The Eye of Oden podcast – Episode 4: Sam Cessna on cutting through the Industry 4.0 noise

In episode 4, we caught up with Sam Cessna, Oden’s Chief Revenue Officer. Sam has been working in the manufacturing industry for the past 20 years, in leadership positions at PTC, Wonderware, Standard Automation & Controls, Fairchild Systems and Texas Instruments. But Sam did not always work on the commercial side, as he was originally an engineer.

Sam: It’s an interesting beginning in manufacturing for me for sure. I was frustrated with my existing manufacturing job. I was a manufacturing engineering manager. I worked, it was a subsidiary of Texas Instruments. We actually would manufacture and design automation control sensors, level gauges, flow meters. That kind of stuff for the manufacturing space.

So on a Friday night around 6 or 7 p.m. I opened up the yellow pages and started calling automation and control firms near me that focused on delivering engineering solutions to manufacturers and operators. My thought process was whoever answers the phone that late on a Friday night obviously needs help. So it worked out, the second phone call I made I got a hold of an owner and a founder of a firm – Mark Fairchild. He asked me in at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning for an interview. I was hired by noon, started two weeks later and spent the next ten years providing engineering solutions and deploying and starting up the solutions in manufacturing companies all over the US.

I actually started off as a computer science major and then I switched over to engineering once I got into manufacturing and started doing more manufacturing jobs. So I don’t think it was something I actually planned to do and just kind of fell in my lap. And it’s been a very good change for me from the very beginning of my career. When I went to work for Fairchild Systems, Mark on my first day on the job sayid: ‘Hey I know you’re an engineer but we’re going to go on a sales call’. And I thought that was just a huge insult to my ego, to my career path and to my education. But it actually turned out to be one of the best things for me because going on a sales call and trying to understand the customers needs, the problems they have, the challenges they need to address technically, and in business and how that impacts the business really kind of put it all in perspective for me. So if you understand technically how to go solve the problem and the business problem that you’re trying to solve with the technology, I think it makes for a better solution and a better outcome for both the manufacturer and the manufacturing company.

VO: We asked Sam how manufacturing has changed during his career.

Sam: There’s been lots of changes over the years. So as you might imagine I started in the industry in the early 90s and then today it’s just completely different. You know in the early days for example we were really trying to figure out how to interface with machines, take computer-based software and Windows-based software and go, apply it inside the manufacturing facilities. At the time it was all push buttons. It was all push button controls, it was very manual, it was very just point and click. You know from a push button perspective, it really wasn’t providing any insights or visualization at all. Maybe a flashy light or a siren would go off but other than that’s about as automated as it was back in the 90s. So back then we’re really focused on how do we go in and apply these Windows-based computer programs into manufacturing and provide the operator or the user with much more dynamic, much more real time, much more contextualized information about the machine the process. But it was all point solutions like one machine one operator or one machine one one computer. But that was in the early days. Today you’re buying very smart sophisticated connected devices and machines that when they come shipped from the factory they already have this human machine interface area. We have this way to engage the machine with a PC and that piece also is spinning off all kind of great data. So to really maximize or what’s really changed in the manufacturing spaces everything comes with some kind of engage, HDMI, it comes with lots of data. It’s very smart and it really does add to our ability to quickly connect, provide insights and start leveraging that data for a bigger purpose like predictability around operations or manufacturing or asset reliability.

VO: Have the challenges for manufacturing remained the same?

Sam: I think there’s a number of challenges but some of the biggest ones from a technology perspective are related to this massive amount of data. You know as I just described in the previous answer we’re talking about how in the old days it was just getting connected so you could see what’s going on. Now we’re all connected. But this equipment is spinning off all kinds of great data. And the more machines, the more data and so we have to figure out how to rationalize or consume that data. So I think that’s a big problem. We have massive amounts of data coming off these machines. We need to understand how to maximize that for ourselves and the manufacturer. We need to understand how that impacts the process, how that impacts the supply chain. And we need to do all that in real time. And so that’s a big challenge. How do you easily connect, scrub, cleanse, model, structure all these data feeds and then also provide analytics and business intelligence to this information at the pace of business or in real time. It’s hard, it’s not easy. It’s one of the reasons why we here at Oden are focused on making it easier for manufacturers to apply analytics, you have to go through those processes, you just can’t start collecting data from various machines, plants, MESs, historians and shoving it or aggregating it from a plant or from a facility into a corporate data lake and expecting great things to happen when you do that. Nothing against providing and deploying a data lake but it’s still mostly unstructured raw data that has no form, no shape that you really can’t do much with. So you have to apply more structure on top of that data, so that you can get some analytics out of it. So that’s really what we’re focused on if we’re going to go from the Oden perspective. Our thought process is that the minute you connect to a machine or a system or process is the minute you start driving some of these earlier concepts I described. The minute we connect we want to start scrubbing and cleansing the data, we want to start securing and encrypting the data at the edge. We want to start modeling and structure the data so that when we store and push it forward into the cloud it’s already structured, it’s ready to be consumed, to traded, to be absorbed by our taxonomy at cloud level. It allows us to quickly iterate and provide value to our customers.

