Tech in Asia - How IoT startup Flutura is competing with GE and winning

Remember when the Nokia 6100 was the most popular phone? That era is gone. Phones have gotten smart. Internet connections, apps, and a host of services come with them. Today you’d want a smartphone, not a dumb gadget.

Something similar is now happening in the world of industrial machines.

Take the example of a large manufacturer of mining equipment for oil fields. There was a time when their million dollar pumps and assorted equipment were sold as dumb machines. Not any more. Now, they come with sensors hooked onto the internet for real time monitoring of their health.

Think of it as a Fitbit for machines. A pressure anomaly or a strange vibration, for example, would signal a servicing or replacement of parts. Breakdowns can thus be prevented or at least fixed at lightning speed. This means huge savings, because a day’s downtime for oil mining equipment is a million dollars lost.

And for the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), it opens up a new line of business. They can remain connected over the internet with all the machines they sell, monitor their performance in real time, and take remedial action in advance to cut shutdown time. With proactive services like these, they boost their LTV (lifetime value) from customers, who get continuous monitoring of their machines instead of periodic inspections.

To do this, however, the OEMs need to be able to collate the multitude of signals from their machines, analyze them, and predict problems. Here’s where an Indian IoT and M2M (machine-to-machine) data analytics startup comes in to provide the missing piece in the puzzle.

“The OEMs know the physics and heuristics of their machines, but they’re novices when it comes to data,” says Krishnan Raman, CEO and co-founder of Flutura. “So we partner with them to build data-driven models that can look at machine status, diagnose problems, and predict failures… Instead of reacting to failure, you orchestrate the entire response before failure.”

Flutura has a brainy product called Cerebra which can do this and it’s flexible enough to be adapted to a wide range of heavy industries. But it has a formidable rival.

GE Predix vs. Flutura Cerebra

GE is also a pioneer in industrial IoT (internet of things). It has poured more than a billion dollars into developing an M2M analytics platform called Predix similar to Flutura’s Cerebra. Initially, it was designed to collect and analyze data from GE’s own turbines and engines to make them run better. Then it offered the platform for other industrial equipment makers to use too.

And yet, some of the world’s largest OEMs prefer the Indian IoT startup over the American giant. US-based John Bean Tech (JBT), the world’s largest manufacturer of airport equipment, is one of them.

If you look out of the window when your plane taxies to a halt at the airport, you will see how quickly it is surrounded by vehicles of all sorts, such as the JBT baggage handler. For every minute’s delay in that baggage handler doing its job, the airport has to cough up stiff penalties for prolonging the turnaround time of the flight. That can range anywhere from US$60 to US$400 per minute.

Now, with Flutura’s help, JBT has a “prognostic service” for airports that use its equipment. Internet-linked sensors and geo-tags on its machines provide a continuous stream of data that help pre-empt delays and cut down penalties.

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