New Possibilities with Emerging Tech

Nearly every industry, from telecommunications and consumer electronics, to transportation and industrial manufacturing, has something to gain by analyzing their processes. By doing so, many companies will uncover wasted resources, inefficiencies, and completely untapped revenue streams.

But how exactly do we obtain such valuable data about day-to-day processes? If we do collect this information, how do we do something useful with it?

Embedded Systems

“It’s not useful to see giant grids of numbers,” says David Baltusavich, founder of embedded systems and web app company, SynaTree. “The goal is to find the right way to visualize the data, whether it’s graphing, mapping, or another display to aid in the comprehension of that information.”

David Baltusavich, Synatree Founder

Embedded systems allow manufacturers to uncover these areas of waste by aggregating data that shows them insightful correlations, patterns, and discrepancies about their processes…“You might have to change the way you do business, but you’ll make more money.”

However, before the discussion of visualization and the user interface (UI), it’s important to understand how the information we’re talking about is gathered, and that’s typically by embedded systems. Embedded systems add to the functionality and/or to aggregate data from a larger system through the use of a combination of hardware and software.

For example, imagine a manufacturer who applies metal finishes to car parts. The manufacturer would likely have a variety of automated lines that work in conjunction with one another. Let’s say that this business wants to monitor some critical data, like which machines are producing the cleanest finishes, contributing the least amount of chemical waste, and/or using the smallest amount of energy. For this particular problem, an embedded system would be an excellent solution.

“The best way to do that might be to put a Raspberry Pi or another device on every machine and to connect that tiny computer to the sensors that are inside the machine, or develop new sensors,” notes Baltusavich. However, before we go further, let’s back up for a moment to explain what a Raspberry Pi is as well.

“It’s essentially a micro-computer; it costs about thirty dollars, and it has all the power of a desktop computer from about 10 or 15 years ago,” explains Baltusavich. “It’s nothing to sneeze at, it’s a real computer, and it’s just really small.”

These System-on-a-Chip (SoC) devices are definitely small. The Raspberry Pi is about the size of a business card. This is pretty impressive considering the specs on the latest Raspberry Pi 3:

  • CPU:2 GHz 64/32-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53
  • Memory: 1 GB LPDDR2 RAM at 900 MHz
  • Storage: MicroSDHC slot
  • Graphics: Broadcom VideoCore IV 300 MHz/400 MHz
  • Power:5 W (idle) to 6.7 W (active)

raspberry pi

But the data collecting process is more than simply attaching this micro-computer to a machine. “The Raspberry Pi alone isn’t enough,” states Baltusavich. “It requires all the software to collect, visualize, and analyze that data, and the software usually needs to be customized for the unique purpose.”

The Cloud

You can store stuff on it, work in it, and transfer things to it, but what the hell is the cloud? It’s a term that’s ubiquitous in the tech industry but, unfortunately for those outside that field, there are rarely enough context clues in a conversation to infer precisely what “the cloud” actually is. “Basically, your cloud server is where all your data flows,” explains Baltusavich.

Companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and many others offer cloud services which allow you to store and access data on nearly any device with an internet connection. However, in Baltusavich’s case of embedded systems, he takes it one step further: “A lot of times it’s not just data, it’s also command and control,” he says. “It’s turning machines on and off, it’s adjusting the settings, and other functions like that.”

Nearly everything, and seriously, just about everything involves the cloud. This system of omnipresent computing is often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). Nearly any manmade object can now be assigned an IP address, transfer data to other machines, and be armed with other software and hardware to aggregate data.

But what ever happened to storing info on a good ol’ server? “That way of doing things is over for the most part,” contends Baltusavich. “It’s much more reasonable from a cost perspective to let Amazon manage your technology rather than trying to own and operate a server farm or a bunch of computers.”

In Plain English, What is Happening Here?

While manufacturing companies are not the only ones that are interested in embedded systems, it’s a good industry to demonstrate what is really happening between these SoC devices, a manufacturer’s machines, and the cloud. For that reason, let’s return to the earlier example of a medium-sized manufacturer who produces metal finishes.

In nearly every process, there are wasted resources. In fact, research from Lean Enterprise Research Centre suggests that over half of the typical manufacturer’s processes add no value to the customer or corporate performance. More specifically:

  • 5% of manufacturing production operations add value
  • 35% of manufacturing production operations are necessary but add no value
  • 60% of manufacturing production operations are not necessary and add no value

Embedded systems allow manufacturers to uncover these areas of waste by aggregating data that shows them insightful correlations, patterns, and discrepancies about their processes. “We might discover opportunities that you’ve been missing or places where your process could be radically improved,” says Baltusavich. “You might have to change the way you do business, but you’ll make more money.”

