Sending Out a Smart SOS
Manufacturers of big-ticket, industrial and commercial products ranging from factory-floor freezing tunnels and commercial air conditioners to office copiers and espresso vending machines are beginning to tap the Internet to monitor, diagnose and serviceNot long ago, Internet visionaries such as Sun Microsystems Inc. Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy were confidently predicting the emergence of smart, Web-connected consumer appliances. You remember the idea: Smart refrigerator detects critically low milk level, sends urgent e-mail to Webvan Group Inc. and, boom, fresh milk on the doorstep the next morning. Breakfast saved. It turns out McNealy didnt get it quite right. Internet-connected refrigerators are about as common as, well, Webvan vans. A different type of smart, well-connected machine is beginning to emerge, however. Manufacturers of big-ticket, industrial and commercial products ranging from factory-floor freezing tunnels and commercial air conditioners to office copiers and espresso vending machines are beginning to tap the Internet to monitor, diagnose and service equipment. Theyre doing it with a new class of products that includes software and microprocessors embedded into industrial devices. The systems allow devices to connect over the Internet and, for instance, warn about malfunctions and report on their own performance. Makers of the industrial equipment, such as LAir Liquide SA (Air Liquide) and Carrier Corp., save money by reducing expensive service calls while, at the same time, increasing customer satisfaction and even driving new revenue opportunities.
"What youre doing is giving a machine the opportunity to call out and say its hurt," said Erik Keller, principal of IT consulting company Wapiti LLC, in Ridgefield, Conn. "All those servicing type of applications [is] where this will find its greatest use and utility and where companies will get the biggest bang for their buck."