Happy 5th Birthday, SensrTrx!
Today is a day for celebration. If you guessed that’s it’s SensrTrx’s 5th birthday, you’re right! SensrTrx has officially been in business for 5 years, and what a ride it has been. Join me as I take you on a flashback of how SensrTrx began and where we’re going.
Looking back, there are 2 main ideas that started this company.
I had been aware of IoT and everything you could do in industrial automation for a long time. Having previously run a software consulting company focused on manufacturers, I realized the same 2 problems kept popping up.
We would go into a manufacturing company and talk to them about an ERP system. It was pretty clear the biggest problems they had were not their back-office systems, order taking, accounting, or even purchasing. What they really needed was better visibility into what was happening out on the floor. For the most part, it was a black hole. And, an ERP can’t solve that, not really.
One of the problems I’d see over and over was that the schedulers would send the work orders out there, the product would get made, and orders would get shipped. But, those orders were either late, or too much, or too short, and nobody knew why.
There were, and still are, a lot of manual solutions to try to capture that information, but those typically fall short. Most of the products that do it automatically, especially 5 years ago, were way too complex and way too expensive for mid-market, $100 million manufacturing companies. Manual solutions were the only real solution for that market.
So, they would try to make their own or use their ERP systems, pen and paper, Excel, or even whiteboards, and none of that works very well because you need more real-time information. Otherwise, you can’t stop these problems as they’re happening.
I continually saw this happen in plant after plant. I’d go to the manufacturer and people would tell me that really the issue is not this, this, and this. It’s really what’s going on on the floor and the lack of understanding about what’s happening.
The other thing that happened is I went to a Microsoft conference in Atlanta, and the now-CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, talked about IoT and Azure. This was pretty early on in the mid-2010s, and I listened to the idea of using machine analytics to track a well in the middle of West Texas and a laundromat.
This got me thinking. A lot of our customers at Datix were mid-size machine builders that were never going to hire a huge software development staff to build software to monitor those machines at customer sites. What if I could create a technology that would give them the ability to monitor their machines, remotely?
So those are the 2 things that drove me to create SensrTrx, and after I sold Datix and started this company, I did the research for 3 months to really get an understanding of the market and what that market really wanted. In fact, I realized that mid-market machine manufacturers did not want to monitor their machines remotely. The customers did not want them to monitor the machines remotely, and they still don’t, even though it’s starting to come around. My thinking had to pivot.
What I realized people really wanted is visibility on the factory floor. So, I built a very crude iPad app that is actually not too far from the user interface we have today and showed it to our very first customer. I guess I nailed it because they became our first customer, and together we developed the first version of SensrTrx that went live on April 1, 2016.
So, you see, ideas change, but the inspiration remained – creating visibility for manufacturers.
An Idea is Developed and Expanded: SensrTrx Grows 250%
I’m a software developer, engineer, CEO, whatever title you want to give me, but my main focus was and still is to create a product first company rather than a sales first company. Meaning, I wanted to build a product that people could get value out of and then sell it, rather than try to sell something that’s a piece of garbage that provides no real benefit and try to clean up after the fact.
We got that first customer, received a lot of good feedback, and incorporated all of those changes into the software. Then, we got our second customer which was totally different, and really, where that product first philosophy came into play.
The first customer was an auto parts manufacturer producing 22 parts per hour compared to this new customer, producing 83 parts per minute per machine, for a total of 8 machines. You’ve got the low volume to start and now we’re going to seriously high volume, highly automated machines.
It threw us for a loop, but it was at this point, we took that initiative and transformed SensrTrx into the product so many are familiar with today.
The software structure required to really handle the second customer and give them what they wanted was way beyond what we had. We had to rewrite a lot of the backend and make it much more robust to handle much higher data volumes. That took all of 2016, and then in 2017, we started really selling the product.
One of our earliest efforts to sell the product is with a “What is Manufacturing Analytics” explainer video. Check that out below.
We had good growth in 2017. The OEM side of the project started to take off. 2018 followed that same level of growth. We won a global startup competition and received an Arch Grant, won Startup Roadshow to attend the Tech Crunch Disrupt Conference, joined the Ameren Accelerator Program, joined the Pipeline Entrepreneurial Group, spoke with many podcasts, were featured in a number of industry reports, partnered with an outstanding company, the list goes on. You can visit our press page if you’re interested.
We just had steady growth.
The theory of the company, in the beginning, was to collect these easy metrics that are relatively easy to gather and focus on pulling data directly from PLCs. I didn’t want to mess around with sensors. I didn’t want to be a hardware company. The idea was to make it as easy as possible and pull the data from the PLCs.
