Interview of Thibault Goulin, Head Of digital solutions at Nexans.

What is the impact of COVID-19 crisis on the cable drum sector?

In the cable drum sector, we noticed an acceleration in the digitalization of activities. This acceleration comes from the need of improving cash-flow through the reduction of stock and a better management of capital assets. Our clients who have been affected by the crisis need to limit losses but also optimize the assets turnaround rate.

This crisis also had an impact on Nexans as we decided to equip all the drums whose size would be superior to 1.90 m with the same objective of reducing drums losses and optimize the turnaround rate. It is also very important in term of sustainable impact to optimize the whole flow of drums and make it more efficient.

Despite the crisis, we did not really notice a reduction of activities as the construction sites have been maintained and companies quickly went back to work after the confinement period. So, what we can say is that the digitalization of activities in the cable sector has been confirmed and accelerated during the crisis.

What specific needs from the cable industry do you address through your connected drums solution?

Nexans has developed its presence in 34 countries in multiple sectors. The client’s needs are very different from a country to another so our work is to provide a solution which is adapted to our client’s specificities.

As for example, more than 5 000 drums have been equipped by Nexans with ffly4u’s sensors in Switzerland. On this specific geographical zone, our client is more focused on the financial aspect which means the reduction of idle times, the monitoring of drums flow in real time, a better management of stock, optimize activities etc. All this information make possible to automize the whole chain from production to the end of the construction site but also monitor activities in real time, which is especially interesting in town where the regulation is particularly tough. This is a full solution as we also offer services of collecting and recycling drums which is part of a circular economy model.

We also address business needs of global players (metro project in Dubai, oil platforms in Russia etc.). We help the leaders of the sector to monitor complex flows between multiple actors. It also facilitates the follow-up of subcontractor’s activities who might be involved in the whole process.

Thanks to our work with emerging countries, we also developed a new function as there is a huge demand to avoid the theft of cable drums. We implemented an alert system to identify any suspect movements during the night for example which reduced significantly the number of thefts.

In a few words, we provide this solution to very different markets but we are able to adapt our services to each use case with the same technology.

What do you plan for the next 3 years in term of deployment of your solution?

So far, the connected drum solution has been deployed in 11 countries. There is a real business need which has been clearly identified in the cable industry and Nexans is the leader on the market. On a short-term basis, we plan to duplicate the solution to reach 15 000 connected drums by the end of 2020, and 100 000 units in the next 3 years on a global level.

Tomorrow, we will focus more on the data. We actually make the cable drum smart by creating data which increases significantly value on construction sites. The technology allows our clients to know, as for example, the residual cable length on a drum at the end of the day.

Another important point is the platform which is used by our clients to collect the data. So far, this platform has been managed by Nexans but tomorrow, we want our customers to be able to manage it and customize it on their side depending on their specific needs.

To sum up, Nexans addresses very different markets so our role is to provide a customized solution which is adapted to our clients’ specific business needs.

Discover more about Nexans : https://www.nexans.com/fr/company/What-we-do.html

What is temporarily delaying the massive development of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?

Many observers, even some actors in the digitalization and/or transformation of the Industry 4.0 are somewhat questioning about the difficulty, particularly in the industrial IoT sector, of deploying significant volumes consistent with the forecasts of Gartner and other Roland Berger on the masterful potential of the IoT.

There are objective reasons for this temporary delay in deployment. We are going to develop two of them, that we think are major:

1 – Core business and innovation, a difficult combination

IIoT creates its market around new value creations that generally have as their scope the core business of customers. There are many examples: embedding data on connected drums, on IBCs/handling equipment, modify the business model of project leaders. The scope of action of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the customer’s business. It is both its strength and its weakness

It’s strenght

Because if we prove that, through POCs first deployments, our customers’ business is durably enriched, the adoption of these new technologies goes from the “nice to have” to the “must to have” stage and definitively redefines the scope of the business. This is what we have done with cable drums and other assets such as handling equipment, waste bins, connected craddles (used to carry motorcycles).

