Digital transformation and Industrial IoT have created the potential for new business models that can provide significant benefits for industrial equipment distributors and their end user clients. ARC Advisory Group research indicates that IIoT-enabled remote condition monitoring and predictive analytics have already achieved significant traction and are likely to become the next “killer apps” in the Industrial IoT space.
Remote condition monitoring, analytics, and predictive maintenance offer a particularly compelling value proposition for critical industrial assets located in harsh, physically remote environments. Not only do these environments increase the stress on the assets themselves, but it can be costly and time-consuming for technical experts to travel to the asset to assess their condition, monitor their performance, identify the need for maintenance, and/or predict impending failures.
ARC recently spoke with Mr. Marcelo Orberg, Chief Operating Officer of Sotreq, a large Caterpillar equipment distributor, about that company’s successful implementation of a remote condition monitoring and predictive maintenance solution. We also spoke with Mr. Carlos Augusto Britto, Technical Computing Supervisor at Chevron about how Radix helped his organization gain more value from its operational data.
Challenging Economic Conditions Drive New Approaches for Customer Support
The Sotreq Group and Caterpillar joined forces in 1941. Today, Sotreq is one of the largest “Cat” distributors globally. Sotreq’s customers include construction, forestry, agriculture, marine, mining, and energy companies.
As Mr. Orberg explained to ARC, “We’ve seen significant consolidation in this business. This places a lot of pressure on reducing costs and we’re seeing a big demand from our customers to help them increase their jobsite productivity.”
To help meet these types of challenges and be better positioned to grow its business, Sotreq started changing its business and operational systems about three years ago. The company expanded its existing SAP financials module to also include modules for service and product support, plus project, warehouse, and maintenance management. While it was satisfied with SAP’s finance and transactional capabilities, the company didn’t feel that it addressed all its needs from an operational perspective.
This led Sotreq to engage with Radix, an engineering and software development company, to help it integrate its field services and central condition monitoring center with its SAP financial applications and third-party customer relations management (CRM) application. According to Mr. Orberg, the goal was to integrate these functions, streamline operations, and provide salespeople with more information. Working together, the two companies developed the “SotreqLink” solution, a customized version of Radix’s X!Link operational intelligence solution. Based on this successful engagement, Sotreq subsequently obtained a 50 percent ownership stake in Radix and the two companies now jointly market the solution.
SotreqLink Empowers Service Organization and Provides “Digital Channel” to Customers
Sotreq’s goal was not just to increase its own field service efficiency and increase its level of engagement with the company’s Cat equipment customers, but also to empower the field service technicians and home office service analysts working out of the company’s remote service center in Rio de Janeiro to help reveal new sales opportunities. This has enabled the company to unify its sales and customer support centers to a large degree.
According to Mr. Orberg, the solution also provides predictive maintenance support to help the company’s analysts identify potential issues and/or scenarios and make appropriate recommendations to customers. The predictive maintenance data comes from multiple sources, including oil analysis, work order history, and real-time machine data. This information can be sent to salespeople, providing them with opportunity information to help generate leads. Just as importantly, Sotreq’s customer support representatives can use this information to support their industrial customers’ demanding requirements for machine uptime.
“SotreqLink provides a digital channel with which we can interact with our customers,” said Mr. Orberg.
Solution Empowers Technicians in the Field
According to Mr. Orberg, SotreqLink supports the company’s field service technicians with a mobile smartphone app that provides them with immediate access to all information residing in the machine’s on-board computer, as well as related maintenance documentation and reports. The technicians download the information to their mobile devices and, if needed, take still photos or videos of the damaged equipment.
When the work is completed, the technician closes out the service order and processes the associated documentation using his/her internet-connected smartphone. According to Mr. Orberg, “This saves a lot of time for the technicians and allows them to spend the evenings with their families, rather than filling out a lot of tedious paperwork.”
Mr. Orberg also mentioned that, in the past, it had been difficult supporting field technicians with geographic information to help reduce driving time and avoid potential hazards. Through its integration with Google Maps, the SotreqLink smartphone app now makes this information readily available.
Remote Condition Monitoring and Analysis
Sotreq had previously established a central monitoring center to enable its senior service specialists to remotely tap into its customers’ smart, connected Caterpillar equipment. However, the capabilities were somewhat limited, particularly when it came to collecting, collating, analyzing, and visualizing data from multiple sources. These include online asset data, oil analysis reports, inspection reports, maintenance records, purchase history, warranty information, troubleshooting database, etc.
