Have you ever wondered why it’s spelled Oden not Odin? What made Oden take the road less traveled and provide both hardware and software to the manufacturers? Or perhaps, what would happen if Oden’s data centers got hit by an asteroid?
Our new podcast, featuring a series of interviews with the Oden team, has all the answers. Welcome to The Eye of Oden. The stories behind the team that brought you intelligent industrial automation and developed the industry’s first machine learning and artificial intelligence for manufacturing. The team who’s working tirelessly to deliver new technologies to the factory floor. And to help manufacturers optimize their production, eliminate waste, and close the skills gap forever.
In our first interview, we talk to Willem Sundblad, co-founder and CEO of Oden Technologies. You can listen to it on Soundcloud and/or read the transcript below.
VO: Let us take you through the story behind Oden, beginning with Willem’s childhood and his first job that involved ‘making things, better’.
Willem: I grew up in a suburb north of Stockholm, Sweden and I think I had a fairly normal upbringing. My parents had just moved back to Sweden. They had spent over 10 years living abroad in the US and then in Holland and then moved back with me right before I was born and my older brother as well.
For a long time I wanted to be a skier and actually an extreme skier. I wanted to go big mountain skiing in Alaska and be paid to do so. So I guess you can say I’ve never been a risk-averse person. I also wanted to be a stuntman because I was getting injured so much that I figured I might as well get paid for it. So that was kind of some early ideas of how I would make a living. But I’ve always liked making things and building things and solving problems.
The first company that I thought I would start with that you know obviously wasn’t a real company but a friend and I we actually made some products in shop class in like third grade. And at that point you know you did either woodworking then you went and you did sewing. And we built a really cool baseball bat and we thought we were so good that we’re gonna build the whole company and brand around it and make other stuff when we’re going into sewing class. That never happened. But guess that was the first idea of a company.
VO: The baseball bat fiasco didn’t put Willem off the idea of building things. Equally passionate about the subjects of math, science and business, he chose to study industrial engineering, carrying on his family tradition.
Willem: My family’s on my dad’s side always been in manufacturing for four generations primarily in the paper and pulp industry, and the forest industry which is one of the biggest industries in Sweden. My great-grandfather was one of those people that was kind of an eccentric genius. He didn’t know how to make eggs. But he graduated from engineering school at an extremely early age with a bunch of patents on how to make paper and actually was in charge of building most of the paper and pulp factories across all of Sweden. He then actually became CEO of one of them for about 30 years and then my grandfather – his son – went to the US actually at a pretty early age and saw that kind of growth of the packaging industry and saw that no one was really doing that in Sweden or in Europe. So he then took over that kind of paper and pulp factory and turned it into a really high-value cardboard factory and built a brand called Invercote which is now one of the most widely used high-value paper boards in Europe. So if you look at any nice perfume bottle and a nice bottle of alcohol those are usually done in a paperboard and actually all of Apple’s paperboard and packaging comes from that company and in that brand that he created. And my dad was also working in the manufacturing industry always in either forced industry or heavy machinery industry.
VO: While at university, Willem traveled around manufacturing plants in Europe to learn how they examine and improve their production processes. There for the first time, he realized what an incredible value manufacturers can create from optimizing processing and eliminating waste. Yet after he graduated, Willem moved to London to work not on a factory floor, but at Vodafone, a British multinational telecommunications conglomerate.
Willem: I came up with the idea behind Oden while I was still studying but I had at the same time started looking at kind of job opportunities and I knew that the manufacturing industry itself it takes a pretty long time to change it from the inside. But changing it from the outside you can have a faster impact frankly. And I knew what I wanted to build. So I was looking at technology jobs and telecommunication jobs because I actually want to work with machine to machine communications. I figured machine to machine communications is an enabler of what we do.
VO: Willem spent a year working at Vodafone, but starting his own venture remained firmly on his mind. As he was planning his next move, Willem met Peter Brand who at the time was with Sailthru, a US email marketing software startup.
Willem: I got introduced to Peter through I lived with an American family as an exchange student and that family was friends with Peter’s family. So when we both moved to London they introduced us and Peter was an early employee at a tech company from New York and was sent over to run a kind of client service and in customer-facing operations in EMEA. We became friends and then a couple of months later he actually tried to hire me to join that company.
