There haD to be a better way

May 1, 2019 by Matthew Kleiman

Welcome to the Cumulus Blog! For our first post, we want to share where the idea for the Internet of Tools came from.

The Internet of Tools was conceived while Cumulus’ founders were at Shell TechWorks, Shell’s Skunk Works-style technology center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We found ourselves asking: why are industrial facilities around the world tracking billions of dollars’ worth of work on pen and paper, at a time when we can change the temperature in our homes using our mobile phones and an engineer in Seattle can monitor the engine vibration on a Boeing 787 flying 5 miles above the Atlantic Ocean?

A 2016 McKinsey & Company report summarized the state of the industry as follows:

“[T]here is also a continuing challenge when it comes to fixing the basics. Project planning, for example, remains uncoordinated between the office and the field and is often done on paper. Contracts do not include incentives for risk sharing and innovation; performance management is inadequate, and supply-chain practices are still unsophisticated. The industry has not yet embraced new digital technologies that need up-front investment, even if the long-term benefits are significant.”

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We witnessed this for ourselves when visiting a large construction project where work crews were assembling thousands of bolted pipe connections. Each assembly crew had up to five people: 

  • a pipe fitter,

  • a co-fitter, and

  • up to three quality inspectors making sure that the work was done properly.

The crews carried large binders of technical specifications, isometric drawings, and checklists, and spent an inordinate amount of time searching the labyrinth of piping to find the connections they were to work on. All of the records were kept on paper and a clerical staff manually transcribed this information into the project’s data management system after each shift, a process that took several hours every day.

This whole process seemed terribly inefficient. We knew there had to be a better way.

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Why can’t a project manager monitor the progress and quality of work from the comfort of her office in real time, just like we can remotely monitor our homes from our smart phones? Can technology help us eliminate accidents, unplanned downtime, and re-work caused by poor work quality?

We started building a software platform that connects workers, tools, and data to make industrial facilities and construction sites safer and more productive, starting with improving the assembly and maintenance of safety-critical bolted connections. Our system would collect data from digitally-enabled tools in the field to provide quality assurance and progress tracking in real time.

The Internet of Tools was born.

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