IoT

Tag: IoT

Interview: ProGlove’s Jonas Girardet

ProGlovePPR recently interviewed Jonas Girardet, the COO and cofounder of Munich-based ProGlove, which makes a wearable IoT device for manufacturing, logistics, and other specialized industrial uses. The system is already in use at BMW, Lufthansa Technik, and other manufacturers and retailers, and recently exhibited at CES. The following interview was edited for clarity and was first published in the PPR newsletter earlier this month. 

PPR: What does the ProGlove do?

Girardet: ProGlove connects the worker to the industrial IoT. We develop smart gloves that enable manufacturing and logistic staff to work faster, safer and easier. If you go to a factory, you’ll see more barcode scanners than any other digital device, such as tablets, smartphones, notebooks, or PCs. Our smart gloves have a connected barcode scanner comfortably attached to the back of the glove to work and scan at the same time and to help workers become more efficient. It makes fewer mistakes when scanning, compared to a normal handheld barcode scanner.

Integration is quite easy, as it’s just text that’s transmitted. It’s plug and play — basically, there is no IT work involved which is nice because the sales cycle gets shorter. And of course it’s nice for the customer, because he can basically rip off the existing scanner, put on the ProGlove, and continue working. You can do that during a coffee break. You don’t have to stop the line, or do a 12-month ERP project.

PPR: Is it complementary to other wearable IoT systems, such as Google Glass?

Girardet: We created ProGlove because of the fast integration and the immediate value to the customer. Today you need to grab the scanning gun, do the scan, put away the scanner, and then do your work. With ProGlove, it’s basically part of your normal movement, so with every scan, you roughly save four seconds. But you have thousands of scans per day. And that’s why production process managers really appreciate the idea, and understand the benefit. And of course we see it as complementary to Google Glass.

PPR: How is the platform being expanded?

Girardet: We will have more hardware products, and we are now developing software products on this hardware platform, that will connect the human worker with industrial IoT.

For 150 years, manufacturing and logistics has been optimized for efficiency. Now we have these highly automated lines and robots. But a robot is not made for a product lifecycle of three months, or a lot-size change within two days from one million to ten million. But you can actually do that with human workers. The downsize nowadays is that human-related work is kind of a black box. The problem is, there is no communicated status of the current work and progress, because the worker are not connected to the rest of the factory. They are left on their own with their fixed tasks. We can improve flexibility and reliability if we change this. not When we connect the human to the IT systems in the factory, we can give the worker real time guidance of his next tasks to do.

PPR: How does connectivity work?

So at the moment we are using a proprietary standard. The most obvious choice would be Bluetooth, but what we learned is that Bluetooth is not widely accepted in industry because it’s operating in the 2.4 Ghz band. Big OEMs try to avoid bringing any device into the industry that is operating in that band. ProGlove has an access point in a little box that connects with your PC or to your network, and then vis Sub 1 Ghz to Mark, which is the scan module.

It’s operating at 915 Mhz  in the U.S. and  868 megahertz in Europe, but the standard itself is a proprietary standard.

PPR: Are you planning to use other LPWAN technologies?

Girardet: We are definitely looking into Bluetooth, because Bluetooth has evolved. When I talked about the spectrum problems, that was Bluetooth 2.1. Now the technology has evolved and is more stable. And we have customers, especially in the fast-moving consumer goods category, and they don’t they don’t have that problem of too many device conflicts because they have only scanners — there is no machinery or tools operating in these frequencies. And of course for us it’s about software that will be able to integrate deeper into manufacturing systems and ERP systems. From a pure hardware standpoint, it will always be Bluetooth or WiFi.

PPR: So ProGlove basically is replacing a standard barcode scanner. But in the future, the platform will bring the data or maybe some other information that’s being captured into other types of systems.

Girardet: That’s the vision. The first step is hardware, and barcode scanning. The second step will be connectivity, so you connect the worker with the system. The worker with the warehouse management system, and the warehouse management system with the worker. So you scan the barcode, and then immediately determine if it’s the right barcode or not. And then you can start to think about data flow.

Our customers at the moment are just thinking about step one. They are starting to think about step two. The data is definitely part of the vision – the human hand can generate a lot of data.

PPR: Talk a little bit about the number of installations or the verticals that you’re really heavily present in.

