IoT Platforms Explained

Jeremy Drury, IoT Diagnostics


Jon Prescott, CEO of Scante, an IoT customer-experience platform, offers practical insights and key recommendations for how to navigate the increasingly overcrowded IoT platform space.

Welcome back to Noria’s new web series called “The Internet of Reliability.” I'm your host, Jeremy Drury, and we're here to help you become experts in this transition to Industry 4.0 and get your reliability operations connected to the internet.

The last couple of times we've gotten a little more granular on how to get these IoT-type devices and solutions set up on your shop floor. There is a big piece of that which we haven't had a chance to talk about yet, and that's your IoT partner who's going to help you get all this stuff connected.

I’ve got a special treat for you all for the next couple of episodes. We're going to be joined by a good friend and colleague of mine. This is Jon Prescott, CEO of Scante.net, an IoT customer-experience platform. Jon's a familiar face around the Noria parts, but we are going to help you work together. He's going to answer some tough questions for us over these next couple of episodes on how to get things up and moving for you.

An IoT Background

Jeremy: “Jon, why don’t you tell us a little more about yourself and what you do?”

Jon: “Thanks, Jeremy. I’m glad to be here. I have been around Noria, reliability and industrial fluids for a long time. I've kind of had a two-phase career, both in heavy industry (fluids, contamination control, power generation, petrochemicals and manufacturing), and at the same time we had a series of companies that were involved in IoT.

“We had marquee customers going back to the late ’90s that were companies like Komatsu, Mannesmann and Voith. These large industrial companies wanted to share data between their machines in the field, the OEM (themselves), and the end-user customers. That's how we progressed on the IoT side while we were doing extreme filtration applications, water-removal applications, varnish mitigation and a lot of other things.

You have all this subject-matter expertise. You are the SMEs at your organizations, and you are pulled in a lot of different directions. Every time an asset goes down or a process starts to break down, you're pulled in. It's a very reactive place to be. So, even though you may know these assets and processes and your approaches to reliability better than everybody else, you can only take that so far because you're one person. And that's the life of a non-connected reliability engineer, reliability manager, director or whatever your title may be.

“So, it has been an organic growth on both sides of the reliability coin. Now we're bringing the IoT pieces together for mostly machine builders and industrial suppliers, but also a lot of internal factory operations as well.”

Early Days of the IoT

Jeremy: “I want to make sure I heard you clearly. Are you suggesting that you were doing IoT in the early 1990s?”

Jon: “Not early ’90s. In the early ’90s, it was a gleam in my eye. I was a maintenance manager in the steel industry, and I would look at a steel mill or a mill stand in a steel mill and the hydraulic systems, and I wanted all our maintenance people to be able to see the documentation or to have access to when valves were firing, what the pressures were, what the flows were on all those hydraulically operated mill stands and steel mills. That was the impetus of the ideas for what we did later in the late ’90s.

“All the early IoT was basically large capital equipment. There was no good way to do factory-scale IoT. You could only do it on large capital equipment like mining vehicles, HVAC systems, jet airplanes and those kinds of things. The connectivity was $20,000 apiece, and nobody had a phone in their pocket for an interface. Everybody was tied to their desks to get anything. Internet capabilities, especially on the shop floor, were extremely limited. So, it was an uphill slog. It's very bad to be early in these kinds of markets. It’s just as painful as being late.”

Jeremy: “That’s great. Most importantly, my hope is you heard that Jon has been in the shoes of reliability for many years.”

Jon: “Yes, many years. I have been on both sides of the technical IoT side and the actual root-cause reliability issues with machinery.”

IoT Platform Categories

Jeremy: “This is why I wanted to have Jon join us today. In past videos, we talked about IoT-type devices, the assets that they go on, and the data exchange. So, there are a lot of systems happening behind the scenes. To help manage these systems, at the beginning, we all need to rely on and choose these IoT partners very wisely, because there’s a growing number of people who are trying to come in and grab pieces of this market, and they may lead you astray.

“I recently read that there are over 700 unique IoT platforms in the global marketplace. There are too many choices out there right now. So, I wanted Jon on the first video to help us dissect this.

“Jon, how do we separate a viable IoT platform/partner from someone who is just trying to come in and take our business because it's the thing to do right now or because IoT is sexy.”

