IoT Discussion with Bridger Moreland, CTO of Manatt’s Inc. Part I
photo credit – the technology association of iowa
Hi Bridger, would you tell us a little about yourself?
I’ve been in the IT field for over 30 years, and a lot of that has been in consultant roles working with midsize businesses, across many industries from finance, education definitely on the manufacturing side of things. I have always liked doing that and I found myself here as a consultant for Manatt’s, I really liked what they were doing, what they were about and decided to come onboard. As a consultant you tend to hope around a lot and make a lot of suggestions without seeing necessarily the outcome of those suggestions. So, it was nice to find a home and follow things through and build a team for the long term. My background, I have dabbled on the development side, information side, operations, security, compliance, I am one of those broad background IT people, but I have always been firmly rooted in how does that help the business and what kind of value are we offering.
I’ve always been the in-between person, very business-oriented and focused on creating value with technology and finding new ways of doing things. I’m originally from Nashville, Tennessee. I started off as a developer, but my degrees are in business.
What is IoT? What are the most common examples of IoT systems?
The way I see the Internet of Things, it’s about bringing objects together to share information, you analyze the data then you create an action, with a big emphasis on that action. IoT is used in everything now a days, anything from health bracelets to kitchen appliances, the door locks I have all over my house, even dog collars, I guess you can even program your pet now! Basically, it’s anything that can act as a data collection point to communicate information back, even across different networks, so you can create these huge bodies of data that power better decisions.
The quality and scope of the data across the internet of things, generates this opportunity for much more contextualized and responsive interaction, so these devices create a big potential for change. So that’s the exciting piece of IoT for me.
It’s an exciting challenge to bring new technology to our industry, how is harnessing the power of IoT any different?
When we look around, we are already heavily reliant on technology, think of the systems, the computers the software, the sensors, all that we use to be able to do our job day to day. When it comes to pushing levers, the minute you start pushing buttons you are pretty much programming the computer that gets that product done and out the door.
You just gave us a great definition of what IoT is and how it applies, so how about the industrial side of IoT? Why is there a special term for industrial application of IoT technology (IIOT) and how does that apply?
Well it’s another acronym we can throw around now to confuse people for one… but seriously the industrial IoT covers a lot of specific use cases for manufacturing logistics, mining, and other industrial sectors. Initially when this term was thrown around, it was very specific to optimization of operational efficiency, which is what I am completely about in my life. It’s all about operational efficiency and automation. It moved us toward intelligent manufacturing or industry 4.0, you know we have been through an industrial revolution and this is another big serious surge forward in what you can do in manufacturing. And now it’s driving areas like demand service models which is very specific to what a customer wants, digital transformation, asset performance management which we are pretty big into here at Manatt’s, for controlling our equipment and assets. I have always felt that
IIoT is that convergence of information technology with operational technology that used to be two completely separate things. When you think about it, our systems when you are setting some best practice protective guard rails, that is a very new way of thinking for management. But when you get those two things together, to converge, it enables this freedom to be a lot nimbler on the business side. And it is IIoT that is driving a lot of that empowerment.
What are some IIoT examples and top benefits?
It obviously offers the ability to be more efficient in how we do things, it saves time, it saves money, it even reduces emissions in the process, so there is a green side to it. More importantly, it allows companies to rethink how they are delivering services and producing goods. You have sensors on product lines that can increase efficiency and cut down on waste using smart sensors. As an example of what we are already doing with our fleet of trucks, anything that has 4 wheels or more has sensors on it, even our drills in our quarries, all this moves the needle towards information accuracy and that drives not only operational efficiency but a discovery in that they can achieve better outcomes.
You mentioned already outfitting your fleet with more and sensors to increase efficiency, how will IIoT technology continue to affect the ready-mix concrete industry specifically?
