Since this week’s theme so far is data, let’s keep it going with a profile on Petasense, a startup that offers predictive analytics to industrial clients. Petasense was formed in 2014 with a plan to stop downtime at factories by improving plant owners’ ability to understand when their machines would fail. It built a Wi-Fi-connected vibration sensor that collects data from each machine and sends it up to the cloud for analysis.
The resulting data gets sent back in the form of a health score to plant operators. What Petasense founders discovered was that downtime isn’t why companies were interested in the service. Instead, they wanted to use it to avoid scheduled maintenance on equipment that didn’t actually need it. Now plant operators have the ability to set a customized maintenance schedule for each machine, avoiding the downtime and cost that comes with servicing a machine that doesn’t yet need it.
What Petasense is doing isn’t new. GE has been touting its ability to take in data to predict failures for the last five or six years. Startups such as Augury also offer similar services, albeit by analyzing the sounds that machines make as opposed to their direct vibration. Really, the sense is that anyone with a fancy algorithm and access to data can come up with some way to predict the health of a given machine.
But Abhinav Khushraj, one of Petasense’s cofounders, begs to differ. He says that Petasense is different because fancy algorithms are one thing, but access to data is the essential thing. Petasense built its own vibration sensor so it could get clean data to populate its analytics efforts. Controlling the sensor gives Petasense the competitive edge, says Khushraj.
I want to believe this. I can see the value in having clean data and the ability to understand the specifics of the hardware collecting that data. However, I also know that new ways of getting data come along all the time with different incentives to use them. Petasense does make it incredibly easy to buy and deploy its vibration sensor, which goes a long way to assuaging my doubts about its customers finding a new source of vibration data.
The sensor costs between $400 and $600 and gets glued onto the equipment with industrial epoxy. The battery lasts two years and transmits data every three hours. If it’s as simple as getting someone to walk around sticking a sensor onto every piece of equipment, then that’s not a difficult ask. This assumes it’s easy to put the device on a corporate network. Because it uses Wi-Fi, things could get tricky.
Once the sensor is transmitting data, companies pay about $10 per month, per device, for the analytics. The whole service replaces what was typically one person, who would come around and collect vibration data from gear every month or so, and the specialist that person sent the data to, who would then use that reading to see if there was a problem.
Obviously the sensor replaces those two people, but it also collects a lot more information than was previously possible, which presumably leads to better results. Petasense has customers in the utilities industry and customers who use it to monitor HVAC equipment in buildings.