Brad Pommen doesn’t look like your typical company President. With his long beard and a leather vest studded with the SMRT1 Technologies logo, he looks more like the head of a friendly biker gang.

But there’s no mistaking what he’s up to. At RevIT, a training event hosted recently by i4C Innovation, he pointed at one of SMRT1’s interactive touch-screen vending machines and said, “We just know this is going to change the world, and we’re gonna do it piece by piece.”

Brad Pommen, President of SMRT1 Technologies, explains how his company’s AI-enabled smart vending machine retrofit can be used for retail, education and industry.

RevIT introduced participants to Industry 4.0, also known as The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Industry 4.0 has a lot to do with networked connections among physical objects. Those objects combine to form large “cyber-physical systems” that share data and intelligence through cloud computing.

Fleets of haul trucks in today’s most up-to-date mines, for example, are chock-full of sensors sending information to centralized servers that feed it to analytics software which then spits out actionable reports.

But what the most innovative Industry 4.0 companies have learned is that just as important as connections among things are connections among people. In this brave new industrial world, the secret sauce of innovation is the ability to play well with others. Here’s why.

1. Industry 4.0 innovation is happening fast.

As i4C CEO Pilar Portela pointed out, The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be every bit as disruptive as the three preceding it, only it’s happening much, much faster.

No one can know everything, but ever-larger volumes of data mean the sheer amount of stuff to know is increasing at a bewildering rate. Luckily, as Selkirk Geographic Information Systems student Jess Fulcher put it, “A little training goes a long way.”

Fellow RevIt participant Tammy Verigin-Burk, head of the Castlegar and District Chamber of Commerce, agreed. “It’s good to have a broad spectrum of learning about what some of these pieces are,” she said. You don’t have to know everything; you just have to know enough to gather the right people, she added.  “So I think educating ourselves to even know what’s out there and who is available to do that work are the key takeaways for me.”

A jumper wire dispensed by SMRT1’s retrofitted vending machine.

That’s one reason why there needs to be more collaboration between industry and academia, according to Ray Neto. “It’s a constant challenge for post-secondary institutions to think about curriculum development in order to have as an output the best workforce that they could generate,” the Selkirk GIS student and RevIT attendee said.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, subject matter expertise is particularly crucial. An example from Rithmik’s own RevIT presentation was that, while most mining haul trucks do have transmissions, Komatsu 930E-4’s don’t. But if a data scientist doesn’t know that or doesn’t understand the equipment, his or her models of it might not be optimal — unless, that is, he or she is working alongside a Reliability Engineer.

Envisioning Labs CEO Oscar Malpica suggested that working with a diverse range of experts has other benefits, too. It exposes us to new ideas that can shape our work in unexpectedly fortuitous ways. Malpica would know; his company specializes in helping organizations innovate. It worked with the City of Vancouver, for example, to create a plan for reducing urban poverty by 75% by 2025.

 

Temperature and humidity sensors
Participants at RevIT, an Industry 4.0 training event hosted by i4C Innovation, build a temperature and humidity sensor from components dispensed by SMRT1’s artificially intelligent vending machine.

2. Collaborating makes business cheaper and easier.

Plus, instead of wasting time and money fighting with competitors, companies that form symbiotic relationships can redirect those resources towards creating better solutions for more customers.

The same principle applies to communities, according to Richard Wake, CTO of the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation. He’s working to help the Kootenay region in British Columbia leverage the power of its fiber optic networks. Like companies, cities and towns compete for talent and investment. But when they pool knowledge and resources, they can avoid repeating costly mistakes and instead make the region as a whole more appealing for businesses, skilled workers and tourists.

3. Collaborative projects are more future-proof.

Corporate collaborations help clients, too, because they lead to flexible, supportable solutions. As Karl Olsen, a Process Control Engineer for Teck’s Metallurgical Operations observed, multiple vendors are more likely to produce an open-sourced than a proprietary solution. That means their clients won’t end up trapped.

“In 5 years when there’s a new technology, you could potentially shift to that easier than if you were already closed in by a technology that doesn’t coexist with the new technology,” he said.

4. Partnerships create new opportunities.

At i4C Innovation, collaboration is paramount. To create end-to-end solutions for industry, the company leverages Technology Partners like Rithmik Solutions, SMRT1 Technologies, Envisioning Labs, and several others.

The “Industry 4.0 Hub” also creates the conditions for Technology Partners to find their own synergies. Media Glass, for example, decided at RevIT to work with fellow Technology Partners IoT Jedi to apply its “Smart Glass” technologies to enhance personal security in cities. “The matchmaking was the best, not only with customers — with other entrepreneurs,” Media Glass CEO Flavio França said.

3d scanner demonstration
Shawn Curran, Lab Services Manager for MIDAS (Metallurgical Industrial Development and Studies) demos a 3D scanner for Claudia Lezama, Co-Founder of IoT Jedi.

When it comes to finding partners, SMRT1’s Pommen is no slouch, either. Strategic partnerships with big players in his own industry have made his company’s artificial intelligence-enabled touchscreen — which can retrofit to any standard vending machine in 30 minutes — ready to ship anywhere in the world within 24 hours.

5. Local connections can bring global results.

But SMRT1 wouldn’t have made all those global connections if it weren’t for the ones it already had in its own region. “It’s the partnerships we’ve built in the Kootenays specifically that have connected us with the rest of the world,” Pommen said.

That includes the relationship with i4C. Industry 4.0 innovation requires a leap of faith, CEO Pilar Portela said, because it involves addressing business challenges with seemingly nebulous technologies like artificial intelligence.

“I saw Brad do that, take that leap of faith and know that, ‘This is it, this is my chance,’ and put everything on the line,” Portela said of Pommen. In order for such leaps to be so successful, she added, we need “a solid understanding of the actual preferences, priorities and constraints facing people and businesses in the real world of here and now.”

And that means not taking our connections for granted.

Featured image: RevIT participants brainstorm about how to combine their different forms of expertise to solve the problem of aging infrastructure in manufacturing. All photos by Amanda Truscott.