We are talking about an industry that has very small profit margins to start with, it’s every penny helps type of industry. IoT has the potential to affect every process in the ready-mix industry, and in a lot of cases it already has. For example, our fleet is already using cloud dispatch and GPS to pin point location and providing information that scales doing paperless ticketing. We have even played with drones to measure the size of the piles in the yard, which is much more accurate than pulling the yard stick up and having someone crawl up a pile of material. There are safety wearables that can identify where equipment is located, the location of the personnel around, making sure that we are keeping track of proximities. Some of the other things we are working with is smart cameras and sensors that allow for safe remote batching. There is this continuous delivery system that will allow a plant to be predictive on its production based on what’s happening on the job. Its focusing on the site that they are servicing, where they need the material and they know how much material is going there. On the other side of the supplies, the inbound to the plant from the quarries. You know if anyone thinks that the materials industry isn’t part of technology they are mistaken, because keeping track of all these separate factors, its easy when you are confined to one building. It’s like manufacturing a widget going through an assembly line. However, in talking about the job sites that we are supplying, we are geographically spread out, and having the visibility between when all those things happen, really takes a technology solution and sensors everywhere so we know what is coming, what needs to be done and what is necessary on the other end.
How does cloud technology fit within the framework of leveraging IoT?
To me, the cloud is a big giant repository that allows us to dump data in and fluidly move it back and forth between other applications to analyze and make better decisions.
It brings its own issues around security and how we architect it, but it makes it a lot easier to manipulate information all in one space. We used to have to secure only a few machines, now we are securing untold number of devices that are smart. Central control makes it easier and more effective. Traditionally the materials industry did not put a lot into their IT support, typically more emphasis went towards the operational side of things. In the past, having security analyst and people filling those types of roles, was not the norm in the materials world. This is where the cloud can help with that, for example take AWS (Amazon Web Services), it is a government certified storage solution with really high levels of security that you simply could not get in your own infrastructure. So storage capacity and security is definitely helped by moving to the cloud.
I see the cloud being a good fit also because it has become affordable and accessible for smaller size businesses to benefit as well. This type of architecture used to be very prohibitive for a small business to get into, and now you can access AWS and spin up something in about less than 10 minutes. All of sudden, companies of all sizes can benefit from this great cloud environment, where you can store all your data, have it securely backed-up automatically, and the best part it works! When you are talking about IoT, it becomes even more important because now you are talking about hundreds of sensors that are out there and they are all feeding a little bit of data up continuously, and that becomes exponentially harder to design a data center that can accommodate. So, when we are talking about cloud, it has this elastic capability so you can grow it and shrink it, based on however much data you are collecting. And you can decide what type of information has business value and cut out the rest to contain costs.
I see the cloud fitting inside IoT just because of its flexible nature.
It’s custom built around the idea that it will take as much or as little information that we want and will shrink and grow both the cost and the effectiveness of that infrastructure to match it. It’s kind of like what we want to build on the products industry, something that is custom suited for our customer and that is what the cloud can do for us.
What are the potential benefits and ROI in using IoT in our industry?
Two pop out of mind, one is absolutely on the safety side. Not only are our people important to us, it’s hard enough to find people to come to this industry, so we want them to be safe in what they are doing. And so, knowing where people are, doing things using sensors instead of manual processes, especially those that put our people in danger, like climbing on ladders. It’s the simple things that can really cause an incident, like being behind a truck and not realizing that its moving, backing into things, these are solvable issues that can be handled with technology to significantly decrease any of these types of incidents from happening. The other benefit I see is definitely the communication and production line. I think knowing what we need and having that predictability to forecast what we need, will probably be the biggest operational improvement that we have to decreasing waste from a quality standpoint, and ensuring we have what we need when we need it.
Up Next – Sysdyne and Bridger Moreland : Part II
Sysdyne has been innovating the Concrete Ready-Mix Industry for over 40 years, having introduced the first cloud-based dispatch system to reduce IT costs and improve access to critical information throughout the enterprise. By introducing the latest in cloud computing technology, producers have been able to improve operational performance and efficiency significantly. Our innovative approach to concrete dispatching, batching and delivery management, has revolutionized the way concrete producers run their operations and interact with their customers.