The world of industrial IoT is rarely sexy, but it can be exciting. And right now I am really excited about a startup from San Francisco called Pulsa which is making sensors that measure pressure in gas tanks and the general weight of items in inventory. Formed in June 2016, the startup first created sensors that measure the pressure of gasses in those big cylinders sold to everyone from industrial manufacturers to restaurants that use CO2 in their soda machines.
The sensors communicate with a Pulsa-supplied gateway to let companies keep track of their gas inventory without having to send a person around to manually check it. Pulsa has also built predictive algorithms to anticipate the need for more gas and help companies keep it in stock without buying excess inventory, just in case.
Dave Wiens, the CEO and co-founder of Pulsa, says that the company’s pressure sensors for gas cylinders are already in customer trials and the weight sensors should be ready for trials by the end of April. Customers buy the sensors and receive an accompanying gateway. Today’s gateways use Wi-Fi, but Wiens says that later this year they will have a gateway with Wi-Fi and cellular backup. Those gateways will have NB-IoT, LTE-CatM 1, and 2G fallback, which should enable them to work anywhere in the world.
The sensor hardware costs $79 for the current pressure sensors which includes the gateway and cloud services for the app. Afterward, the app costs $48 a year per sensor.
As for the return on investment, one of Pulsa’s trial customers manages about 200 gas cylinders and has sensors on 50 of them. So far that customer estimates that it has saved $1,000 a month on easy-to-measure things, such as the gas in its tanks. Eliminating the need for an employee to check those levels at the end of each day saves the customer roughly $200 a month alone.
More impressive is how the ability to check the actual amount of gas left over and predict when it will run out saves the customer $1,500 every other month when a tank unexpectedly runs out in the middle of a manufacturing process.
Plus, the customer gets to use more of the gas. That’s because historically the company would toss a tank at the end of the day if it reached 200 psi due to worries it would run out overnight, costing precious production time. Ahead of weekends and holidays engineers would toss the cylinders if they had less than 300 or 400 psi. But the predictive algorithms that Pulsa provides let the managers of the process feel more comfortable using up more of the gas without worrying about running out. The customer estimates this saves it about $750 in what would otherwise be wasted gas.
The customer also plans to look at how to reduce its backup inventory by 10% since it will now have a more accurate sense of which gases it needs and when. In other words, the sensors on gas cylinders and the coming weight sensors will hopefully do for inventory what predictive maintenance is currently doing for production.
Wiens says that Pulsa is ready to sell the pressure sensors for gas cylinders and has received a lot of inquires about the weight sensor product. Potential customers for that product include grocery stores that want to track produce inventory, building management companies that want to measure the amount of cleaning products they have left, and more. Heck, I’d love to have something like it for my fridge so I know when my milk is running low.
But Pulsa isn’t aiming for the consumer market. So far, the enterprise and industrial market is plenty for it to handle.