more sophisticated, both in the lab and in the field. Listening to our customers and keeping a close ear to market and industry trends provide us with invaluable sources of information. Our focus on reliability and attention to quality is addressed through careful tracking and measurement through every step of the manufacturing process, from procurement to product delivery.

Goldstein: UL has become slower and more expensive.  What’s new and helping manufacturers turn out more reliable and durable product specifically attuned to the market and application? That is better customer focus and building long term relationships.

Hawkinson: The way we approach design is the most fundamental change in our testing process. Now, the use of advanced design practices and tools such as Design for Six Sigma, statistical tolerencing, finite element analysis, and circuit simulation has reduced the amount of testing and the time associated with it.  We still have a vigorous test program  all products must pass, but this is a validation rather than a quality design stage.

How do you go about analyzing the marketplace to decide how R&D will be handled?

Korkin: We constantly watch over the developments in the marketplace to identify the most critical customer needs, and to stay ahead of the developments.  A good example of this is the development of H.264 compression technology in our megapixel IP cameras.  Instead of settling with a much simpler and less risky MPEG4 (Part 2) solution, we made a decision to develop the latest in compression technology.

Swan: We focus heavily on customer feedback to ensure the requirements of our products at the design stage. This voice of the customer (VOC) is captured by directly asking them, but also through indirect feedback received during technical support calls, training courses and field repair.  We also videotape technicians and visit sites with our customers as they install or service our control panels, detectors or information transport solutions, so we understand what improvements can be made to make their jobs easier.  

Addy: Honeywell Security has marketing teams that address customer needs. It is the responsibility of the marketing teams to set the priorities for new product development projects and it’s all driven by a robust highly developed “voice of the customer” process.  At the same time as the marketing teams are looking at market opportunities, the engineers develop technology roadmaps and it is this combination of work from marketing and engineering that determines the company’s product development roadmaps.

Doron: We are taking a market-driven approach to our R&D, measuring every requirement or potential new feature/ product with the fit to our core vision of broadening the reach of analytics, the aggregated market demand and potential gains.

DeFina: Any company who wants to stay competitive in the marketplace needs to pay close attention to their customers, their competitors and all facets of the industry. We incorporate customer feedback into our planning process along with technology trends, not just in our own industry but in general, because developments in other industries can result in a tremendous impact on our own.

Goldstein: First, we talk to customers, conduct surveys and examine market data.

Hawkinson: System Sensor R&D is a function of three key forces:  1. the needs of our customers and stakeholders, 2. the regulatory environment, and 3.  the emergence of new technologies that improve our ability to meet the needs of our customers and regulators.