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CIOInsider India Magazine


Solulever: Taking Manufacturing Industry to the 'Edge' of Things

Jitesh Kohli, CEO,Rajat Sabharwal, Co-Founder & CTO

The global manufacturing industry is at a watershed moment in its evolution. With the emergence of data-driven connected technologies, the smart, factories are already showing us a glimpse of the future. But optimizing the real potential of Industry 4.0 is a proposition that goes beyond the new technology norms to leverage the nuances of edge computing. A strong testament to this fact is the market interventions of Solulever B.V. – a data-driven technology company that delivers the promise of digital manufacturing through ‘Continuous Value Realization Programs’, leveraging its homegrown edge platform and solutions. Solulever’s end-to-end solution Brabo Edge Platform® (Brabo) sets new benchmarks in the manufacturing tech industry by extending the data management & real-time analytics capabilities to any existing or new plant application.

Solulever is a subsidiary of Taurus Group B.V., which is a Dutch technology conglomerate home to seven subsidiary companies across the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and India. It’s been quite impressive the way Solulever has extended Taurus group’s market leadership position from data management to manufacturing industry solutions within a short span of time. With an intention to unfold that interesting growth story, I recently reached out to Solulever’s CEO, Jitesh Kohli, a venerated business leader who co-founded the company along with Rajat Sabharwal (CTO). Jitesh and Rajat walk us through Solulever’s exciting endeavors towards transforming the manufacturing industry.

In Conversation with Jitesh Kohli, Co-Founder & CEO and Rajat Sabharwal, Co-Founder & CTO, Solulever B.V.

The IIoT market is expected to grow from $77.3 billion in 2020 to $110.6 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 7.4 percent. Where is Solulever positioned in the current IIoT industry and the Industry 4.0 revolution? Today, the Industrial Tech is at a similar inflection point as the enterprise tech/cloud was in 2010. The investments in this space have grown more than eight-fold in the last six years. In Europe alone, where we are headquartered, we are looking at a whopping $350 billion annual spend in the evolutionary technology segments like OT-IT integration, IIoT, AI, cybersecurity, Edge Computing etc.

Howbeit, the technical complexities and siloed organizational structures put manufacturers in dire straits to reap value out of the significant cost and time investments, which most of the Industry 4.0 programs demand. Let alone this, the challenges related to lock-ins with proprietary technology incumbents, data governance challenges, process & technology variances amongst different production sites, niche & expensive technical skills needed etc. are pressing organizations from all coordinates.

We founded Solulever to make it easy for manufacturers to embark on their Industry 4.0 journey. We are sharply focused on simplifying the digitization of manufacturing operations, enabling an integrated data platform. Our core offering, Brabo Edge Platform® is built on a concept that we call ‘Manufacturing Service Bus’. The approach transposes from application thinking to analytics thinking, point solutions to data platform, cloud to Hybrid (Edge & Cloud), centralization to democratization, proprietary to open systems, manufacturing execution orientation to operations optimization, and global templates to site-level-fitment.

What this means to our customers is quick business value at much lower costs than the alternative ‘point solution’ approaches. Manufacturers can now lay a strong data foundation to their company integrated with flexibility to implement site-specific real-time use cases sans any specialized skills or any vendor lock-ins. Our unparalleled solutions backed by our partner ecosystems bolster our stance in this space to realize the Digital Manufacturing ambitions of leading manufacturing enterprises.

How do you leverage the power of data? How robust and cutting-edge is your data platform? Also, what contributions do you render in terms of enabling smart manufacturing?
We enable real-time insights through corrective interventions and early warning systems built over Brabo. These are the solutions that guide the operators, and quality, supervisory & process improvement staff to make intelligent decisions, when and where needed.

The real-time operations data needed for such meaningful insights is locked up in a myriad of technologies on a shop floor, spread across sensors, PLCs, SCADA systems, RFID/ Bluetooth implementations, MES applications etc. There are proprietary data formats and communication protocols prevalent which further add to the integration

complexity. The important business data parameters like Batch IDs, Customer IDs, SKU information etc., on the other hand are spread across complex corporate IT landscapes, involving ERP systems, Recipe Management systems, Lab information management systems etc.

Brabo is built specifically to deal with such intricate data environments. The adapter framework within the platform is capable of handling almost any data format and machine communication protocol found in a manufacturing setup. The real-time queues in the platform mashes up the shop floor data over the business data parameters to enrich the data sets. The platform is built completely on a micro-services architecture. The result is a plethora of real-time APIs powered by rich blocks of contextualized production data, which can be used to build complex insights for the shop-floor stakeholders – for optimizing efficiencies, real time operator enablement, complete production visibility, enhancing material yield, and data analytics oriented continuous improvement and much more.

The adapter framework within the platform is capable of handling almost any data format and machine communication protocol found in a manufacturing setup

The use case possibilities are limitless and can be incrementally enabled on a common data architecture. We have used advanced technologies like Kubernetes, gRPC, Kafka, Edge & Fog Computing, High Performance Computing, Open Compute Project, to name a few, to develop such a fast, robust, flexible and scalable platform.

Solulever upholds a strong belief system around enabling manufacturing organizations to focus on value creation using technology advantage rather than investing efforts in solving the technology challenges that come along. How do you act up on this and help clients focus?
If you break-down the time and budget spent in a typical Industry 4.0 program, you realize that on an average, 35 percent of it is spent on issues pertaining to connectivity, integration and data normalization. In case of pure cloud based architectures, this portion can shoot up to 50 percent or more (let alone the ineffectiveness of cloud platforms to deliver any real-time use cases, due to inherent latency/connectivity challenges).

