Innovation springs from small and new companies, so holds Andrew Johnson, CEO of ShelfAware, a software startup in the what could be called the MRO commodity business. His family business, Oringsales.com, is a master distributor of those crucial but often overlooked components called O-rings. Suppliers to maintenance shops and OEMs have been tackling vendor managed inventory and other inventory tracking processes for many years. But how do you economically track something as small as an O-ring?

The brothers running the distributorship business figured out that RFID tags were becoming inexpensive enough to warrant use in small bags of these small components. They wrote an application, embedded RFID tags on the bags, and established a workflow. Originally for their customers of O-rings, customers soon demanded the system for other small components, as well.

The key proposition—remotely monitor consumption of small parts. He calls it get “the dudes in trucks” off the streets to better utilize their time rather than driving around counting parts.

Johnson is entrepreneurial and evangelistic. He told me, ”I’m reaching out to you because I have a message I would like to send to our USA manufacturing friends that I think they would find very interesting. The time is now to innovate our manufacturing infrastructure if we intend on bringing manufacturing back to the USA in a big way. Its easier than ever before to take the tech leap with many Internet of Things systems popping up every month that don’t require integration into your ERP systems to achieve a big ROI. It’s literally plug and play technology for manufactures.

This is his innovation story.

I am a young entrepreneur (32) that has grown up in the industrial manufacturing industry as a member of a family run industrial parts distributor. I spent many summers of my childhood inspecting o-rings, gaskets, and other seals… very exciting summer job. Now I am working with my 3 brothers in our family business as we try to innovate the industrial landscape. We recently invented & patented an intelligent inventory supply chain that is powered by passive RFID technology. We deployed our Internet of Things supply chain system at 3 Midwestern manufactures last year (Eskridge Mfg, Energy Mfg, Oilgear Mfg) and the system is performing better than we could have ever imagined.

Very simply put, our system, ShelfAware, monitors the consumption of commodity inventory in real time using RFID chips that are embedded into the product packaging. This consumption data, Big Data, is then analyzed and fed to the manufacturer’s supply chain partners to guarantee no stock out, lean inventory, and lean inventory pipe-lines which all means the right parts, at the right time, cheaper. Our three key questions we practically chant while working with our system are: Is this Accurate?, Efficient?, Effective?

Yes, RFID inventory systems have been around for years, but never really applied to the consumable commodity products, aka “small parts”. The main tech advancements that have made a system such as ShelfAware viable now are:

  • RFID tags are getting really really cheap, sometimes less than $0.05 each
  • The internet has allowed the software driving the system to be flexible and easily accessible
  • RFID hardware is much less expensive and now highly reliable

The business plan, a bit audacious, announces “The Opportunity to Disrupt a Marketplace with a Collaborative Platform”.

The traditional large industrial supply incumbents who offer vendor managed inventories (VMI) have expanded their product offering horizontally leaving them spread too thin. They are good at some product groups, but great at very few product groups. This has created vulnerabilities related to product expertise like sourcing, engineering, and general product support. ShelfAware intends on exploiting these vulnerabilities by giving many niche product vendors the ability to collaborate on ShelfAware’s IoT Inventory Platform thus creating a more efficient crowd sourced inventory supply chain.

Objective of ShelfAware as a company states “To create an IoT Intelligent Inventory Platform that can support multiple independent product vendors who collectively support large supply chains demanded by Large or complex OEM’s. ShelfAware will create value in the industrial supply market by revolutionizing supply chain theory through the use of a collaborative IoT, RFID Intelligent Inventory Platform.

The Platform must fulfil two primary roles for this supply chain model to be successful with emphasis placed on the IoT vendor collaboration software.

  • Deploy an intelligent inventory management system inside manufacturing facilities.
  • Deploy a Vendor Side supply chain cooperative system.

I am intrigued by the whole concept. And it seems to be working now, even in its infancy.

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