John Traynor, Senior Vice President, FreePoint TechnologiesJohn Traynor, Senior Vice President
Over the last century, the umbrella of manufacturing has broadened to cover everything from automobiles and microchips to paper cups and cookies. While the classification is broad, the challenges faced by manufacturers revolve around enhancing operational efficiency. From the times of manual processes to present day ERP systems, optimization of operational efficiency has gone through several iterations, funneling down to the lack of real-time visibility into the manufacturing process. This shortcoming is coupled with low engagement from workers due to the lack of a visible connection between their efforts and organizational progress. FreePoint Technologies, a digital machine monitoring solution provider, helps manufacturers turn challenges into opportunities. Its senior vice president John Traynor discusses with CIO Applications how it is done.

How does FreePoint solve the pain points in the manufacturing industry?

We believe that the first step to solving the challenges is acknowledging that the people on the plant floor who are operating the machinery are skilled and have expertise in handling the machine and maintaining its performance. Based on this notion, we have devised a method to enable operators to monitor machine performance in real time and document any shortcomings with the click of a button or the tap of a screen. Harnessing the prowess built by working with manufacturers over the years, FreePoint’s products add value and engage workers in the narrative of machine performance. This includes live notification of anomalies, historical reporting, and scheduling to streamline the workflow.

FreePoint has developed ShiftWorx, an industrial IoT system that delivers actionable information from machines and equipment on the shop floor to relevant staff. The solution provides transparent real-time data to workers, supervisors , and managers, which leads to a more responsive and productive manufacturing environment, yielding faster problem-resolution.

What steps does FreePoint take to differentiate itself from other solution providers in the market?

Most manufacturers refrain from the idea of industrial IoT deployment since it involves upgrading their machines to be IIoT compliant and implies significant costs. FreePoint’s passive and non-invasive approach proves beneficial to manufacturers by reducing the solution deployment time and cost. Most machines can be connected to ShiftWorx in less than 30 minutes without a FreePoint technician. Additionally, off-the-shelf sensors such as proximity, contact, and current flow sensors help monitor the proper functioning of equipment. With minimal to no infrastructure intrusion, FreePoint is conducive for new and sophisticated equipment while being easy to retrofit for conventional equipment. This reduces the investment required for a real-time monitoring system.

Another differentiating factor is that FreePoint does not merge irrelevant data into artificial intelligence. While dealing with machine operators, FreePoint hones their skills to identify the reasons for machine downtime and respective resolutions using codes. These reason codes, which are customer and machine specific, can identify opportunities to increase manufacturing performance. FreePoint proposes a simple approach that produces meaningful results using human intelligence without a team of consultants to understand or implement.

With minimal to no infrastructure intrusion, FreePoint is ideal for new and sophisticated equipment while being an easy retrofit for conventional equipment

With the risks of cyber threats rising each day, how does FreePoint safeguard its clients?

One of the most prominent risks of IIoT deployment is exposing machine controls to hackers and cybercriminals. FreePoint’s non-invasive solution involves using sensors instead of attaching hardware to a programmable logic controller (PLC). The solution does not interfere with machine operations nor is it a vector for cyber attacks on the machinery. Due to the lack of physical connection between FreePoint’s solution and the machines, an “air-gap” increases the security and drastically and reduces the possibility of cyber attacks.

Where do you observe higher customer traction? Could you illustrate a client success story to exemplify FreePoint’s offerings?

One of FreePoint’s original founders operated a wire harness manufacturing plant. Following this, several of FreePoint’s initial customers where manufacturers in the automotive supply chain. Over the years, FreePoint has diversified its offerings for customers in discrete manufacturing segments such as fabricated metals, aerospace, textiles, and plastic and rubber. Customers associated with FreePoint share the drive to improve shop floor efficiency by engaging with employees, which leads to improved machine utilization and manufacturing throughput.

FreePoint’s offerings can be demonstrated through its association with a precision metal stamping and assembly company that was founded in 1970. With no active production monitoring, the customer used a paper-based system to track production for several years. In a process that took roughly 36 hours to avail production information, recognizing and reporting a machine malfunction in real-time was next to impossible. After deploying FreePoint ShiftWorx, relevant staff could access minute-by-minute updates of shop floor productivity. In addition, when a problem arises, immediate action helps to review and address the issue. With ShiftWorx, machine operators experience better engagement in the tasks after understanding the connection between their work and the impact on production performance. The use of the FreePoint solution brought a complete turnaround in the operations and now, the client aims to turn 100 percent paperless for collecting production data.

How has the journey been so far for FreePoint? What does the road ahead hold in store for you?

In 2018, we acquired a software development firm, which doubled the total number of software developers in our firm. This growth enabled FreePoint to accelerate product development while offering additional integration services to customers. In parallel, we are paving the way to allow partners and customers to access our product API to connect the ShiftWorx platform to more machines. On the geographic front, FreePoint is growing wider in North America, Asia, and South Pacific, while eyeing growth opportunities in Europe and South America. Our ultimate mission is to help manufacturers connect the machines and their people to deliver the best outcomes.