But, what we came to realize was that just doesn’t work. A very small percentage of the machines out there have the ability to give you good information from the PLCs, a very small percentage. The majority do not, and you have to come up with some sort of solution for all the other older machines. Those machines may or may not have PLCs and computers in them, they may be using relay logic that might have been built in the 50s but works perfectly fine. There was this massive gap in data collection from older machines.
I met with Scott Wilson from Banner Engineer, and he introduced me to their hardware. It took me 2 years to figure how to use it and where it would fit. But, over time, our team realized we could use their sensors to pull data from those older machines, in addition to connecting to the PLCs when possible.
When I first met Scott, I originally thought we could use the Banner wireless technology to talk directly to the PLCs, but that didn’t really work. Then, Banner released all of these photo-eye sensors that work really well, and that’s when the lights went off in my head.
We could build a starter kit. We came up with the power of a single data point in 2018 and came out with SensrTrx Lean. That’s when the company really took off. We had triple-digit growth since then. From 2019 to 2020, we saw a 250% growth.
The company is growing like a wildflower. The idea I had back in 2015 has become a reality.
The growth we’ve seen has been absolutely tremendous and so much of that is credited to the behind the scenes team. Truly, it’s the best team I’ve ever worked with in my entire life.
We’ve created a business that is revolutionary, insightful, and consistently striving to learn.
Solving Real Problems for Manufacturers
Over the last year and a half, we’ve really focused, not just on the collection of data, but on the customer and what they actually do with the data. How do we help you, as the customer, drive value, and eliminate waste out of the process? How do we help you build lean principles? How can we provide you with the tools you need to create a strong culture that uses data to make decisions?
Those sorts of things, essentially things we’ve learned from reading The Toyota Way, have helped us get to this point. We want to provide really good, actionable information, visibility on the floor, and give customers what they really need to improve.
We’ve learned that over time. These efforts boil down to 6 key benefits:
• Winning the day
• Replacing Excel & paper
• Stopping problems as they happen
• Using data to drive decision making
• Providing visibility and accountability
• Gathering data from anywhere
The goal for over these last few months and moving forward is to really bake those 6 ideas and philosophies into the product – that’s what people are really looking for.
Personally, I think this is a really important part of the SensrTrx journey. This is isn’t technology for technology’s sake, but we’re really trying to solve real problems for manufacturers.
And in the video below, you can see how that thinking is exemplified in our product, now. (Especially interesting if you compare that with the previous video.)
Lessons Learned Lead to Ground Breaking Developments
That thinking has really led SensrTrx to the development of a scheduling module within the software.
It might be dumb to say, but I had an epiphany. Every manufacturer has a schedule. People talk about high volume, low mix, but no matter what, you are doing changeovers, even if in a smaller amount. Every company we have ever worked with, even those with ridiculously high volume, does changeovers. They have to produce to schedule.
And let’s say there’s that one manufacturer who doesn’t do any changeovers, they still have to know if the line produced the right number of products. And maybe that number has to increase over time based on demand. You still have to know if that was accomplished.
At the end of the day, yes, you have to sell products, but you also have to have the product to sell at high quality and a reasonable cost. That’s what we’re really trying to help manufacturers do and figure out.
That’s why we implemented the scheduling capabilities and pulling all of that knowledge from the crazy scheduling within an ERP, and creating something that is leaner. To digitize that process that people are doing today – taking the ERP schedule, moving it around, probably printing it out, sending out to the factory floor – let’s instead pull it into SensrTrx, making changes in the digital Kanban cards, understanding if the plant is over or under capacity, and then pushing that automatically and tracking against it in real-time to know whether or not you’re winning or losing.
And, doing that in a very simple tool that’s easy to implement and you get a really fast return on.
Where We Go From Here
There’s one thing I’ve talked about throughout this entire 5-year journey, and that’s context. Context matters.
The schedule is context. The parts are context. The machines are context. The facilities are context. All of the different cycle times are context. It’s all context. If you don’t have that information, it’s useless. You need the data to make good decisions and to get visibility into the plant, all with the goal of delivering on time to your customers.
Without context, that’s impossible.
It really all boils down to the idea of Zen and the art of manufacturing. Creating connectivity throughout the plant. I even talked about this recently in a podcast conversation with Ryan Chan with UpKeep. But, how do we do this? It comes down to everything we’ve talked about in this blog up until this point – how we got to where we are and how the philosophy has evolved over time.
So, what’s the vision for the future? It’s simple.
SensrTrx is the heartbeat of the manufacturing operation. The future we imagine is to constantly find new ways to reduce complexities while bringing calm to manufacturing.
Here’s to 5 years of achieving big things, and continuing to do that for the next 5. Happy birthday to SensrTrx!