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Bottoms Up is Omnitrol's Vision for RFID

Omnitrol Networks is a leader in developing technology that processes RFID and sensor data at the edge of the network, and applies it to improve operations within manufacturers' four walls. Now Omnitrol has a supply chain angle to shop-floor automation, as this installment of our vendor profile series shows.
Apr 22, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

April 22, 2009—Lots of RFID vendors focus on providing visibility for their customers. Omnitrol Networks has a different view of visibility than most, one that turns the traditional view of shop-floor visibility upside down.

"The value proposition is an 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the value of a sensor network is for shop-floor operations, and 20 percent is for the back-end systems," Raj Saksena, president and CEO of the sensor networks solutions provider told RFID Update. "The industry talks a lot about bringing shop-floor visibility to the top floor. We've developed the opposite. Our guiding principle is: 'How do you deliver top-floor metrics and processes to the shop floor?' We bring business context into shop-floor workflows without requiring a lot of reengineering to processes or systems."

Omnitrol does it by installing the network appliances and software it develops into manufacturing shop floors to process input from RFID and other sensors to create a real-time view of production activity and material status. Omnitrol is hardly unique in applying technology to track work-in-process and other manufacturing processes. What's different is what happens with the data. Often it is processed by Omnitrol's own software applications, rather than formatted and fed to ERP or other enterprise applications, so extensive integration with legacy systems can often be bypassed.

"We flipped the traditional approach that everything is done to feed the back-end," said Saksena. "Shop-floor guys actually don't like their IT guys very much. There's a general sense that when IT gets involved, it over-complicates things. Omnitrol can deploy independent of the back-end ERP. It's an overlay of new information, which is popular with customers. The moment you begin to disassociate from the back-end system it is a very positive message. It's a positive with IT too, who doesn't have to hire consultants and do a lot of development work to integrate a new system with their ERP system."

There's plenty about Omnitrol Networks that doesn't fit the mold of a traditional RFID company: it was one of the first vendors to advance the concept of RFID data processing at the edge of the network; it doesn't make tags or readers, but instead develops network appliances and software to process input data; its systems support a suite of sensing and identification technologies, including RFID, RTLS, WiFi and bar code; the company took scalability and decentralized operations principles from the telecommunications industry and applied them to production activity that takes place within the four walls of a factory; Omnitrol is a tech startup in Silicon Valley, but isn't funded by venture capitalists; implementations and success don't depend on RFID, and in fact Omnitrol recently implemented a system based purely on bar code input because after its analysis found that RFID would not be as cost effective.

Omnitrol was founded in 2004, but was not a true child of those times. In 2004 most of the RFID industry was focused on EPCglobal's standardization efforts and what Wal-Mart, P&G, the DoD and other large organizations would do with the technology. Omnitrol developed products for the compliance market, but concentrated its efforts on higher-level business processes and manufacturing environments.

However, now the company's focus on the shop floor is pulling it into the supply chain. The OMNITROL Supplier Visibility solution it announced today gives manufacturers visibility into their suppliers' shop floors so they can manage production and delivery schedules based on when orders will be received from suppliers. RFID industry research firm Frost & Sullivan honored the product with its 2009 North American Product Value of the Year Award (see the announcement).

"This new world of collaboration that a lot of people talk about, I believe it starts on the shop floor," said Saksena.

"Shop floors are where the work is done and where true collaborative enterprise value will be created," added David Orain, Omnitrol's vice president of products and marketing. "We believe manufacturers will start moving their IT spending to the shop floor, to enable a much higher return in business value and business optimization opportunities."

The new product would appear to bring Omnitrol into the realm of a supply chain management, manufacturing management or even enterprise resource planning software provider, but Saksena said the company's competitive set and focus have not changed.

"Our focus remains on 'How can I get visibility where it matters?' and 'How can I get a visibility network behind it?' I think we will begin to show a new way RFID and other technologies can be leveraged."
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