At the recent North American Manufacturing Excellence Summit, our team had the opportunity to meet with an abundance of manufacturing pros looking for ways to solve challenges facing the industry. Find out what we learned.
Few people in the world, or even our company, are as much an IIoT evangelist as Ed Nabrotzky, our Director of Sales and Strategy. So, we recently asked Ed to tell us a little more about himself, the history of Logiscend, and why he feels IIoT is such a game changer.
We know your title, but how do you describe what you really do?
I am a technologist. More specifically, a technical entrepreneur. I like to identify new markets and drive new initiatives into them. It starts with finding out where the market is going and the gaps between what they want to do and what they are achieving today. Creating technology to close those gaps and do things my customers only dreamed of is tremendously satisfying. I love defining targets and hitting them.
How did you find your way to Logiscend?
My technical background is really in communications and networking. In the late 2000s, I had been in industrial automation for a while and had an idea for eliminating paper-based processes in manufacturing. At the time I was with Molex and driving an industrial fieldbus business, working with robotics and smart machines. I could see the beginnings of IIoT coming into the market and the building pressure for transparency and customization that would obsolete paper. I decided to leave Molex and fund a startup, creating the first trackable e-paper tag and filing the foundational patent work for those systems.
To start out, I sourced an e-paper label from ZBD, a retail startup from my wife’s hometown in Ascot, UK, drilled holes in the back and fly-wired and epoxied a Bluetooth transponder and passive RFID onto the back of it. I actually created my first View tag in my garage and sold a pilot with it and some simple software I wrote. Then I brought on a small team, repackaged the tags a little nicer, added more software and started selling a system successfully. My first installed customers were Toyota and USPS, great references to build from.
When I reached out for a second round of funding to start to scale my venture, one of the investors in my network was an advisor to the PE fund who owned ZBD. After some interaction with him, as well as a road trip to see the early adopters in action, he recognized the synergy with another company in their portfolio, Omni-ID, whose RFID tags I used on the USPS project. We did the deal to merge my startup into Omni to reposition it as a solutions company.
The new company was relocated to Rochester, New York in 2011 after some negotiation with the state, who offered incentives to fill the void left by a shrinking Kodak and Xerox. The investors chose a new local managing partner to oversee our growth and placed me in the organization as CTO alongside a great technical entrepreneur from the area, George Daddis, named to be our new CEO.
After growing the venture and refining the technology, as well as building a LOT of software under Omni-ID, our PE fund sold the solution business to Panasonic on January 6, 2019 and we became Logiscend.
What was the best part about being part of Panasonic?
We could finally fully focus on a longer-term strategy instead of private equity quarterly targets. We quickly developed a vision of a strong organization with Panasonic’s global sales, warehousing and manufacturing behind us. It was really exciting to start to harness their experience in key technologies such as automation, vision systems, and artificial intelligence for our customers. The capability to partner with major market players was suddenly open to us. On top of all the technology and external market potential, applying our system internally in the 400+ factories within Panasonic was a fantastic opportunity in itself!
How have you seen manufacturing change during your career?
I’m a Canadian. Studied at the University of Western Ontario, a great school just north of the border, and did a first internship Northern Telecom. Then I started out designing network software and infrastructure for smart manufacturing. I spent that decade of my career in the guts of manufacturing automation—figuring out how to make PLCs and robots go faster and make stepper motors be more repeatable and deterministic. Then I moved around the world with assignments in the UK, Germany, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Japan working closely with manufacturers. I even worked for about a year as a plant manager during a turnaround assignment, running an over-mold operation in the lighting business. Throughout most of my career, everybody was following the same Six Sigma, Lean, Toyota production system philosophy because Honda and Toyota were making cars, better and cheaper than anyone and we all knew their quality system was the key to success. Kanban, inherent quality, continuous improvement, elimination of waste was all the rage, and everybody did basically the same things.
