Getting up to speed

July 7th, 2017

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Northeast Indiana manufacturers soon could see an increase in quality and efficiency through a locally made product, which can add intelligence to their machinery.

Fort Wayne-based Northern Apex has retrofitted expensive machinery of large-volume manufactures for a couple of years with an “Internet of Things” hardware platform it developed for that purpose.

In recent months, the company began marketing the newest configurations of the product, which are more easily customizable and more affordable. As the company was developing the family of hardware platforms, it also tweaked the design to improve the efficiency of production.

“Northern Apex specializes not only in new solutions but in updating legacy equipment to work in the IoT landscape-often referred to as ‘Brownfield IoT,’” Kevin Knuth, the company’s business development manager, said in a statement.

“Our approach adds IoT capabilities to existing equipment, so you leverage your previous investments, and still take advantage of new technology.”

Leveraging the Internet of Things will be a significant part of the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, which will involve the discovery of important ways to use new technologies, and put more familiar technologies to new uses in the production of goods.

“Industry 4.0 is a game changer for companies that need quick access to information to make critical business decisions daily. A well deployed IoT system allows companies to reduce waste and increase efficiency and profits,” Knuth said.

How it works

The control platform collects and analyzes data from sensors installed to monitor what is going on with important parts of the production process.

It gives the machinery the ability to decide how to respond to the information and enables it to communicate with other machinery and sensors in order to incorporate additional information from them into the decision making or to inform them of the decision.

Some descriptions of manufacturing processes that put decision making into the hands of smart machinery refer to that as “processing at the edge,” and this processing of production data the instant it is detected can reduce bandwidth use, according to Northern Apex.

“A lot of times you go into these factories and they have a piece of machinery that costs $200,000 or $300,000 and it works fine but it’s not IoT compatible,” Knuth said. “We can add some intelligence to it by using sensors and control boards and now you have a smart machine that can communicate with other machines.

“You hear more and more about the Internet of Things every day, and this is just the perfect device for all of those.”

With the improvements and the lower price to help extend the technology’s reach, “if I do my job and market it well, it could have a very profound effect,” he said. “This is a way to make companies more efficient and more profitable and that’s what it’s all about.”

Northern Apex expects the IoT Tech Control Platforms to make employers more profitable by giving their machinery important new capabilities without reducing the number of people required to operate the machinery, Knuth said.

For example, machines Northern Apex had given intelligence at one of the nation’s largest cabinet makers were able to work together to discover what was causing occasional flaws in the cabinets, and the company was able to eliminate production waste by correcting the problem.

In addition to the platforms, Northern Apex offers sensors, custom software and system design services to help manufacturers make the most of IoT technology.

“We hear consistently from some of our big vendor companies, international companies, that Northern Apex is one of the few that has all the pieces of the puzzle,” Knuth said.

“Our method is to say, ‘Here’s the basic building blocks we have. What are you trying to accomplish and we can customize the building blocks to fit what you are trying to do.”

The company’s IoT Tech Control platforms come in three configurations - the Tech 200, 300, and 500. Its work with the earliest versions of IoT and predecessor technology dates back to 1998.

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