VO: With so much noise around Industry 4.0 and digital transformation, do customers find it difficult to separate the reality from empty promises?

Sam: So I do believe that majority of our customers get confused or are confused by Industry 4.0 or digitalization in general and you know I maybe we could start with a recent study by think either McKinsey think it was a McKinsey study. You know there’s there’s over 300 different i o t and I air quotes here. I o t the Industry 4.0 partners out there or companies out there like Oden for example there’s supposedly three hundred of us out there now. And I think that that in and of itself is confusing for customers because they hear every everybody they talk to is talking about Industry 4.0 as a matter of fact one of our one of our colleagues here note in Steve he brought forward last week that you know a press release that says you know hey buy this lubricant because it’s Industry 4.0 enabled. Right. We’re ready. Well it’s a lubricant. I don’t know how lubricant can be Industry 4.0 already but hey I guess I should go educate and educate myself on that. But but that is a problem. I mean there’s so much noise or so much hype there’s so much information on the web and everybody’s playing off the same buzzwords that it does confuse our customers and a good portion of what we have to do when we come into our talk to our customers is really understand the use of the business requirements or challenges they’re faced with start understanding how apply techniques and technology to solve those problems and not just come up with a bunch of buzzwords and gobbledygook that that may or may not drive value for the customer.

VO: Sam joined Oden from PTC where he was responsible for launching ThingWorx and pioneering the use of IoT technologies in traditional industrial markets. We asked Sam what about Oden’s values brought him to the company and how he sees its mission forward.

Sam: We focus on the business value in manufacturing. We help improve production performance, process improvements and optimization strategies. We help address quality. We help address asset reliability. We do that by applying some of the things we talked about earlier. You have to go into the manufacturing facilities and you have to connect to their machines in their native language. The minute you connect you have to start securing and encrypting that data. You have to scrub and cleanse it. You have to model it and structure it so it can be consumed by not only Oden but maybe potentially others. You have to also include other people’s content. Other systems, other manual data collection or other systems data. MES is a piece that fits into the model as well. When you do that, and you do it correctly and you do it in real time now you can really create these operational insights that drive business opportunity for the customer. That’s number one. Number two, we also start applying machine learning and analytics to really create another level of performance metrics and performance improvements, and performance predictability around the process but also the quality as well as the the asset itself.

VO: In practice, how does Oden work with its customers?

Sam: We take equipment list. We go on site surveys. We analyze the problems both the technical and the business challenges that the customer is faced with. We compare that against the equipment list and the systems, and their technology landscape to really understand what data is available to us.

And then we create and engineer a solution that’s from edge to cloud to edge. And what I mean by that is we go to the edge. We connect to the machines and the systems again we started applying all those good techniques we talked about earlier: security, scrubbing, structuring encrypting all that data and pushing it forward to the cloud. Once we get it to the cloud we might run some analytics enterprise wide that help us focus on learnings from other plants that we can then push down to the local plants back to the edge. That’s the data back to the edge part of it. And then we might want to run those analytics or those learnings in real time at the edge so that we can close loop on those activities and make it and keep pace with the business. So continue to do it in real time. So that’s kind of that edge to cloud to edge that I was referring to. And then the other thing is we’d like to do this very fast so instead of taking months or weeks to weeks to months to do this we’re doing this in literally weeks and days. So we’re much much faster than traditional solutions as far as deployment to realization of value.

VO: Today’s manufacturers grapple with countless problems on the factory floor. Where can Oden help?

