New Brunswick’s Eigen Innovations offers software solutions for the industrial internet. The company’s technology helps clients across the manufacturing sector create more efficient operations, with a focus on improved productivity, increased quality, and lower production costs.
Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke to Eigen last fall, to learn about the company, its partnerships, and its relationship with the University of New Brunswick. A lot has happened with Eigen, however, since that initial chat, including a third place finish in Cisco’s 2015 Innovation Grand Challenge and a gold medal win in Dell’s Connect What Matters contest.
Greg Picot, Director of Product Development, recently joined us to provide an update on this exciting Atlantic Canada innovator.
ONB: First, what exactly is the Dell Connect What Matters contest?
Picot: Dell is developing a product offering targeted at the Internet of Things (IoT), specifically the manner in which the IoT interacts with industrial applications. They are thinking about that in terms of smart factories, smart buildings, and smart cities.
We’ve been working with Dell for over a year now. We were introduced to them as they were developing the new Edge Gateway product which is purpose-built for factory floors. It’s meant to do real-time analytics connected to manufacturing equipment and involves the real-time operation of industrial applications.
In order to increase awareness of what they are doing in the space, they launched Connect What Matters IoT contest, inviting the general public to propose ideas and proofs of concept built on top of that industrial gateway. Our team put together a proof of concept for an idea we were working on as part of the Eigen solution and submitted it to the contest. We captured one of four gold medals for a second-place finish.
ONB: What exactly was Eigen’s contest contribution?
Picot: It’s essentially a user experience we’re building to get more of a closed loop connecting the factory floor to a web-based experience. As we detect quality defects during the manufacturing process we push them into what we call an operator console. These defects act very much like an alert; these alerts get pushed via the cloud to a client’s web interface or mobile device, allowing operators to see—in real-time—problems that may exist on their factory floor. The operator console lets them see the issue across a number of factory lines, and allows them to engage with it, provide feedback, add workflow, etc. Every time they touch an event we capture that data and make the detection process even smarter.
All of that operator engagement helps the learning process, developing algorithms that get downloaded back to the factory floor in order to improve the inspection process. It begins to close the loop on a concept we’ve been talking about more and more — augmented intelligence. Factories and humans are working together, and humans are working with those edge gateways making both sides of that equation smarter. We’re augmenting the overall intelligence of today’s factory.
ONB: What sectors are using the solution you’re describing?
Picot: We are building a platform that can be pointed at any type of application, and can run in any type of vertical. We are still a growing business, however, so our focus thus far has been in three sectors — automotive manufacturing, food processing, and mining and smelting.
ONB: You were present last fall when ONB announced its partnership with GE Canada. How has your relationship with GE developed?
Picot: It’s still in the early stages at this point. When you’re working with large companies like GE, Dell, Siemens, and Cisco you realize these are long term relationships that develop over time. As we continue to evolve our solution and keep them apprised of what we’re doing, and learn more about what they’re doing with their IOT offerings, we will come to a convergence and find ways to work more closely together.
ONB: Can you speak to the benefits of doing business from New Brunswick, particularly as it relates to the IoT?
Picot: The first benefit would be the quality of life. I was born and raised in New Brunswick, and I’ve never had a strong desire to leave — I love living here, and have a fulfilling IT career here.
From a business perspective, New Brunswick has a unique advantage right now in the emerging industrial IoT space. We have a strong and innovative IT community that has really built up in the last 20-25 years, but we also have a strong legacy and expertise in resource-based and manufacturing industries. The industrial IoT is all about bringing those two worlds together to drive new efficiencies into, and potentially revolutionize, a process or operation. It’s known as the convergence of OT (operational technology) and IT. For example, manufacturers are using the Eigen software to maximize their use of resources and raw materials by helping them reduce waste and scrap in their production process through automated quality control. We are benefiting from the combined knowledge and expertise in our backyards to develop innovative solutions that are exportable and disruptive on a global stage.
ONB: Before joining Eigen, you worked with other successful New Brunswick tech startups, such as Radian6. What advice would you offer startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Picot: Don’t become enamored with your solutions. Keep yourself in check, and stay focused on understanding what the real customer problem and pain is.
One of the exciting things I get to do is put on a hard hat and steel-toe boots, walk factory floors, talk to operators, and understand what’s happening at the heart of it all, the people and the machines. It’s always a good reality check. In software development, there’s concepts like “mobile-first” or “API-first” to drive a design focus. At Eigen, we constantly remind ourselves to be “factory floor first” in our design focus. Really understand the problem before getting too far into developing a solution.