And so about a couple of weeks later or actually two weeks later Peter and I met up for dinner. And it’s funny because we didn’t know this and that shows you how out of touch and single we were because we met up for dinner on Valentine’s Day, and we had no idea was Valentine’s Day. We then just looked around at the restaurant and saw that there’s just a bunch of other couples. He made me an offer to join his company, which was extremely compelling from a project standpoint from a monetary standpoint from everything. So I just said I’m not gonna say yes or no but here’s what I want to do. You have to know what I would be walking away from. And then I told him about Oden and then about four and a half hours later and a few drinks later he rescinded the job offer and said let’s do that and then I want to join you instead.
VO: So what did Willem tell Peter that convinced him to quit his own job?
Willem: The idea I sold him was that there is an incredible amount of waste in manufacturing and the original idea was that I had was to really build a new type of industrial automation company kind of in three phases where Phase 1 is analytics Phase 2 assimilation and Phase 3 control. So first I have to analyze how you’re doing and why Phase 2 was really what is the optimal way of making this product. And Phase 3 was executing it. How can you automate the manufacturing of a perfect product of perfect production. And so really those four hours were him questioning. Are you serious that people are doing this in manufacturing, really? And I said yes, people are still wasting insane amounts of money, material time energy. It’s crazy. My research on this was from 2011 and we were having this discussion in 2014. So big data was all the hype but we still weren’t seeing people really bringing that to manufacturing in the right way. There were some people who were piggybacking off companies that had already made full SCADA investments or people who are trying to apply standard big data to manufacturing. But there was no one that was really building the company that we were trying to build. And especially when you combine it with hardware so that you can actually apply it to all types of manufacturing or to larger parts of the manufacturing industry that may not have made SCADA investments then you’re just opening up a whole different part of the market and you’re really increasing the size of the pie too. A large opportunity in creating a new type of industrial automation company there.
VO: The beginnings of Oden weren’t always easy, but Willem felt that they resulted in invaluable lessons for the team.
Willem: The funny thing is that we were I mean we were extremely naive at the time. I remember the first factory that we ever did. We did it with GSM with SIM cards in each device because we wanted to be completely separate from the network in the factory. And then that customer bought an expansion and a second factor, which was great progress. You know it’s delivering so much value they want to expand it. It’s awesome. We get to the second factor and they have no cell phone coverage. So the whole thing that we’d actually built the technology on didn’t work. And so then we obviously already signed the deal that we were going to do it. We just hadn’t actually surveyed the network in that factory. So then we needed to go in and really redo the entire architecture and we actually did that in about I think two and a half weeks with a different hardware architecture with a different networking stack and still delivered to the customer. So those kinds of you know painful stories, in the beginning, are just also the ones that you look back on really fondly because when the storm is blowing it’s really easy to know where it’s blowing from you know exactly like problem-solving just becomes so tangible.
VO: Today Oden is working with customers in packaging, wire and cable, building products, and automotive to optimize their production processes, improve product quality and reduce waste.
Our customers are making products, they’re making everything from building products to cables to packaging to medical devices things that go into our everyday objects. And so a lot of them are plastics manufacturers now and there’s a tremendous amount of waste that you can reduce from that process. But an interesting thing is that if you process plastic you need to do it differently in the winter compared to the summer because you’ve got different temperature different humidity different dew point. And so one of the things that our technology does is actually based on the environment that day, we recommend new settings so new ways for that operator to make the same product to increase the quality of that product. It’s really how are we helping the people on the factory make those products as efficiently as possible so that means that we’ve got the hardware device that we plug into their machines that communicates with the machines to get data from the machine on how the machine is doing how the process is doing how the product is being made. The analytics platform that then really helps the people in the factory analyze and optimize how they’re processing the material, how they can solve quality issues so they can solve machine failures, how they can speed up production while maintaining quality and then as always then fed back to the people on the floor so that they can make it in a different way and make it in a more efficient way.
VO: Improving efficiency is a constant theme for manufacturers, more so than for any other industry. Willem explains why.
Willem: Manufacturers can lose between 5 and 30 percent of their total revenues due to the cost of poor quality. And that’s just insane from an individual company perspective on what they could do if that wasn’t lost. It is insane from a sustainability perspective but also from a consumer perspective you know imagine that you’re buying a car that’s made up of 30,000 components from different suppliers and they’re all losing that much at least or every part of that car could be made twice as efficiently as it did as it is today. So it’s really founded in that kind of disbelief that there has to be a better way of doing this and enabling people in the factories with data and analytics and the right intelligent industrial automation tools to execute that perfect production has to be the way of the future and we want to build a business that has the highest potential impact we can in creating that future that means that we really see an opportunity in building a new type of industrial automation giant a really new intelligent industrial automation giant that really is data first and kind of software-defined in how we’re building our tools.
