With more than six decades in business and 12,000 employees globally, Endress+Hauser is recognized as a leading supplier of measurement and automation equipment, providing products and services for industrial processes around the world. The company offers comprehensive process solutions for flow, level, pressure, analysis and temperature, with recording and digital communications across a wide range of industries, optimizing processes for economic efficiency, safety and environmental protection.
Endress+Hauser was looking for a means to collect level measurements, or “product inventory” in industry terminology, so that their customers could do a better job of material management and logistics. E+H wanted to integrate the inventory information into the business process of the customer to help them make better decisions on tank replenishment, for example, within the defined work flows of their ERP system.
Unfortunately, when tanks are located miles away, there was no affordable means with which to collect the data, so a critical input for the work process was missing. This made it exceedingly difficult to effectively manage vendors who supplied the material, as to when to supply it, especially when trying to set up a business model of vendor-managed inventory, where the supplier takes over the responsibility for the replenishment of the material of its customers.
After the initial introduction of the concept in 2003, E+H discovered that communications hardware development required a much faster technology development lifecycle than they were used to and soon recognized that it was not a part of their core business, so they decided to begin looking for a partner with whom they could build the solution together.
Based on ten years’ experience of applying new level technology solutions to the marketplace, E+H knew they needed a battery-driven device in order to reach remote locations. So they began searching for a company with a history in both industrial markets and the gateway technologies required to bring the product to fruition. Others within their organization had past project experience with Digi and soon learned that a new product, Digi Connect Sensor, was in the process of being developed and they wanted to be a part of the beta testing process.
E+H had also just launched a new, market-disruptive radar measurement technology, so from a price perspective the combination of their radar unit with Digi Connect Sensor fit extremely well into the targeted market space of chemical, food and beverage, and oil and gas industries. And from an application perspective, E+H was looking to enter additional segments that were looking for a complete remote monitoring system.
The new E+H radar device mounts to the top of a tank and functions as an ultrasonic instrument that collects eight different physical data points to measure the level in the tank. Built into the application is a “critical point” that, once reached, functions as the re-order point to trigger replenishment planning. All the while Digi Connect Sensor is collecting level data every 15 minutes, essentially real time in the logistical process world. The information is then sent with the software to the E+H cloud platform two-to-three times a day, to properly initiate the replenishment process.
Additionally, the solution can help with forecasting because of the known history of the material consumption rate. Based on predictions of when the replenishment process will be started, customers can be assured to never run out of material critical, in both timing and delivery, to their operations.
Surprisingly, many in the targeted industries were still using manual methods to collect tank level data, then writing down inventory numbers and entering the measurement information into an ERP system by hand. Oftentimes, those involved in the business process weren’t even aware of how the actual inventory data came into the ERP system. So it was easy to see why there were so many delays – gathering and routing information from sensor to ERP to replenishment – often as long as days at a time, meaning nothing was ever really up to date. This was the most crucial point for their operation, to be able to move from an inexact guess at best to a precise, Just In Time (JIT) delivery of the material based on real-time information about their inventories.
For the future, E+H customers have been asking for high speed digital communications overlaid with the 4-20 analog signal in order to read out more than one process variable at a time. For example, level instruments can not only measure level, they can also measure temperature. E+H would be able to supply both measurement points from a particular application through a single communication device utilizing bi-directional protocols, such as Wired HART or Modbus, both available with the new Digi Connect Sensor+ based on E+H input into product development and design.
E+H values a partner such as Digi International, who will work with them in tandem, to develop the kinds of products and new feature enhancements in response to customer demands to improve their operational efficiencies, employee safety and productivity, and environmental impact.