Girardet: We are from Munich, Germany, and the automotive industry is really strong there. We started to develop our product with BMW and Festo. You can say, almost every BMW from a German factory is built with ProGlove.

So the majority of our customers are in the automotive industry or their suppliers, but also fast-moving consumer goods, such as Rewe-Penny (German Wal-Mart) in Germany, which are using our products in supermarket warehouses. When a supplier ships yogurt to the warehouse, they want to be sure it’s the right kind of yogurt, and the right amount of yogurt gets shipped.

There is also pharmaceuticals. All over the world, laws have changed, so they really need to document more information, such as where the pharmaceutical goods come from. That’s why they scan a lot of barcodes.

As for the number of installations, it’s a few hundred warehouses and manufacturing sites in Europe that are using our product. Germany is our core market, but also the UK, Eastern Europe, and France. But now we are getting ready to jump into the U.S., one of the biggest manufacturing markets. The product is already used here, at the pilot stage.

ProGlove BMW
ProGlove in use at a BMW parts warehouse.

PPR: Does the ProGlove require a systems integrator?

Girardet: Basically it’s plug and play. You can plug it in next to a preexisting barcode system. And it can work with big industrial OEMs.

You can order the US version, we will ship it to you, and you can install it. However, normally we work together with our champions who want to work with the product, so we will do a proof of concept with them. The champion might buy a few units for two or three stations, which will generate a lot of data to see how much time is being saved, economic improvements, and worker acceptance. He can then convince IT, QA, and finance. And then it can scale.

PPR: Can you talk about efficiency metrics?

Girardet: We have the numbers confirmed by OEMs in Europe that it’s basically bringing down the duration of barcode scanning by 40 percent.

Of course, barcodes are only part of the process. But if you think about an auto manufacturing site that has a cycle time of 50 seconds, every 50 seconds the car moves, and then the operator does the same step again. And when they are installing an air bag, they basically have three or four things to do and one these things is scanning a barcode. There might be two barcodes, one on the car and one on the part. And one barcode scan takes eight seconds. And you basically save 40 percent of these 16 seconds, out of a 50-second cycle time. That’s really a lot of time.

That’s really why we have big returns on investments for our customers. There’s always a case for ‘Are you saving money? Are you really more efficient?’ You don’t buy it because it is cool, fancy stuff. You buy it because it is more efficient.

PPR: Last question: where do you see this technology in five years?

Girardet: In manufacturing, and supply chains, there is so much value being added compared to the consumer sector. That’s why I think wearables will really play a massive role in the future of the industrial world. Then of course one of these things will be Glass, something that’s in your eyesight, and the second thing will be in the form of a glove, or on your hand. Think about displaying more information, and also having feedback on the hands.

 

Four industrial IoT & AI Predictions for 2018

PPR has some predictions for IoT and AI in the coming year. This article first appeared in the PPR newsletter – subscribe today!

#1: The year of turnkey IIoT solutions

Vendors have figured out that many industrial customers don’t have the expertise to plan and execute an industrial IoT rollout. In 2018, more and more vendors will partner to offer turnkey IIoT solutions combining hardware, software, systems, and services. Look for announcements from industrial vendors working with big names in IT counterparts and/or integrators throughout the year.

#2: IoT pilots get real

When it comes to pilot projects involving industrial IoT, 2018 is the year many firms will move beyond talking the talk and start walking the walk. The availability of turnkey solutions, not to mention heightened interest in IoT and related industrial automation technologies, will translate to more industrial IoT pilot projects in 2018. The pilots are more likely to take place at midsized and large firms with healthy balance sheets and mandates to innovate. These projects will not only help industrial companies evaluate the technologies, but will also create technological foundations and centers of internal expertise that can help broaden these pilots into full-fledged production systems in the years to come.

#3: Amazon ascendant

Industrial vendors and high-tech players in industrial IT including Rockwell, GE, and Microsoft will be dealing with a new player in town: Amazon. Not content with merely offering highly profitable cloud services to companies, Amazon wants to control various platforms that feed into its AWS cloud offerings. The FreeRTOS announcement in November was a sign of things to come (see Parsing Amazon’s FreeRTOS announcement: Interesting, “but kind of strange”). In 2018, look for Amazon partnering with key vendors, making new acquisitions, taking a more active role in standards-setting bodies, and announcing new products and services to bolster the attractiveness of the AWS ecosystem to industrial customers.

