Cloud control for the 'industrial internet'

Electric motor developer Wellington Drive Technologies will soon pilot its new cloud-based refrigerator fleet control system in Malaysia and Mexico.

Every year, the owners of fleets of refrigerated drinks dispensing machines in the developing world "lose" on average between 2 percent and 5 percent of their refrigerators.

The causes of these losses are uncertain. Some are certainly due to theft, but other units simply fall off service rounds, never to be seen again.

But a new cloud-based control system could stem that bleeding and more, delivering usable data to fleet owners such as Coke and Pepsi.

Wellington Drive Technologies (WDT) is best known as the manufacturer of the energy-efficient electric motors and fans used in some refrigeration systems and as replacements for less-efficient motors in existing units.

But in the first quarter of 2015, the company plans to roll out smart controller systems for units such as bottle coolers that will communicate via Bluetooth with smartphones carried by refrigerator service staff on their two- or three-daily visits to replenish the refrigerators.

"The object is to get information from the refrigerators out in the field to the owners of the fleet," said WDT's chief technology officer David Howell.

"This is a prime example of the industrial internet becoming a reality. Attempts to develop these types of solutions have been explored in the past, but no one has been able come up with a cost-effective technique," Howell says.

That information includes geo-tagging of machines to enable better control of their physical locations. The system, SCS Connect, will also support customers' marketing applications, provide system management functionality, and reduce total cost of ownership, WDT said.

The information is then sent to a cloud-based database.

SCS Connect is a new, revenue-generating line of business, Howell said, because WDT is also developing an application to allow fleet owners to interrogate the data and output actionable information. The controller units will be sold to manufacturers, the same companies that buy WDT's engines, while the software will be sold to fleet owners.

"It's a new product," Howell said. "We haven't been in control systems up until now, and certainly not cloud-based stuff."

Howell said that in the developing world, Wi-Fi and other networks are not necessarily available to allow refrigeration units to be online 24/7. Also, existing refrigeration units can cost as little as $300 to $400, and fleet owners might balk at adding $100 or more per unit to enable full remote connectivity.

Meanwhile, WDT is also developing its latest generation motor, which Howell said will deliver class-leading energy efficiency, low noise, and universal voltage, operating on either 110v or 240v power supplies.