Around the turn of the century, people started to realize we had pretty much squeezed everything out of that old lemon. At the same time, the demand side of the world was changing. Consumer-focused companies like Amazon and logistics companies like FedEx had clearly demonstrated it was possible to deliver custom service faster and better than anyone thought possible. Consumers wanted that kind of service in everything they touched. To do that we needed smart, flexible processes that were completely different from the static setups and pounding away at efficiencies model of the 1900’s. This opened some really interesting discussions with my customers. The robot teams were my favorites as I watched the beginnings of co-bots and autonomy, moving away from the strict teach and repeat approaches of the last 4 decades. Many revolutionary technology pilots started popping up as manufacturers were trying to innovate and meet the demands of flexibility. It became pretty clear to me that IIoT was about to fundamentally disrupt the entire manufacturing industry and a new way to make things on demand was going to emerge.
Why is IIoT so important?
The shift to IoT is the current Holy Grail. It not only saves tremendous costs, but it also provides unheard of flexibility to do customizations directly for consumers. Allowing you to get them product exactly when and how they want it. And IIoT changes your whole supply chain concept. You can change your traditional tier structure with buffer inventory and have what I call a transparent factory that delivers Just-In-Sequence. Everybody sees the point of production and can react collaboratively to supply the right materials to the right place at the right time. The feedback loop into both design and quality is amazing. Rather than have a rigid process where you periodically measure a few key outputs to tune and take out waste over time, you create a dynamic system where waste is inherently removed and data is collected on everything, all the time.
IIoT is how Amazon can respond to demand triggers coming in from all different directions in a seamless, integrated, internet-enabled way. They have connected systems that can react immediately to triggers with high quality and complete transparency. As a result, they are totally flexible and do incredible variations for customers at scale. Most importantly, they fully invite their customers and suppliers into the picture. When you buy something, you get to see the steps of fulfillment happening and at the same time the suppliers get triggers to see what is in demand and dynamically supply the right things back into the system. It is a self-tuning system, that enabled them to grow at 160% last quarter.
This approach will also revolutionize the manufacturing of everything from washing machines to cars, but it’s not just adding a few sensors. It’s changing the way we think about business and manufacturing by inter-connecting everything. We are taking down the rigid walls we have built around factories and between processes over the last few decades as were pursuing 6 Sigma quality through standardization. We are still aiming for the same quality, but we are going to get it from a whole different approach that also delivers flexibility we never dreamed possible.
And why should manufacturers come to Panasonic Logiscend to implement IIoT?
We understand manufacturing. We know exactly what our customers are dealing with and really understand how to take them from their legacy systems to where they need to go. We’re a global manufacturing company ourselves and so many of our staff have deep manufacturing backgrounds.
We are an IoT technology company. We make sensors, PLCs, laser markers, vision systems, mobility computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, enterprise software and cloud hosting … all developed and adapted by a technology leader that is facing the same challenges our customers are! All of the fundamental technologies driving the IIoT revolution are being built and refined right here in-house.
We understand edge systems and connections. We grew up on RFID and know how to make wireless work in heavy metal environments. We have deep enterprise networks expertise, including an entire company dedicated to network services and infrastructure. Data creation, transmission, aggregation and retrieval is core to everything we do. We can do more than just talk about connected systems!
Perhaps most importantly, we have a long-term partnering philosophy. This digital transformation is not a one step process. We have the patience and the partner network to work with you to tune your process and enhance your system in reasonable steps over the many years it will take to get to the goal.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Being Canadian, I love the outdoors and you’ll see me in the woods or on a lake any chance I can get. My dad was a carpenter and those days with him built in me a love of woodworking, which occasionally manifests itself in building some interesting pieces but my wife would say mostly means buying expensive tools I only use occasionally. I’m also an adjunct faculty member at the business school in the University of Rochester, teaching entrepreneurship and working projects with their MBA teams when I can. One of my life goals has always been to get my PhD, but when I did my undergraduate work and subsequently my MBA, I put that on hold as we moved into family mode, raising our six children while working all over the world. A few years ago as the children started leaving home to start their own lives, I started working on that PhD goal again. I’ve now finished my coursework, my qualifying exams, initial thesis proposal and I’m scheduled to submit and defend my dissertation by the end of 2021. Stay tuned on that one.
Like I said, I like defining targets and hitting them.
Dice rolling game boxes with miniatures I made for my children, Christmas 2020
Sunroom I added to the
house last summer
Adding an ATV crossing on my recreational
property near Mt. Morris, NY
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