#4: Industrial ML apps: still a work in progress

Late last year PPR published “It’s time for a Machine Language reality check.” In 2018, we will hear more of the same hand-waving hype about industrial applications of ML, but the really important developments will be in the foundational technologies that will allow vendors to build industrial ML applications and services. Google is the big player in this space, but smaller companies with strong AI R&D capabilities may have some interesting announcements as well.

This article first appeared in the PPR newsletter on January 2, 2018.

Reaction to Triconex breach: “We have to isolate safety from all other systems”

In the wake of a serious security breach involving Schneider Electric’s Triconex industrial safety system at a “critical infrastructure” facility overseas, Priority Payload Report talked with Joe Weiss, managing partner of Applied Control Solutions and the author of Protecting Industrial Control Systems from Electronic Threats. Weiss has decades of experience in the energy industry and serves on the ISA99 committee of the International Society of Automation

PPR: Why is the incident involving Schneider Electric’s Triconex safety system such a big deal?

Weiss: Triconex and Siemens have a large segment of the safety systems worldwide and Triconex also happens to be used in many U.S. nuclear power plants as Triconex has been certified by NRC for nuclear safety applications. Schneider for years has said you can’t hack Triconex because it’s triple-redundant. Triple-redundant improves reliability but does not address cyber security.

PPR: What is a typical industrial scenario that would require the triple-redundant PLC?

Weiss: In a refinery, you would use this to make sure that the safety valves would open if the pressure got too high, so a pipe doesn’t burst. Safety systems are used to make sure that you don’t have a pipe break, or a valve releasing toxic chemicals, prevent trains from crashing, etc.

PPR: So this isn’t about IT security, but facility integrity and human life at risk.

Weiss: Safety systems are to protect facility integrity and human life, not for data.

PPR: We don’t know all of the details of the incident, but is this a situation in which air-gapping that particular PLC could have prevented the breach?

Weiss: We have to isolate or air gap safety from all other systems. Today, non-nuclear safety standards allow safety to talk to non-safety. Nuclear does not allow safety systems to mix with non-safety. The nuclear plant approach must be extended to non-nuclear safety systems.

PPR: If a manager or engineer at a power plant came to you and said, ‘I just heard about this incident involving Triconex, which we have implemented in our facilities. What should I be doing now?’

Weiss: The very first thing is make sure safety doesn’t touch non-safety including basic process control systems much less the business network..

PPR: So other than nuclear, there’s no there’s no requirements to have this kind of separation.

Weiss: No, that’s part of what we’re going to have to address in the new ISA Level 0, Level 1 Task Force.

Weiss has also blogged about the Triconex events and associated safety issues at Implications of the Triconex safety system hack – Stuxnet part 2?

Amazon’s leap into industrial IoT at #Reinvent17

Amazon made a slew of announcements at Amazon Web Services’ Re:invent conference in Las Vegas relating to new and expanded cloud offerings. You can see a Reinvent roundup here. I can’t go through them all, but will highlight those that have relevance for PPR readers in industrial tech. (Note: PPR parent i30 Media derives a large proportion of its revenue from Amazon).

One-click IoT?

AWS IoT One-Click is a service that can trigger basic AWS Lambda functions such as opening a door or reordering an item. It’s the same idea that makes Amazon’s “Dash” buttons so popular for instantly reordering food and sundries from the retailer without having to log in to the website or app.

But we’re not talking about ordering dog food and trash bags. We’re talking about industry, where the stakes are much higher. For many industrial firms, it’s not possible to leverage such tools, no matter how easy they are to set up and run.

The main issue, of course, is any process that depends on the public cloud has to accept that latency and availability may suffer. What if an AWS IoT One-Click function to reorder a critical part can’t be launched, because AWS is down? It happens, sometimes for hours at a time.

A secondary issue: IoT cloud security. Some firms will never accept data or applications launched from a public cloud, no matter how secure the service provider claims it is.

But there are industrial use cases for the new Amazon services. If a firm depends on data outside of its own facilities, it very may well have to fetch it from an application connected to the cloud. An automated irrigation system that uses weather data to determine water or fertilizer coverage on a plot of land will naturally have to pull the data off of a feed somewhere … and that somewhere is very likely hosted on an Amazon, Google, or Microsoft cloud service.