Sam: The solutions that we’re providing are around predictive maintenance, asset reliability, optimizing performance of the equipment based on the recipe or the product that you’re running so performance optimization or process optimization as well as predictive quality. And those are some of the high level activities that we’re doing for customers. There’s a lot of pull through as a result of those. So you know if you’re focused on predictive performance as an example you’re going to see metrics as a pull through like OEE, machine KPIs, you’ll see a lot of the traditional message downtime capture and downtime analytics. So you’ll see a lot of those type of activities or results. But if we’re focused on you know we’re focused on predictive performance.

So if we just focus on a couple of key areas. One is around predictive quality. You know how do we predict quality in real time or even ahead of time so that we can alert the manufacturer. There’s an impending event or potential quality event about to happen. Right now we’ve had great success of of running that in the plant and showing improved metrics and highly accurate predictions. Eighty five to nine percent in the accuracy of the prediction five or 10 minutes ahead of schedule. As an example and we’re seeing this is impacting customers quality and first time yields by as much as 15 percent in some cases if we flip the page we look at performance optimization strategies like how do we know, how do I set up my my machine or my line to best hope for the best possible quality outcome at the fastest possible speeds or throughput and efficiency of the machine. So that’s another area where we’re seeing significant improvements with our customers and we’re seeing again as few as five and this is as high as 18 percent gains in some of those those performance metrics as well.

VO: With 300 IoT companies out there, is there anything that Oden does differently, or rather specifically, for manufacturing?

Sam: Well besides our people in our approach I think it’s a combination of things. So we have hardware at the edge, so hardware and being able to quickly and easily come in, connect systems and start applying some little techniques we talked about earlier at the edge on a hardware device that is manageable. You know I think that’s important. I think also our ability to integrate with not only the machine or the system in front of us but other enterprise and other technologies across the plant and or the enterprise. I think that’s a that’s a big part of what we’re doing augmenting interfacing and augmenting other people’s systems and content across the enterprise. I think the other thing is, this is beside surfacing that content and providing the analytics and machine learning on top of that. So this is really where we feel like our key advantages are around machine learning and analytics, applying those in real time, running those in the cloud, running those at the edge, where we need to run those to really provide the customer with the maximum outcome. So those are kind of the technical pieces I think from a from a business perspective. Everything we do at Oden is focused around the customer and the customer’s needs. So from the time they point at a piece of machinery or a system and say I want more information out of that or insights, two to three months later we’re doing quarterly business reviews to ensure that what we said three months ago is actually being delivered and we continue to improve and track those metrics throughout the lifecycle of our relationship with the customer right.

We are that easy button for manufacturers. We want manufacturers to just point out a piece of equipment. And from that point forward to the time we deliver the insights and analytics to their favorite browser everything in the middle is to the end is taken care of. You know that edge to cloud to edge component we talked about earlier Oden’s got it. We also firm fix our pricing for you so you don’t have to worry about how much data, how many machines, how many users, how much data can I store. All those things you traditionally have to worry about with others you don’t have to worry about with this one price annually. You’re good to go. Everything is focused around the customer. So we have a customer success manager that is with us from the pre-sales and sales activities we do to the project we deliver to sustaining that project and value over time. All that is part of our business value and part of that quote “Easy Button” that Oden provides to the customer.

VO: Manufacturing is changing extremely fast. What does Sam find most exciting among those changes?

Sam: Well I think now manufacturing is certainly exciting for me. First of all it’s kind of like watching ‘How It’s Made’ episodes every day but in live real color right there. So every day we’re learning something new. The environment’s changing. Customers are coming up with new products or new ideas. The business is maturing. You know we’re going from paper to glass to analytics and beyond. So all those things are really driving the advancements within the manufacturing space. So as a result manufacturer suppliers are coming up with smarter devices and more intelligence is pushed down into the device itself from other systems. Those devices spin off all kind of more increased data and insights that we can leverage as part of our analytics models. Those new analytical models will drive new outcomes. And all that is going to speed up and keep pace with the speed of business or in real time. So all these things have to come together and that’s the exciting part for me.

What is the latest and greatest sensor coming out and process and technique then we can leverage and create learnings from that thing creates greater insights and opportunity for our customers. In my mind that’s really what Oden is all about with our intelligent industrial automation platform. I think that’s also what digital transformation is about. And I also think that’s what Industry 4.0 is about.