Power up with IoT

 |   Microsoft IoT

When you’re in the business of guaranteeing power, uptime is everything. For ABT Power Management, keeping customers’ machinery powered and ready 24/7 requires the constant monitoring and maintenance of industrial batteries—a complex and time-consuming task.

From early on, ABT saw real value in collecting and analyzing data to track the use and condition of batteries. For years, this was accomplished by hand. But with the new capabilities enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT), ABT saw a way to automate and streamline operations. The company teamed up with digital-business consultant Mariner to create a remote monitoring-solution built on Microsoft Azure IoT services that provides a major competitive advantage by cutting costs and optimizing operations. The solution is so effective that ABT can now offer its customers a 30 percent savings on power costs.

‘Eye-opening data’
ABT helps customers manage the power requirements for warehouse machinery such as forklifts, scissor lifts, laser-guided equipment and more. The company’s GuaranteedPOWER program offers data monitoring and analysis services to ensure power is always available.

About ten years ago, ABT stumbled upon a European recording device that attached to each battery to collect data, and brought that innovation to the U.S. “We started to uncover some eye-opening data that was really dispelling the old myths in the industry,” says Ken Fearn, ABT’s president and CEO. Among those myths: a forklift requires one battery per shift to operate. For a 24/7 operation, that meant three batteries were required for every forklift. “The data showed that that was far from true,” says Fearn. “There were way too many batteries in the marketplace for what the customer actually needed.”

The solution is so effective that ABT can now offer its customers a 30 percent savings on power costs.

This insight enabled ABT’s customers to keep fewer batteries on hand, as ABT kept close track of how much charge was left in each battery, and monitored for overheating and other maintenance issues.

That was a tremendous stride forward, but it still required an ABT field service crew to regularly visit each customer and manually download the data from individual batteries for analysis. This wasn’t efficient; ABT has customers all over the country. However, the ability to use insights from data to control costs and increase productivity was novel, and enabled ABT to grow its business via GuaranteedPower solutions. Eventually, ABT could use SQL Server to synchronize on-premises customer databases with sensor data, but on-the-ground engineers were needed to analyze the information, and the process was costly and slow.

Remote monitoring
ABT realized its infrastructure was not growing with the company, and response times were not fast enough. Fearn wanted a scalable, unified solution that would offer a more complete and real-time service to customers. That’s when he called on Mariner to help him create the Remote Automated Asset Management System (RAAMS), which monitors customers’ power supplies remotely, and allows ABT to analyze data from diverse sources, diagnose issues, set new rules and send simple instructions to field service staff—all from one central location.

The power experts at Mariner helped ABT

Based on Azure IoT services, RAAMS uses Azure Event Hubs and Stream Analytics to pull and analyze real-time data from disparate customer sources into a centralized dashboard, to monitor assets and apply rules for predictive maintenance.

“Azure IoT services really enhances our capability to collect and assimilate data,” says Mike Shemancik, CIO at ABT. “That’s  been one of our biggest challenges, because there’s no real industry standard for data formats, so we’re getting data from lots of different vendor devices in many different formats.”

“We wanted to use industry-standard tools, because we wanted access to a broad set of resources going forward,” says Shemancik. “That’s why Azure made so much sense as our hosting platform—it’s a really cost-effective and robust environment.”

With such intelligence built into RAAMS, ABT can be more agile, changing maintenance rules as needed and applying them to scores of batteries at once. The company plans to eventually add Azure Machine Learning to the program to enable predictive maintenance as well.

“Azure offers ABT a very specialized method of gathering information via the cloud,” says Phil Morris, CEO and co-founder of Mariner. Up and running for just over two months, RAAMS and Azure IoT services are helping ABT’s customers reduce the number of batteries that they need to keep on hand, extend battery life, reduce downtime and save on manual maintenance costs. For the average ABT customer, this adds up to about a 30 percent savings on expenses related to batteries.

And it’s not just ABT’s customers who are smiling; the IoT solution is transforming ABT’s business in multiple ways:

  • Increased agility. By centralizing logic within rules about how the company maintains batteries and chargers, ABT can change policies in one place, if needed, and deploy them instantaneously and consistently across all sites and assets.
  • Enhanced scalability. By implementing a more standardized approach to data ingestion, transformation and analysis, ABT can grow and manage the number of assets on a scale far beyond what was previously possible.
  • Decreased labor costs. Previously, internal engineering staff members had to manually scan mountains of data in an attempt to monitor a rapidly growing number of assets. Now, they can effectively monitor much larger volumes of assets in far less time by viewing consolidated, targeted views of data.
  • Turning the IP into an indirect revenue stream. In addition to the solution’s original goal of effectively supporting ABT’s GuaranteedPOWER program through improved service levels, the company is seeing increased opportunities to market its IoT capabilities as separate services, creating additional revenue opportunities for the business.

“Azure IoT services allow us to become a valuable resource to customers and perhaps even to other dealers in our space who may not have the investment capabilities or expertise,” Fearn says. “So it’s really about multiplying and sharing our knowledge with the industry, and I’m certain a lot of good things will come out of that.”

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