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Talking Points: Data collectors hope to snag extrusion industry

Issue: January 2017

The idea of smart factories, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) has gained huge momentum during the past year and someday, we may look back at this as the time we came out of the dark ages in terms of collecting and using data to optimize manufacturing.

We have written about Prophecy Sensorlytics and covered dozens of iterations of Industry 4.0 during our K show coverage. Industry 4.0 was a hot topic at Pack Expo in November and five presentations touched on it at the Extrusion 2016 conference last month.

Ron Shinn, editor

That’s where I ran into Willem Sundblad, one of the founders of 2-year-old Oden Technologies Ltd., a software, data collection and analytics company focused on the extrusion industry.

Oden’s system collects data from every machine in an extrusion line, then, through cloud computing, mashes the data into a useful form.

“We don’t want to be seen as consultants who come in and tell an extrusion company what to do,” Sundblad said. “We are software and data people, and we give extrusion engineers tools to solve their problems faster and optimize their process.”

Sundblad, 28, was in graduate school in Sweden when a professor asked him to do field work in Sweden and France for research the professor was doing on analytics and factory optimization.

Sundblad visited European manufacturing companies of all sizes and saw that data was mostly being captured manually and that it was not being used for continuous improvement. “They would get an order, do it and ship it,” he said in an interview after a presentation at Extrusion 2016, presented by Plastics Technology magazine and Gardner Business Media. Even companies that spent millions of dollars to collect data frequently failed to get it into the hands of people who could use it for continuous improvement.

He said few companies realize the data collected as part of their manufacturing process make up a core asset of the company.

Oden tries to get the appropriate data into the hands of executives, engineers and operators quickly enough so they can use it to solve problems and optimize their manufacturing process.

Peter Brand, 28, of Chicago, was working in the technology industry in London and tried to recruit Sundblad — who was working for a telecommunications company in London at the time — to his company. The two had met 11 years earlier when Sundblad was an exchange student in the U.S. Sundblad said he would rather start a data company focusing on manufacturing and Brand agreed to join him instead.

The two bootstrapped the first version of their software, and eventually found funding from three venture capital firms and two angel investors in Europe and the U.S. They were looking for a metal manufacturing client in Europe, but their first customer turned out to be a wire and cable manufacturer in the U.S. They moved to New York City and decided to use that first client as an entry into extrusion manufacturing and eventually the wider plastics industry.

“We saw plastics extrusion as having complex problems with lots of variables, and it is a big industry,” Sundblad said.

So what data does Oden collect? “All of it,” Sundblad said. “We try to capture as much as possible because when you are troubleshooting a problem you may not know what you are going into. Solving that problem will be like peeling the layers of an onion. You just have to keep going until you find the discrepancy.”

Oden places sensors that collect data every second on every machine in an extrusion line. That amounts to about 5 million to 10 million data points a day for an average extrusion line.

“The results can be staggering,” Sundblad said for companies using Oden’s system. “We have seen machinery breakdowns reduced by up to 70 percent and overall production increased by 30 percent.” He said users have solved quality problems, optimized machine settings, developed standard operating procedures and reduced material consumption. Users pay only a monthly service fee per extrusion line to license the Oden software.

 Businesses like Oden have become possible because of three factors — inexpensive and powerful electronics (cheap memory), ubiquity of wireless networks in factories and cloud computing. “It would not have been possible 10 years ago,” he said.

 Sundblad said the company is ramping up for this year, when it plans to go after injection molding and blow molding customers.

Today, Oden focuses on collecting and delivering data to people who can solve problems. Humans are still a critical part of the chain. But it is compiling data and working on software that predicts the cause of a problem.

Plastics manufacturing is changing faster now than at any time in its history, in part because data have become so accessible. Oden and others who are not historically part of the plastics industry are bringing empowering technology to market, and those who watch closely and learn to use it will be the winners.

Ron Shinn, editor