Companies Are Exploring the Benefits of Industrial IoT

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Whether we know it or not, quite a few of us have been introduced to the Internet of Things, or IoT. From using Amazon Alexa to remotely adjusting your home thermostat from your smartphone, today’s society and the devices that power it are more interconnected than ever.

The same is true for business and industry, as proponents of the technology urge companies to adapt to opportunities that can make them more competitive in the global marketplace, experts say.

Rick Stockburger, chairman and CEO of Brite Energy Innovators, an energy business incubator in Warren, says that the leap into this technology is still in its infancy and will take some adjustments.

“The adoption curve makes people understand what it’s all about,” says Stockburger.

That’s why Brite and the Youngstown Business Incubator have formed a partnership to promote the growth of the Industrial Internet of Things, or Industrial IOT, throughout the Mahoning Valley. In October, the joint effort received a federal grant of approximately $313,000 through the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17 Ohio, to help small and medium-sized businesses in the region integrate Industrial IoT.

“People want to understand this technology, and they appreciate having someone to help them figure out what can be done, what can’t be done, and what’s best for them,” says YBI CEO Barb Ewing.

The partnership allows organizations like YBI to help implement this technology for companies that use advanced manufacturing, for example. Or, in Brite’s case, it can be introduced to businesses that focus on energy-related products.

Data is at the core of Industrial IOT, says Ewing. This data is often generated from devices or sensors attached to pieces of equipment that can generate real-time information for operators and managers to measure productivity, efficiency and productivity.

“It takes basic concepts to the next level,” says Ewing. Data from a particular machine can identify a potential problem, such as a component that needs to be replaced. By having this information, the company can take action and correct the problem before any equipment damage or unnecessary downtime occurs.

“It allows you to do things that are important to operations—basic things like preventive maintenance or identifying gaps in the supply chain,” says Ewing.

As companies become more comfortable with managing and analyzing this data, they can use it for other operations on the shop floor. Depending on the nature of the business, they may use this technology for more advanced uses, such as remote control or plant-wide production monitoring.

This technology can be difficult to implement in more severe production environments. Even industrial manufacturers like Vallourec’s seamless pipe and tube operations in Youngstown and Houston are in the early stages of exploring the possibilities with Industrial IoT.

“We’re at the beginning of this journey,” says Pat Kiraly, Vallourec’s North American director of Industry 4.0.

Kiraly says its name underscores Vallourec’s interest in digitally transforming the company’s operations. “I see Industrial IoT as an opportunity to collect more data, which is a good thing,” he said. The real challenge is to properly digest and analyze this data on top of the data currently available through operations.

Kiraly says seamless pipe and tube production is not the same as a CNC machine, which is easier to follow. Using sensors or tags embedded in the pipe for tracking purposes can be useful and efficient, he notes, but can be particularly difficult to influence.

“Putting identification on a pipe that’s 1,500 degrees—it’s hard to do because the environment is so harsh,” says Kiraly. “But if we can do these things, we can do other things.”

Kiraly describes Vallourec’s first steps as a “harbinger of Industrial IoT”. That is, taking the initial step to assess where this technology can be applied.

Kiraly says one of the operations is the Youngstown plant’s piercing process. The pipes are fed into the piercing operation as a solid billet and then heated to a high temperature. The mass is then pierced with a piercing point that forms the outer shell of the tube.

Kiraly says the idea is to add sensors to the piercing points so they can collect information about the process. “There are still some things that aren’t easy to understand,” she says of piercing surgery. “We’re trying to use some of that technology to better understand the process through the use of sensors.”

Kiraly says the Industrial IoT application will allow Vallourec to extract data it was previously unable to collect. “The next step is how you use that data. At the same time, this technology allows us to push these boundaries even further.”

Brite’s Stockburger says that eventually this technology will play a bigger role in how manufacturers, distributors, retailers and other sectors of the economy do business.

“We’re excited to partner with YBI to make this happen and help companies understand what can be done,” he says.

Industrial IoT enables businesses to collect data that can better influence decisions. “It’s about using actionable data before there’s a problem,” says Stockburger.

In addition, Industrial IoT opens the door to expansion for companies that develop and manufacture sensor technology, Stockburger says.

One of Brite’s portfolio companies, Intwine Connect, develops IoT and Industrial IoT applications for customers in healthcare, manufacturing, food safety, education and energy, he says.

“It’s not just the manufacturers,” says Stockburger. He notes that Intwine developed a program for a national hand sanitizing company that automatically switches vendors when sanitizing stations run low and need to be filled. “There’s a lot of efficiency,” he says.

Stockburger wants to encourage other companies in the IoT to consider locating operations in the Mahoning Valley area to develop their products, he says.
“Then we can help these companies build better IoT products for the industry so they can bring them to market.”

One such business is Wooster-based Harmoni, a portfolio company of YBI.

Adam Ellis, CEO of Harmoni says, “I have been consulting for CNC machine shops for 25 years. It was in this role that he saw a number of shop floor inefficiencies that he believed could be addressed. “Operators were going back and forth to computer terminals to track their time and production,” he says, while spending more time finding data storage devices to download specific programs to a particular machine.

“Some guys would even download the wrong app,” says Ellis. “Losing a minute here and there really adds up, especially in the high-end CNC space with aerospace and defense,” he says.

Starting during the COVID-19 pandemic, he and a business partner spent three years developing a new device that connects to CNC machine controls. Ellis says the product is capable of collecting and providing specific information such as time tracking, production, machine-specific software, and even work instructions on how to complete a job.

“We’re bringing it all together and taking this huge stream of data coming out of the machine and putting it together at runtime,” Ellis says. For example, the operator is automatically identified and logged into the machine. That operator can be in the car for eight hours. Only six of these watches were used for machining or cutting. The remaining two hours could be spent waiting for input or replacing some sort of component.

“So you can read real-time data from machines,” he says, including tool life and machine performance.

Ellis says Harmoni has completed some Beta testing and is now starting to bring the device to market. “We’ve had some success with that,” he says. The company’s recent webinar attracted 87 participants.

Companies that simplify operations first by implementing Industrial IoT technology have a better chance of becoming more competitive and profitable, Ellis says.

“There are opportunities, but there are also challenges for companies,” he says. “People who can really do it now will be able to take advantage of all the re-support that’s happening and improve across the board.”

Pictured above: Adam Ellis, CEO of Harmony.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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