Wizata started in 2014 with a drive to bring data-driven solutions to industry, including AI to enhance processes. By 2019, Philippe Maes says the company realised that the processes were quite localised: one company’s plant in Uzbekistan, for example, may not have been providing critical optimisation knowledge to another in Poland.
“We needed to build this platform that collects the data into the cloud, with Microsoft Azure, to optimise and scale up these processes,” Maes explains.
It’s especially important, he adds, for industry players to operate on the edge, for two main reasons in particular.
First is the proximity to data, closely linked to latency and cost savings regarding bandwidth. “In the industrial sector, it’s even more relevant because the plants are never in cities. You never walk around in a big city and find a mine, they’re always in remote places where they don’t have access to telcos.” He adds that even if most places are connected, the main problem tends to be instability.
Second, these are large players, often with plants in a variety of locations worldwide. “They already have infrastructure, so it doesn’t usually require much additional power or investment to install edge computing within the infrastructures of IT they have locally,” according to Maes, even if some of those players may require robust edge devices separate from their current infrastructure. Data and processes can therefore be synchronised, in order for them to be replicated across the various sites.
In terms of capital expenditure, however, Maes says, “What we’ve seen is that with industry we work with very long-term investments, very small margins on big volumes, but where each improvement needs to be a quick one.”
Given the high layout normally for initial equipment or machinery, “the price of a few extra sensors is not much in comparison... if they have the opportunity to optimise or to fine-tune with IoT to gain a little margin, they will invest in it.”
Of course, any interruption or downtime quickly incurs high costs for industry. Maes cites examples, such as where one hour of downtime while running and monitoring a single asset could cost a company €10,000, or where an overheating issue with an oven could block production for even a month.
Even with vast improvements that can be made to replicate or optimise processes across different sites through edge, Maes thinks Europe has been slower than others to catch up. While its main customers are based in Luxembourg with plants elsewhere, he estimates activities to be 50% in Europe, 25% in the US and 25% elsewhere (mainly in “eastern countries”). But the Wizata co-founder believes Europe has been a bit lagging in the edge domain. “What was very obvious in the US, or even in South America, which has quite modern plants, is becoming now really obvious in Europe,” Maes says. “I see Europe investing more and more. Europe is catching up.”
This article originally appeared in the Delano July 2021 print edition.