Another 25 percent is spent on customizing the platform and solutions to work with varied technology landscapes across different sites. Overall, you are looking at a budget spend of 60 to 75 percent of your total program budget going into addressing these technical complexities. Adding to the woes are the usual surprises encountered while the program is in-flight, relating to proprietary license fees, cost of niche skills needed etc. In certain cases, the overall spend on unravelling technology complexities shoots up beyond 100 percent of the total budget allocated! This often happens even before the team has built a single use-case that delivers value back to the business stakeholders.

This reality has been one of the main reasons for failed programs or for manufacturers to shy away from embarking on Industry 4.0 programs in the first place.

Brabo is built to abstract out these technical complexities, and in turn drastically reduce the associated costs, time, and surprises. The approach is towards enabling a rock-solid data foundation without worrying about the existing technology landscape or varying digital maturity of different sites. In contrast to taking an IIoT-heavy approach, Brabo takes a ‘OT first’ approach, while also leveraging any already-made IIoT investments. Since Brabo connects on a communication protocol basis, the make & age of equipment does not matter as well. Connecting to a new data source is as simple as installing a new printer on your laptop. Brabo’s service bus integrates with all the layers of relevant data sources – from sensors/actuators, at shop-floor, up to ERPs and other IT systems on the corporate side.

This means that we capitalize the technology investments already made by a manufacturing enterprise, instead of ripping and replacing them. The setups in the platform are driven through easy configuration wizards – be it making new mash-ups of data, deciding which data to store at site level, which data to push to top-floor for business KPI reporting, categorizing real-time data streams, or configuring complex alarms/events and more. The resultant APIs can be used to build any analytical model, any application using any tool or programming language that an enterprise is comfortable with. This is all made possible with an open-data platform philosophy, modular structures, best technology choices, and scalable & flexible architecture.

In a fraction of cost and time otherwise possible, manufacturing enterprises can start building value based use-case portfolios towards achieving better performance across their manufacturing operations. This also means that Brabo acts as a platform to

drive continuous innovation at a speed and scale best suited to an enterprise.

Manufacturers often struggle to scale up beyond a few pilot sites. Adoption by manufacturing plants is generally seen to be a challenge. How do you deal with this challenge?
We believe that the adoption and scale up at manufacturing sites fail mainly due to (i) political reasons, (ii) commercial reasons, and (iii) change management reasons.

The political equation between plant stakeholders and corporate stakeholders cannot be ignored in the manufacturing industry. This is where concepts like cloud-based data-lakes – an approach on which the IIoT platforms are built – fail drastically. Plants push back when their manufacturing datasets are out in the open and top-floor can potentially police them upon. Moreover, not more than five percent of data produced in a plant is actually useful for any cross-plant benchmarking and reporting or relevant for top-floor executives. Hence, we take a balanced Hybrid approach. The master of manufacturing operations data is always kept within the site. That’s why Brabo is an ‘Edge-first’ and not a ‘Cloud’ first platform. Since 95 percent of this data is relevant only in the shop-floor to generate real-time intelligence, this data is used and stored only on the on-premise Edge server. The other five percent data is pushed to the centralized (generally cloud-based) models for cross-plant analytics.

Rajat Sabharwal, Co-Founder & CTO

Commercially, you often find that the solutions built for a larger site fail to stand the ROI equation of a smaller site. Or that the functional solutions built for Site A need massive tweaking to suit the needs of Site B. Contrastingly, Brabo enables blocks of Mashed up data, which can be assembled and utilized differently for different sites. Hence we don’t have a generic ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for all sites, but highly customized deployment for each site. Hence, scaling up or down for a specific site is never a challenge with Brabo.

We opine against a point-solution approach when it comes to Digital Manufacturing. Beyond the challenges of creating siloed solutions, such an approach creates a huge change management issue for the manufacturing sites. You do not want to have your shop-floor stakeholders learning, adopting, and then re-learning new technologies. This is where a single comprehensive and flexible technology platform approach like Brabo helps. Sites can now create a long term portfolio of use cases stitched adroitly on a strong digital backbone of manufacturing data. Both the learning curve and the turnaround-time increase through this approach.

“In a fraction of cost and time otherwise possible, manufacturing enterprises can start building value based use case portfolios towards achieving better performance across their manufacturing operations”

What are the opportunities that you foresee? What is Solulever’s future roadmap?
We recently launched a limited version of Brabo Edge Appliance in collaboration with our group’s sister companies: Circle B and ClusterVision. This is an engineered Edge appliance built for high performance & real-time analytics needs of the manufacturing industry. The underlying hardware is built on the revolutionary OCP (Open Compute Project) architecture. The Appliance is Fog enabled and can manage a network of smart shop-floor devices in a peer-to-peer network fashion. This development will undergo further enrichment in the coming quarters.

We are working on several exciting projects to further make the road of Digital Manufacturing easier for the industry. The directions include 5G enablement of Brabo, deployment of industry specific Brabo templates, launching open source developer platform, creating a marketplace for industrial apps and much more.

We are enthused about the power of ecosystem play in the Industry 4.0 space. We are also rapidly expanding our network of Value Added Partners, who build industry specific use cases on top of Brabo. While our distribution network is rapidly expanding to make the Brabo Appliance available in newer markets, we are also strengthening collaboration with Academia. Reputed universities are already coin novating with us in Europe.

We are notably positioned as a credible partner to manufacturing organizations. We not only carry the right technology, but are also the torchbearers of a fresh, baggage-free approach enabling value derivation. Our moot philosophy is to drive democratization of industrial technologies and embrace the power of open communities to drive innovation. We believe that this will ultimately be the key to sustainable, data-driven smart manufacturing. And we are geared to be at the center of it all!

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Solulever: Taking Manufacturing Industry to the `Edge' of Things