Jon: “In my mind, I divide them into three basic categories. One is just large-scale, broad, factory-level IoT. That would be companies like ThingWorx, for example. They are a solid provider and have a huge toolset, but especially now that they are involved with Rockwell Automation, they are heavily focused on factory-level automation, which may be perfect for you. They are a large IoT platform. I would say they are higher on the cost scale, even though they will tell you that they offer plenty of lower-cost entry points. They do a good job in a large-factory IoT automation environment.

“Then, there are companies like Losant in Cincinnati. They do a fantastic job with slightly smaller-scale IoT implementations. If you want to put some sensors out in a discrete area of your factory or do something that you can manage internally that does not involve millions of devices, they have great capabilities to scale, but they are targeting a slightly smaller customer group from a sales point of view. They are going to be easy to work with and probably a little more cost-effective.

“Then, there are specialty IoT platforms like ours. We mainly focus on two segments. We have a lot of capabilities with fluid quality, filtration, monitoring industrial fluid systems, hydraulics, lubricants, supplied industrial fluids and things like that, but we also focus on machine builders and industrial suppliers. So, Quaker Chemical is a customer. We have a number of filtration companies that are customers. We monitor their equipment and allow them to provide an IoT Interface and a full customer-experience interface with lots of support and PMs, as well as IoT monitoring, to their end-user customers.

“So, those are the three groups: large-scale IoT platforms like ThingWorx, mid-scale and a little more accessible platforms like Losant, and then the specialized things that we do at Scante.”

Choosing an IoT Platform

Jeremy: “Let's get a little more into the actual use of these apps and platforms. How do you prevent a reliability engineer from being overly taxed with monitoring trends, data and all that? How are you designing these systems to not overload the average everyday shop-floor experience?”

Jon: “The one thing to look for in choosing an IoT platform is a good administrative interface. You're going to have apps, specialty data analytics and all kinds of things, but you really want to be able to get in and manage the applications that you develop. So, the administrative side, either in a portal or with some kind of access control to the back-end systems, is a big deal. It's really important.

“You need to realize that every single IoT project that you put out has administrative overhead with it. There is management and configuration, and managing the configurations, not just users strictly on the IT side. You're going to spend some time administering that system, and there must be decent capabilities to do that.

“Now fortunately, pretty much all the named IoT platforms are going to give you those kinds of capabilities. Specialty platforms like ours are designed for machine builders and industrial suppliers to get into a very specific set of things easily and quickly. That is something you definitely want to take time to consider. Make sure that you have good administrative access to what's going on in the back-end.”

IoT Implementation

Jon: “On the data and analytics side, how do you extract value from all the capabilities that the analytics give you from this data flow that's coming off your machines? That's a really tough question. You have to be very careful going in not to overcomplicate these implementations. What we find successful is focusing on a handful of specific metrics that you want to start monitoring. Be certain that those metrics are very valuable for you or that they give you some good diagnostic insight.

“Do not throw the kitchen sink into that very first application. You will get it wrong, but everyone gets it wrong. You always get that first implementation wrong, so be able to change it and be able to move dynamically as feedback comes in from end-user customers, from your consumers of that data internally, or from yourself if you are the key analytics person on a handful of reliability-oriented sensors and are part of the factory. Be able to move flexibly with it, and don't try to do the kitchen sink all at once.”

Know Yourself Before Starting the Journey

Jeremy: “I think that covers us for the first video with Jon. To summarize a couple of things that we heard, it seems like a lot of this is about knowing yourself before you start going on this journey with an IoT platform or partner. So, of those tiers that were mentioned, which ones are going to most suit you? What exactly are you trying to measure and diagnose in your operations? An easy way to prove return on investment (ROI) is to find one lane to focus on first and go from there. A lot of it is going to be about finding the right person and the right team to help you.

“Thanks for joining us on this episode. Again, this is Noria’s new web series called “The Internet of Reliability.” I'm your host, Jeremy Drury, with Jon Prescott of Scante.net. We'll catch you very soon on the next episode as we get a little deeper into this topic.”

About the Author

Jeremy Drury is the vice president of IoT Diagnostics. He is focused on connecting prediction to production with the industrial internet of things. As a veteran of the manufacturing industry, Jeremy has spearheaded product development initiatives and go-to-market strategies in more than 80 cou...