IoT and Preventive Analytics on the Shop Floor
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IoT and Preventive Analytics on the Shop Floor

By Eric Kierstead, Chief Information Officer, Material Handling Systems, Inc.

Could you walk me through some of the things that you are working on right now at the company?

We have several IOT initiatives here. MHS manufactures and integrates a wide array of material handling equipment—conveyors, chutes, sorters, etc. These are deployed in a variety of different ways at places like Amazon, UPS, and Federal Express. When it comes to IOT, we put sensors and monitors on a lot of these so called “things”. These things are usually the moving parts such as motors, drives and conveyors. We send wireless signals to our applications running in the cloud that constantly monitor these parts for indications of an upcoming failure. That way, our customers can replace the part before it fails and causes significant lost productivity. As part of that solution, we are applying machine learning to make our system “smarter” on what are the signal pattern of a part that’s about to fail. Users can monitor our dashboard displaying green-yellow-red for each monitored part. IoT has a lot of amazing applications, and B-to-C commerce companies have many great examples. They companies have highly automated distribution and fulfillment centers, and if a conveyor goes down—especially something like a primary conveyor—it could cost them thousands if not millions of dollars in lost time.

Let’s speak a little on some of the more recent trends in the shop floor space?

Many of the applications of IoT in manufacturing and distribution is around predictive analytics. Everyone is still learning as are we, developing their predictive models.

Predictive models will get better over time, and the main factor for that will be user adoption. This all boils down to the fact that, the more users we have, the more distribution centers we get out there, the more data we have to refine our models.

"The IoT products that monitor the health of automated distribution centers will be one of the most valuable real-world applications of IoT. I anticipate it will be a billion-dollar industry within the next few years."

It’s fair to say that these developments are fairly young. I don’t think it existed really in any meaningful form five years ago. But as consumer habits are shifting—people are buying things online, as opposed to going to the mall, we’re seeing new uses for IoT. So as time progresses, and IoT is considered mainstream and critical for Distribution Centers, this will become a crazy business. I anticipate it could be a billion dollar segment of IoT in just a few years.

Do you feel that there’s new developments in technology right now and you as a CIO, how does your role evolve to become aware of all of these developments so that you can look for the next big integration for your company? How do you keep yourself educated on the same?

First of all, I attend a couple of conferences every year. There always webinars too, but there’s no substitute for full immersion on a topic for a couple of days. The conferences are generally regarding emerging technologies pertaining to manufacturing or supply chain automation. I also read as much as possible about everything that’s going on in the world of technology and think about how we can integrate it into our business and ultimately monetize it. Predictive analytics is a good example where the company has done a good job of finding an emerging technology and monetizing it.

What’s are some of the high level points that that are taking place right now in your leadership board and your team?

The good news here is that we were founded about 20 years ago by three engineers, who are deeply technical people as you can imagine. All three are still involved in the company. In fact, one of the three founders is our CEO. And one of the other founders is the president of our largest division. So the good news there is whenever you want to talk about technology you’ve got people all the way up to the CEO that are not only willing to listen but they’ll totally understand you. As CIO, I couldn’t ask for a better a better situation.

So the next question I’d like to ask is more on the editorial side. But we also like to give the audience a little bit more perspective on you as an individual and unique leadership strategy?

I’ve always been kind of a creative guy. Probably more creative than your typical engineer. I came out of a commercial software development background. So between that creativity and my commercial software background, I’m always looking for applications we can build and then monetize. That’s how an IT organization can generate revenue as opposed to only being a cost center. I want to have a conversation at the end of every year and say OK here’s my budget and here’s the revenue I generated for the company—show that IT is a profit center and not a cost center.

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