Jon Sobel, CEO of Sight Machine. Image credit: Sight Machine

Jon Sobel is no stranger to connected technology. As CEO of Sight Machine, an end-to-end manufacturing analytics platform for multi-vendor factory equipment, he is embedded in the development of Manufacturing 4.0. Previously, he served as a general counsel for Tesla, and worked for Yahoo and CBS in the late 1990s and 2000s.

Now, he wants to bring more connectivity and efficiency to factories with Sight Machine.

Sight Machine was founded in 2011, by five founders with a mix of experiences in internet, big data, and automotive. Their technology is implemented in 25 factories now, each of which task Sight Machine with using the enormous amounts of data gathered in the factories to draw meaningful conclusions.

The open and agnostic data platform can gather data from machinery around the factory, including PLC endpoints, inspection systems and quality equipment, Excel, data historians, and RDBMS, MES and ERP adapters. From there, the data is pushed to the cloud and analyzed in whichever way the client needs.

Sobel has spoken in the past about his vision of a “Cambrian explosion” of machine-to-machine communication in manufacturing, in which more and more connections proliferate and more factories digitize. This is taking place now, he said, because more and more technology has arisen to deal with the large volumes of data produced in manufacturing.

“Now you have startups like us who are getting involved in the opportunities because it’s an open field,” Sobel said. “Whoever can develop the technology fastest and figure out how to best support customers with new technology and new business models are going to have extraordinary opportunities.”

This “explosion” can be seen in the many major manufacturers looking to find startups and fund new projects. Organizations like the Industrial Internet Consortium are some of the fastest-growing consortia in technology. This trend can be seen worldwide, Sobel said, as the governments of Germany, Japan, and the United States have declared digital manufacturing a strategically important initiative.

Meanwhile, those manufacturers who work with M2M are drowning in data. They dump information into “data lakes,” collecting everything they have and trying to find out what to do with it.

Companies already know how to gather and store that information, but they sometimes need help with the next step. “Each of these systems [raw sensor data, historians etc.] was designed for something other than analysis,” Sobel said. “They happen to collect and sometimes hold data but none were designed for big data analytics. So the challenge is to get the zeroes and ones out of all those places and do what we do with data in every other industry.”

An example of the type of customized dashboard available to Sight Machine customers. Image credit: Sight Machine

Sobel said that, instead of getting lost in the data lake, manufacturers should identify immediate, specific business needs where operations data could be helpful and begin projects that solve those needs.

Part of what Sight Machine does is to solve the problem of incompatible protocols running on different M2M devices. Sight Machine aims to allow factory devices to communicate no matter their protocols or what brand made them.

“There are a discrete number of protocols in manufacturing,” said Sobel. “As you bring up libraries of connectors and adapters you can use, you can go more and more broadly in the factory. The data acquisitions challenge is real, but it is completely solvable.”

“Modern technology has hundreds of different automation suppliers and data types. As has happened in every other tech and data industry, the answer is to have a single open and agnostic platform. So that if you’re using Siemens today and GE tomorrow, it doesn’t matter,” Sobel said.

Sight Machine can also work with companies using older machines in their factory that are not digitally enabled. It can analyze sound, vibration, and other machine information and turn it into data.

In order to protect plant floor data, Sight Machine has several security efforts in place: all endpoints are on a secure VPN, all changes inside the Web interface are logged, and password and authentication management can be customized to each factory in order to ensure consistency with existing IT practices.

Sight Machine joins a shifting landscape for service providers looking to offer the newest and most high-tech solutions for digital manufacturing. “Whoever can develop the technology fastest and figure out how to best support customers with new technology and new business models are going to have extraordinary opportunities,” Sobel said. “The nature of tech innovation is major shifts happen in business models and competitive landscapes for the companies that go fast and contribute to the customers.”

More information can be found at Sight Machine.