SotreqLink supports the company’s highly capable equipment analysts with remote monitoring and analytics capabilities that provide critical insights into the condition and performance of that equipment. This enables the analysts to troubleshoot problems, analyze performance, identify impending problems, and schedule needed maintenance. This information can also help those analysts identify potential sales opportunities that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Integrated Modules Provide Needed Functionality
By combining Sotreq’s in-depth understanding of its own business processes and Radix’s expertise in software, networks, analytics, and other digital technologies, the two companies developed a series of modules that – together – provides a customized, but fully integrated solution for Sotreq. Most of this development effort took place in 2015 and 2016, with the final integrated solution going live in July 2016. Specific modules employed in the solution include:
- Predictive Maintenance
- Monitoring Dashboard
- Fluid Analysis (which, according to Radix, employs machine learning techniques)
- Field Service Management
- Mobile App
- Field Service Performance Indicator
- Opportunities Management
- Client Portal
As with any major technology implementation, particularly those that involve established business processes, Sotreq faced both organizational and human resource challenges during this ambitious project.
According to Mr. Orberg, “In the past, our salespeople did not have a high degree of technological sophistication. Now, we use the predictive analytics in SotreqLink to identify customer leads. As a result, we needed to develop our field service people to also become salespeople. This was a new challenge for us. Also, in our condition monitoring center, we had analysts who were trained to download and analyze reports to generate leads. With SotreqLink, we had to develop these analysts to become more like consultants and develop rules to help the system learn and identify patterns to be able to explain things to customers. In other words, we needed fewer – but more skilled – people. Our analysts now function more like engineers.”
Due to the traditionally conservative nature of most heavy equipment distributor organizations, in the past, it had been challenging for Sotreq to develop new technology to meet its changing needs. In contrast, as a technology and engineering company, Radix attracts and retains young, technology-focused employees. Mr. Orberg expressed that this has resulted in a good, complementary relationship. In this relationship, Sotreq has a dual role; both as a customer of Radix, and as a partner helping Radix develop new solutions for new markets and thus expand its own business.
Digital Transformation at Chevron
To learn more about Radix’s digital transformation-related work in the oil & gas industry, ARC interviewed Mr. Carlos Augusto Britto, Technical Computing Supervisor at Chevron in Brazil. We learned that following Chevron’s successful implementation of a real-time information infrastructure to support its operations at the Frade offshore field, the company decided to partner with Radix to help it organize, structure, and map its data to support new operational requirements. Working together closely, Chevron and Radix developed the following operational support-related solutions using OSIsoft products:
- Data structure and data quality control
- Topsides monitoring tool
- Chemical injection analysis
- Emergency valves monitoring
- Smart monitoring & notifications
These were all integrated with Chevron’s i-Field digital oilfield solutions to create a complete, well-structured surveillance tool. According to Mr. Britto, the significant IT- and OT-related results achieved include:
- Improved governance model
- Reduced development effort and duplicated tasks
- Standardized and optimized system and data
- Increased data quality
- Increased collaboration between the onshore office and offshore operations through the OSIsoft PI System
- Optimized system maintenance, security, and scalability
- Reduced hours needed to develop new dashboards
- Reduced chemicals consumption
- Reduced costs for third-party control loop monitoring solution
- Aggregate-status-per-production tree
- Significantly reduced response times
- Increased maintenance and support effectiveness
According to Mr. Britto, Radix was instrumental in helping Chevron develop the above solutions and achieve the associated benefits. “Radix has well-prepared people with deep knowledge of engineering, operations, OSIsoft products, and IT, such as web design, software development, and database modeling,” he said.
Radix Digital Expertise Spans Multiple Industries
Radix’s well-staffed North American headquarters are in Houston, Texas. In the US, the company also has operations in New York; Massachusetts; and Georgia; plus Toronto, Canada. According to the company, as of February 2018, it had a total of 540 engineers on staff “to help its global customers transform their data into actionable intelligence for competitive advantage.”
As we also learned, Radix has successfully merged its capabilities in traditional engineering, automation & control, and software & IT to develop significant digital engineering capabilities. In fact, the company now refers to itself as a “digital engineering company.” To help drive its digital vision, Radix has also created an ecosphere of software technology partnerships with leading companies such as Microsoft, SAP, OSIsoft, AVEVA, and PTC.
While the company has done well in transferring the digital expertise gained in its engagements in the oil & gas and chemical industries to other industries (such as learned in our discussions with Mr. Orberg from Sotreq), Radix continues to maintain a strong focus on the oil & gas and chemical industries.
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Keywords: Digital Transformation, Industrial IoT, Predictive Maintenance, Machine Uptime, Data, Analytics, Radix, Sotreq, Caterpillar, Chevron, ARC Advisory Group.