While some manufacturers cringe at the thought of modernizing their processes, change is a good thing. “I’m working on a project right now where this company has never been able to see data from inside these machines,” tells Baltusavich. “For the first time, they’re learning new insights that no one has even known before about how these processes actually work.”

With this information, Baltusavich’s client was able to cut their energy costs by 15%. The energy savings equated to the over a million pounds of CO2 being cut from the atmosphere. “This is the kind of thing where frankly, no one has even looked under the rocks yet,” says Baltusavich. “When [companies] finally start applying rigorous data analysis and putting these embedded systems into play, I think we’re going to discover tremendous savings.”

The Embedded Market

The embedded system market is growing at an incredible rate as more companies are experiencing the benefits from this data-driven way of doing business. Most recently, companies have been placing SoC in products such as:

  • Cell Phones
  • Industrial Machines
  • Kitchen Appliances
  • Medical Equipment
  • Televisions
  • Toys

In the report, Embedded Systems Market (Embedded Hardware and Embedded Software) Market for Healthcare, Industrial, Automotive, Telecommunication, Consumer Electronics, Defense, Aerospace and Others Applications: Global Industry Perspective, Comprehensive Analysis and Forecast, 2015 – 2021 by Zion Market Research the research suggests that the “global embedded systems market was valued at USD 159.00 billion in 2015, and is expected to generate revenue of USD 225.34 billion by end of 2021”

Obviously, companies are starting to catch on to the value of data and technology-driven practices.

“They Took Our Jobs”

“I tell clients ‘Look, by making your process more efficient, it allows you to do more business with the same number of people.’ It’s not about downsizing, it’s about growing,” Baltusavich says.

“I often find that there are tremendous inefficiencies in [a company’s] processes,” shares Baltusavich. “I’m excited to build them something to reduce those inefficiencies, which is really to increase productivity.” That being said, there is one issue of which Baltusavich is well aware.

“Obviously you run into some problems, such as, ‘if you build this piece of software, what do we need Brenda for?’ There is that issue: human capital being displaced by technology,” Baltusavich notes.

While he isn’t necessarily building robots per se, Baltusavich is sensitive to the possibility that some jobs could become obsolete. In fact, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that for every one “robot” that entered the U.S. workforce between 1990 and 2007, six human jobs were eliminated.

Synatree

“I tell clients ‘Look, by making your process more efficient, it allows you to do more business with the same number of people.’ It’s not about downsizing, it’s about growing,” Baltusavich says.

Visualizing Data Through User Interfaces and Web Apps

“What am I even talking about when I talk about ‘Web Apps?’ I’m not talking about a sequel to Candy Crush,” laughs Baltusavich. “I don’t do mobile apps in that sense. I tend to build apps that are for internal use or for some specialized purpose that has to do with collecting data.

User interface design for this variety of app is different than say, your everyday Google Play or Apple Store app. For that reason, these kinds of data-collecting web apps have caught a bad rep in the past for inconsistent design, poor color choices, poor usability, complicated navigation, etc. To combat this, Baltusavich looks to one of his mentors. “I take my inspiration for interfaces off the work of Edward Tufte as a starting point,” he notes.

“We like to build user interfaces that are as simple as they can be,” states Baltusavich. “A software interface should seem effortless and obvious; what it is, what is does, and what it means. A really good interface design should seem like it was never designed at all.”

Toward that end, Baltusavich and his team at SynaTree work to minimize the complexity of their designs using a variety of cutting edge techniques and tools, and spend considerable time trying to surface the most relevant data so that users can see “the big picture.”

SynaTree

“It’s not particularly difficult to store a bunch of numbers in a computer or to get them from point A to point B,” Baltusavich admits. “What’s really hard is to do something useful with that data.” This is precisely what SynaTree does.

“[We] take something incomprehensible and make it obvious… But it’s not magic, it’s math.”

However, to manufacturers looking to save money, modernize their processes, and find data to help them grow, what Baltusavich is doing might seem damn close to magic. If you’d like to learn more about embedded systems, web apps, and how SynaTree might be able to help, click the link below to contact Baltusavich today. Contact SynaTree

data visualization

2018-11-15T10:44:25+00:00

Leave A Comment