VO: Oden started as an IoT company. But the founders quickly realized that the potential of its technology – that combines both hardware and software – extends into the realm of industrial automation.
Willem: What we used to talk about it as we used to say that we are Industrial Internet of Things and then we started talking a lot about Industry 4.0, but we realized that especially you know we’re not IoT anymore since we’re starting to control the machines also. So that means that it’s industrial automation not just IoT. Industry 4.0 there’s been too much confusion around it so that people’s eyes always glaze over and they don’t really understand what it is and what impact it’s going to have. So we’ve settled on intelligent industrial automation because it clearly differentiates us from what normal industrial automation is since we’re doing it from a data-driven perspective, real-time perspective and machine learning powered way. And it also makes it fit into the market’s ideas, they know what the value is, they bought that forever.
VO: But what does set Oden apart and how does it compete with established industrial automation providers. Who does Willem see as his sparring partners?
Willem: It’s Rockwell, it’s Honeywell, it’s Siemens, it’s Schneider Electric, it’s ABB. It’s those traditional industrial automation companies. There are companies that are doing similar things or there that are doing analytics but we surprisingly seldom see them in the manufacturing space in our target market at least. A lot of the analytics companies don’t have any hardware solution, they can’t deploy into they’re more of a front end that sits on top of someone that’s already bought a Rockwell data system as an example. Or are also developer platforms like Thingworx where people can build their own applications. But what we’ve seen is that the majority of the market really just wants the end to end application and that’s where we have a very compelling story because you get the entire infrastructure without the crazy investments of a SCADA system and you get more powerful analytics that is really built to live in unison from the edge to the cloud. It’s not a hodgepodge of many different systems. It is one platform and frankly that platform is open too. We still see a lot of resistance from that the older players to the concept of an open platform where we want to be open to integrating with other solutions API so they can access the data or they can access the results from the analytics or even use our machine learning data pipeline to run their own machine learning models. I think that in order to truly succeed in this you have to have a more open view but also deliver that into perspective and have the capabilities to deploy it end to end.
VO: Oden’s customers benefit from the company’s unique approach to industrial automation in a record time. As Oden’s platform can be deployed multiple times faster than its counterparts.
Willem: Where we’re seeing the best results are really with the customers that have kind of leadership from the top that has a vision about how they should use data and technology to make better products and the people on the floor have the right skill and the will to really improve their production also. We’ve seen tremendous results. We had actually just this week another customer. They managed to on average improve their line speed across all their products by 20 percent that is transformational from how they run their production. Now they can have less labor productivity per feet of product. They may not have to run over the weekends. They can cut down in shifts if they’re not fully at capacity. If they are at capacity then they just gained another 20 percent out of that actually. So that impacts margins tremendously too. And then if you’re looking at how you’re starting up that you’re also saving a tremendous amount of material in the startup phase of that production run. We’ve got other customers who’ve gotten multimillion-dollar returns per production line on improving how they actually process the recipe how they’re making their products.
VO: Being a data-first industrial automation provider, Oden takes the security of data extremely seriously. But to explain why Oden’s customers should not fear even an asteroid attack, we first need to explain its Norse mythology roots.
Willem: Oden is the god of victory and wisdom and that’s what we are taught in Sweden. I heard someone else say that outside of Sweden Oden is the god of war. I just think that’s a difference in perspective coming from the Viking Age. But in my head, Oden is the god of victory and wisdom and he actually sacrifices an eye for the wisdom of the world. And so that’s why our logo is the Eye of Oden. He also had two ravens who flew around the world gathering intelligence for him and so our hardware is actually named after those ravens. So you’ve got the Hugin and Munin devices gathering intelligence for the Oden platform.
Ragnarok in the Norse mythology is when the world ends. We have Ragnarok as our disaster recovery exercise every quarter where we simulate the death of Oden which is the simulation of the death of one of our data centers or all of our data centers and we really build up the entire stack as a true disaster recovery. So we simulate if an asteroid hits all of our data centers how do we make sure that our customers are not losing service, not losing data and get the full level of service as fast as possible. And you know we never lose data but we’re trying to make sure that they have the full level of service in a matter of hours even if an asteroid hits our data centers.
VO: And that’s all for today. Thank you for listening to The Eye of Oden. For more information about Oden Technologies, please. visit our website oden.io.