Years ago, I somehow got connected with Scott Wilson from Banner Engineering. We met and he showed me this wireless hardware he had – sensors, gateways, the whole package.
At the time, this was exactly what we needed to help SensrTrx grow. We knew there had to be a way for us to use this wireless hardware to get the data we wanted rather than talking directly with the PLCs on the machines (but, we still do both). To be honest, it wasn’t super straightforward because the Banner sensors and gateways weren’t designed for that particular case, but designed more for the preventive maintenance side. A good example of a use case would be if someone walked toward a door, the sensor detects that movement and opens. The sensors weren’t really designed for productivity and counting parts.
But there had to be a way, right?
At this point in time, SensrTrx was really focused on the idea of talking to PLCs because of the amount of rich data available in the PLC. There a few big problems with this approach:
1. Older PLCs require hardware to connect to a network.
2. Many PLCs don’t have useful information
3. There is an “endless ocean of legacy machines” in the world that don’t have PLCs.
The Power of a Single Data Point
So, you see why we wanted to provide more flexibility in the way we collected data. In early 2018, we came up with the idea of The Power of a Single Data Point. The idea that you can monitor one automated data point from a machine and derive a lot of useful information. For example, if we can count a cycle, stroke, or part on a machine, we know how many parts it made, if it’s close to the ideal rate, if we don’t see a signal for a certain amount of time we know the machine is down.
We needed a solution to get this count from machines old and new, quickly, and at a reasonable price.
So the thinking was there, but it took a while longer to really discover the benefits of wireless technology. Fast forward to 2019, we held the Smart Factory Summit where we brought together Banner Technology, Fiix, Siemens, and our SensrTrx team. It was at this trade show that I saw how Banner was putting together wireless starter kits to monitor equipment and really enhance preventive maintenance.
I realized, with the help of Matt Neegard, another bright mind from Banner, that we could create something similar – essentially SensrTrx in a box.
Are you a food or beverage manufacturer? Save 26% with the Starter Kit.
We developed a Starter Kit package, specifically designed for food and beverage manufacturers.
SensrTrx in a Box
It would be lower cost and faster to deploy. This turned into one of our newer products – SensrTrx Lean. With Lean, you can gather a couple of data points and provide full visibility into how a machine or work center of the plant is running. What we realized was over the last year, there was a standard set of use cases and a standard set of sensors everyone needed to achieve connectivity and start collecting data.
Specifically, that use case worked really well for the food & beverage industry. In this area of manufacturing, using sensors to count product going down the conveyors, checking if a product is over or under the correct weight on the check weigher, these are all examples where a standard set of use cases and sensors applies.
I realized this could have the potential to make connectivity and visibility that much easier for manufacturers, and so I came up with the idea to package the “standard” into a complete “out of the box” solution for the food and beverage industry.
We use battery-powered wireless photo eyes from Banner engineering to count product. Our software is completely configured out of the box for 5 lines with the most common settings. All the manufacturer has to do is mount the wireless sensors, plugin the gateway, and login to SensrTrx.
We’ve Figured It Out So You Can Get Visibility Into the Plant, Now
I said earlier that we got to this step gradually, but there’s good reason for that. Really, the big difference between now and then is that our SensrTrx team has done all of the common things people need to configure the hardware and software. We’ve learned those crucial steps and what may cause confusion. We know how to fix the problems. So, we can now apply those learnings to help people configure the hardware and ensure the software is presented out of the box, too.
Reason #1: In this new starter kit, we’ve baked in a lot of the best practices that we’ve learned over the past few years, especially the idea of starting small. A small amount of data is better than too much data, no question. This is true of all manufacturers, but the start small philosophy really helps people start on the journey of continuous improvement and using that to get visibility into the plant.
Reason #2: The starter kit is completely pre-configured. all of the best practices are baked into it, and the self-implementation will help save a lot of money because there’s not a lot of training that goes into it. It’s intuitive and allows manufacturers to get started very quickly.
At the end of the day, the starter kit makes it easier for food & beverage manufacturers to understand what’s going on in their plants and how to fix any problems. Rather than make things more complex, we want to create calm.
In the future, we will create different versions of these starter kits beyond the food and beverage industry. For example, plastics or stamping.