IoT: Pushing manufacturers to the edge
Tego CEO Tim Butler speaks about the company’s focus on the ‘T’ in IoT (Internet of Things) in order to make mobile assets smart, enabling embedded intelligence at source, ready to analyse and transform any manufacturing organisation’s value chain.
Tego’s Founder and CEO Tim Butler describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur”, inspired to set up Tego (his third company) following three decades in the world of tech. Butler witnessed the transition from mainframe computers to green screens and distributed computing, with systems across the globe changing the way the world was working.
“We saw a similar transition beginning to happen with ‘things’ in the same way it happened for people and processes,” says Butler. “One of the big challenges in that process was the ability to have information distributed, whether that’s on your phone, tablet or PC, wherever you may be. Today, that change for things is embodied by the Internet of Things (IoT). Our view was that for things to do that, it’s not enough to have a dumb green screen or a sensor throwing more information back at a cloud; you need to actually have smart assets so things have real data and information which people and systems can interact with, both at the edge and in the cloud, to make better decisions and be more efficient.”
Tego designed and built the first fully passive UHF RFID – a tagging device that can hold thousands-times more information and, asserts Butler, really enable an asset to be truly smart while continuing to grow information as people and systems read information from it and write information to it throughout its life. “We’ve started the revolution to enable the asset to tell its story,” he explains. “Some assets travel across the world every day, some stay in one place and have people come by on a regular basis. What we’re capturing is that information about the people, systems and environment that a traditional sensor or other operational data doesn’t.”
Tego’s biggest breakthrough was overcoming what many perceived as being a physics problem: How can you read, write and manage large amounts of data on a very small computer chip with extremely small amounts of power? “The analogy I use is that we’re putting together the PC for the thing versus the people,” answers Butler. “We’re enabling that distributed information to be securely shared and used for a range of applications and use cases particularly in the manufacturing sector.”
Tego began offering its solutions in the aviation industry to address major issues around maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) while managing the life cycle history of assets travelling around the world with different entities in different organisations. “These were virtually impossible tasks to have some back-end system to be able to monitor and manage,” Butler recalls. “However, if the asset can become a tool and synced with each of those organisations quickly with the model we have adopted and built out with our solution, which includes both the basic hardware of the chip and the OS with its basic application, it now enables you to use iOS or any android device to start to connect and read/write information on virtually any asset as it travels.”
Butler highlights the benefits to the aerospace industry of greatly reduced time and cost for being able to identify and manage the paperwork (which has been reduced by 30 times) around MRO. “This is significant because the actual maintenance work is 15-20% while the other 80-85% is paperwork – looking things up and tracking information – because you’re often dealing with assets that are several years old. By digitising we become more efficient and deliver information in minutes.”
Tego’s Asset Intelligence Platform (AIP) can transform value chains as it’s the first platform to allow the asset to become a repository for information, not just an endpoint. This is also being applied across manufacturing in pharma where Butler notes it can enable clean room capabilities and gamma sterilisation. “As a result, you can start to tag and manage information in very robust environments,” he says. “You can also use it to validate for counterfeit and authentication purposes.”
Butler reckons the applications for its AIP are multiplying because virtually any industry can. “It’s all about the information we need to share,” he enthuses. “Guess what’s happening in the world today? You need to start considering digitising your assets because people are not going to walk around for the next 30 years with a pad of paper and a pen to do their job. So, you have to enable that digital capability and we are that foundational element.”
It's a foundational element adopted by the likes of Airbus and Boeing (among the world’s top 10 OEMs) and Honeywell to address a major pain point companies have today – the workforce has a huge knowledge base of what’s going on but no ability to properly share that information. “If you’re at the edge and want to inform, educate and enable people to do a better, faster and more efficient job, how do you get them up to speed to share that vision and manage assets, systems and processes?” asks Butler. “One way to do that is to digitise information,” he believes. “Then you begin to incorporate their knowledge and expertise into your system and process. The reality today is that most of the data we collect is very time sensitive. If you can’t get that information to people the moment they need it, the value is lost. We need to deliver that information via the asset which is typically at the edge.”
Butler reveals the process starts on the manufacturing line where Tego’s software solution can be embedded, so as products come through, it automatically embeds thousands-times more information onto their asset than could have been done traditionally. “It allows Airbus and Boeing to better assemble their aircraft and provide that information to the airline,” says Butler. “We’re enabling them to create that initial birth record, which aids maintenance as the same software in the back-end allows the airline to do any updates and have the ability to read and write to manage information for the next 10, 20, 30 years. This enables more efficient basic MRO of products travelling on a daily basis – whether it’s seats, oxygen generators, galley equipment, life vests, landing gear or cockpit controls, thousands of these assets on every aircraft are now being tagged.”
As car manufacturers embrace this approach with operational sensors, Butler recognises a huge opportunity for Tego with the rise of driverless cars and the AI being implemented. “We are another piece to that puzzle to make sure information is safe and secure, but done much more cheaply so you don’t have to have an active sensor on every asset.”
IoT is developing exponentially as a whole new ecosystem is developed. Butler maintains that what Tego is doing is not in competition with that, but a vital complementary component. “Partnerships are occurring because the major IoT companies are working to enable connections,” he says. “Whether it’s Amazon, AWS or Greengrass, it’s about understanding how to connect all the knowledge data out there in real time to deliver much deeper value. On the back-end we’re working with tag and chip manufacturers and software developers in a range of industries, from aviation to transport and life sciences, to develop applications that fit their manufacturing needs. Right now, Tego is working off the iOS and Android platforms from a basic operating system perspective because we want people to use their phones and tablets to read/write this information, whether it’s a picture you need to upload, a spreadsheet to update or a process that needs checking to connect back to the database and the hub itself. At the front end we’re then working with the large IoT providers to integrate this critical information into a broader IoT environment in a more useful way.”
Butler highlights the growing realisation, across industries, that IoT will push more companies to the edge. “The value of building a large IoT system isn’t just about throwing more and more data up in the cloud. The value is in getting better analytics and understanding of the critical information at the edge,” he asserts. “As more information moves to the edge, people are starting to realise that the management of information is critical to the overall value proposition of IoT. Companies are asking us: What does that information look like for me? Our solution allows them to be able to work that out for their own organisation.”
Butler argues Tego is the only company that’s approached this problem from the ground up as a total system, taking 10 years to fully understand all factors and build out a system that works. “We actually have one of the largest intellectual property portfolios in the world around all of the elements in these systems, from the hardware side of the ASIC (Application Specified Integrated Circuit) to the software side of the OS which enables us to work within the larger systems that exist out there today.” He concludes: “We started by aiming to do what we’ve always done, just a little bit faster and all of a sudden, we start to make demands of new technologies as people’s brains explode to transform major industries. That’s where the excitement exists.”