Affordable Industrial Internet of Things Systems for Small Factories

Anurag Garg made a Forbes 30 under 30 list by transforming manufacturing facilities

13 February 2018

Modernizing a manufacturing plant to make it smarter can be an expensive proposition—running into the millions of dollars. And it can take years to upgrade the infrastructure, develop custom software, and train employees. For many small factories, the expense and time is just too much to shoulder.

That’s one reason why IEEE Member Anurag Garg helped found Dattus, an industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) company in Indianapolis with a second office in Pune, India. Dattus works with small and midsize manufacturing plants to turn them into smart factories for what he says is a fraction of the cost and time it takes larger automation companies to do the same thing.

Dattus helps manufacturing facilities collect, manage, visualize, and analyze data from disparate sources within hours, instead of the months it can take for larger IIoT companies, Garg says. Customers install a small “black box” on their equipment and then can access the information from any Web-enabled device.

Forbes featured Garg in its 2017 class of 30 Under 30 in Manufacturing and Industry.

“Most manufacturers in the United States—90 percent—are small companies with less than 500 employees. They can’t afford smart systems from providers like General Electric and Siemens,” Garg says. “Today less than 14 percent of machines on manufacturing floors are connected to a network or produce data outside of a closed-loop control system, and we wondered why, especially given all the buzz around smart manufacturing. We realized that current industrial IoT solutions required infrastructure, development, and six to 18 months of ramp-up—which are all costs and complications most manufacturers were not willing to bear.”

The Institute asked Garg, who is a thought leader in IIoT and a published researcher in micro and nano technology, what got him interested in the manufacturing sector, as well as how IIoT systems work and what engineers who want to work for a manufacturer should expect.

Why did you launch your company?

My cofounder and I started Bearing Analytics in 2013 to commercialize industrial sensor technology we had developed while in graduate programs at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind. During our meetings with potential customers, we identified a bigger unmet need: Manufacturing facilities wanted an easy path to collect, manage, and use data for predictive insights on their equipment. They faced challenges with data “stranded” in their machines, limited access to analytics, and very complex and expensive IT-driven solutions to pick from. We saw an opportunity where we could make a difference. We formed Dattus in 2014 to solve this unmet need.

Dattus now delivers a full-stack IIoT solution to simplify connected factories. Today we operate on two continents and serve a number of automotive and automotive parts manufacturers.

What is an industrial IoT system?

The Internet of Things is the idea that anything with an on/off switch, such as cellphones, watches, and toasters, can be connected to the Internet and accessed and controlled remotely. All these “things” can use this connectivity to exchange information with other things on the Internet, and learn and enable smarter, more-aware, decisions. Your coffeepot could be programmed to start brewing coffee when you get out of bed in the morning. Or your car—aware of other cars on the road—could safely and autonomously navigate around them.

A lot goes on behind the scenes to make this happen. The technology layers include physical devices for data generation; connectivity; edge computing; data accumulation and storage; data abstraction; application; and control and collaboration processes.

Industrial IoT is the application of this technology in the industrial world and on machines.

Machines are rich with insights about their health and reliability. Monitoring physical parameters, like temperature, vibration, and lubricant quality, can provide insight into the equipment’s health. Deeper analysis of some of this data—such as analyzing alarms, power, the number of start-stop incidents, and production rates—can shed light into efficiency. The goal of IIoT is to help manufacturing facilities use analytics to prevent expensive downtime and disruptions, and to improve efficiencies, worker safety, and quality of output.

How does your product work?

We install a small edge device, similar to a Nest thermostat for the smart home, on the manufacturing equipment to collect data from a wide variety of new or existing data sources, including wired sensors, wireless sensors, and industrial control systems, over a variety of protocols. This data is aggregated, encrypted, and transmitted to the cloud. Behind the scenes, Dattus has a sophisticated cloud back-end for data ingestion, storage, live analytics, and data security. Our customers simply log on to a Web-based application to access all the data collected, along with colorful visualizations, reports, and a variety of other tools that help them translate data into action.

By allowing our customers to leverage data from existing sensors and use our out-of-the-box solution, which requires no programming or infrastructure setup, we enable them to ramp up within hours.

Customers use our solution to predict and prevent machine failures, improve their response time improve efficiencies, and ensure output quality. Overall, using data to drive decision-making on manufacturing floors delivers triple-digit return on investment.

Why set up in Pune, as well as in Indianapolis?

It is all about being close to customers and close to talent. Indianapolis happens to be centrally located in the heart of manufacturing in the United States: the Midwest. And Pune is an industrial technology development hub in India where Emerson, GE, Siemens, and several other large industrial companies are located.

What are some of the hurdles you’ve encountered?

We find a lot of resistance to change on manufacturing floors—a “this is the way we’ve always done things” mind-set. We’re trying to sell new technology to a very conservative market. In the consumer world, there are apps for just about everything. But in the manufacturing world, they don’t exist. Not only are we telling customers to rely on data—which they’ve never even looked at—we’re encouraging them to develop habits they don’t have. This has forced us to get creative in our approach and simplify not only our messaging but our product as well so that we can reduce friction by our users.

What are the job prospects for engineers in manufacturing?

There is certainly a high demand for engineers in the manufacturing world, and companies are willing to pay a lot. Most millennials are not looking for jobs in manufacturing. Companies like Google and Apple are a lot more enticing than factories. Dattus itself is expected to at least double in size in the next 12 to 18 months. We’ll be looking for software developers and data science and data analytics experts, and we’ll be filling positions in technical sales, business development, and marketing.

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