There are other situations in which it’s just not practical to connect to central IT or have edge processing, either because there is no local power available or there’s no space to put the box. The German railway giant Deutsche Bahn is rolling out an IIoT-driven monitoring and predictive maintenance system built by KONUX. Low-power sensors are placed between or near the tracks to monitor the weight, speed, and other metrics of rolling stock and 70,000 switches. The sensors are small, and for most of them, there’s no place to put dedicated edge processing or storage. Instead, the data has to be uploaded to a cloud service (either public or privately managed away from the edge) to generate analytics, alerts, and other machine language-driven services.

There is also an argument to use public cloud services when they are not time-sensitive or a point of failure for a critical system. Certain types of backups or archives, after-the-fact analysis, and specialized applications can use cloud data or compute resources without impacting operations.

Amazon moves into embedded operating systems

Of the other Amazon announcements last week, the one that caught my attention was the  Amazon FreeRTOS, an embedded OS for sensors and other small IoT devices. FreeRTOS has been around since 2003 as a quasi-open-source project; Amazon last year hired the lead engineer Richard Barry and makes the code available via an MIT license.   

According to the announcement, devices running FreeRTOS can now be more easily integrated with Amazon cloud services, or be used at the edge via Amazon Greengrass, which also includes some ML platform capabilities.  

Endpoint

The slew of cloud and IoT-related announcements at Reinvent are classic Amazon. Jeff Bezos’ flywheel strategy involves linking powerful platforms in ways that lead to positive network effects for both (think Amazon’s online retail store and the Amazon Kindle). Encouraging vendors to use FreeRTOS over another emerging embedded OS (LiteOS, TinyOS, VxWorks, etc.) is not just about grabbing a piece of the embedded OS pie, it’s about expanding demand for various AWS services and laying the foundation for long-term control over the enterprise cloud market.

If anyone from Microsoft Azure, IBM, Oracle, Google, or other players in this space is reading this: If you’re not looking over your shoulder already, you need to start doing so right now. Spin up your anti-Amazon countermeasures, partnerships, and customer bonding strategies ASAP. If you don’t, you may very well see Amazon eating your lunch, faster than you can say “Barnes & Noble.”   

As for OT and IT teams, the new easier-to-manage Amazon cloud services such as AWS Fargate and Amazon ECS for Kubernetes (EKS) will be a boon to groups managing back-end processes and applications that can live with cloud latency or the potential for service outages. They promise to make applications easier to write and manage, and potentially bring down costs if they compete favorably with offerings from other providers. But other types of applications that manage industrial automation or mission-critical services cannot be placed on public clouds–the risk to operations or conflict with security need are too great.

Amazon Greengrass may provide some comfort if Lambda instances can be hosted at the edge, but the one thing that I don’t see happening (yet) are the vendor, application, and hardware partnerships needed to make that happen in a plug-and-play way. But you can bet that startups in this space–and maybe some established vendors–will be taking a hard look at the new goodies announced at #Reinvent17.

Stay tuned for #Reinvent18 to see what Amazon does next …

Beware of (some) IoT hype

Earlier in my career I worked for IDG’s Network World, Computerworld, and The Industry Standard, respected trade publications covering enterprise and consumer IT. One thing I developed was a healthy skepticism for buzzwords and trends pushed by vendors and some analysts. What was red hot one year might be an dead end a few years later … or would develop in a way that no one anticipated.

At #IoTfM17 I heard some of the speakers cite fantastically optimistic statistics about IoT’s growth trajectory, including the mother of all estimates put out by Cisco in 2011 of 50 BILLION connected devices by 2020. I don’t believe self-serving numbers like this (who the heck will install and implement all of these things?), but estimates I do put some faith in relate to where the things will be used: Most will be for industry, not consumers.

Endpoint: Industry is one of the last frontiers for an information technology overhaul. It’s been talked about for years, but now it’s finally happening, as shown by a growing number of pilot projects in various areas of industry, including some fine examples that were showcased at #IoTfM17 (more below). There’s also a shift in how vendors are overhauling their product lines and enabling connectivity with other industrial and IT systems. Finally, there’s a new appreciation of the value of data — not just for simple reporting, but actually leveraging it for automation, predictive maintenance, and competitive advantage.