This is the future of IIoT : a virtuous change in the business. Not at the margin, in depth. And in this case, the future is more than promising!

It’s weakness, too

decision-making in large organizations is by nature difficult in professions where the Business Model has been fixed for several decades, even several centuries… Even if we are approaching a “must to have”, changing our ways of thinking to the point of selling data when our revenues until now come exclusively from the sale of products, is not an easy task. And betting on the status quo in some key accounts (or SMEs) is less hypothetical than on the rapid implementation of change…

2 – Ploughing the value in surface is not sufficient

We dreamt up IIoT in the years 2014/2017: we believed that with 40 million of standard devices from China or Thailand, the business problems would all be solved! This is obviously not true! Pushed, it must be said, by some connectivity providers who launched the idea that the device would quickly become a commodity acquired in very large volumes, the actors of the IIot in Europe have often ignored the analysis of business issues! Similar to telephone subscription vendors, they considered that a GPS tracker, combined with a 3D Accelerometer, would be sufficient to meet all needs.

As a result, deployments are delayed because the business lines do not find the answer to the true value they are entitled to expect!

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market is in fact very fragmented: it must be organized by business-verticals both in terms of the value produced and its cost. We cannot provide the same service to the Aeronautic and the Retail sector: not the same sophistication, not the same volumes, not the same acceptable costs… and yet we are still talking about a base for geolocation of indoor or outdoor assets…
This implies going through a precise needs’ analysis phase, and above all adapting the device/data platform pair to the vertical-business concerned, even if it means adding specific functions:

Calculation of the residual cable length,

washing time of a plastic container in Cosmetics and Pharmacy,

predictive maintenance of rotating machines, etc.

It is for these reasons that ffly4u invented the Edge AI Low Power, through Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technologies embedded in the device… To stick as closely as possible to business needs and reduce the time of adoption of these new valuable parts.

And it works!
Have a good week.
Let’s ffly4u!

Olivier

Industrial IoT Asset tracking: what about talking about the client’s business?

Whatever the type of technological services involved, it is always difficult to avoid the pleasure of explaining the “how”!

We always tend to talk more about technology, rather than the customer’s need or job. It’s in the DNA of the “engineer’s companies”! Especially in France, where culture is more “technological” than “market”. This is less the case in our Anglo-Saxon neighbours.

The field of industrial IoT, particularly in its asset-tracking component, is no exception.

Just look at the literature on the subject, both on social networks and on print, everyone is very happy to delight their interlocutors with more or less abstruse technical terms. We are entitled to wonder what our prospects really get out of all these details about the technical choices of our systems.

There are at least 3 reasons why our industry should focus on the “why” rather than the “how”:

  1. Our industry is young, we have to make the market understand the kind of value it can get from our technologies. Evangelization is necessary, and for it to be as effective as possible, it is necessary to talk about business value.
  2. The Industrial Internet of Things is a major innovation of this early century. To move from a POC phase to a real deployment, the stakes involved must be much higher than the constraints linked to change. The more we talk about the scope of the business, the better our understanding of internal resistance will be, the more effective our responses will be.
  3. More generally, talking about our customers’ business refocuses our concerns on the customer, not on technologies. This pushes our services to be more multi-technologies to meet increasingly diverse and multiform needs. For ffly4u, it is thanks to our customers that we have integrated new sensors into our devices, increased the requirement of our Software, integrated for the first time in the LPWan world, the Edge AI (Embedded Artificial Intelligence).
    Let us remain on this last point: it is surprising to note, particularly in our industrial IoT sector, that the “customer driven” approach pushes us to make our technological offer more complex, so that it “fits” as closely as possible with customer needs. This is the key, but it is also a real danger for us, asset tracking players: letting ourselves be led towards more integration of technologies by our market without strategic thinking is dangerous.

In fact, it is necessary to balance integration and specialization. This can be the beginning of defining a good strategic positioning in our sector.

Let’s ffly4u.

Have a good weekend.

Olivier