IoT-powered CRM and ERP Software Platform for Manufacturing

IoT-driven cloud-connected platform for fabrication laboratory and makerspace workshops allowing tools and equipment rental. Software management system combines CRM and ERP features, multi user interface and allows makerspace easy scalability.

Industry:

STPs Ecosystem

IoT

Smart Manufacturing

TRL:

1 → 9

Project duration:

3 months

Challenge

A new fabrication laboratory (Fab Lab) infrastructure facility created an innovative new approach to managing their ‘makerspace’ prototyping / co-working facility.

From our manufacturing operational expertise, EnCata understood the deep problems of managing such common workshop space - maintenance and equipment breakdown problems coupled with a large inflow of new users.

EnCata’s software development team in collaboration with hardware engineers, proposed a custom solution, targeting a number of potential issues and weak points of fabrication laboratories which required us to solve the following major challenges:

  • Enable access to all facilities via the web application in order to personalize the use of common prototyping facilities (a range of CNC machinery and a large set of tools).
  • Avoid cross-platform accessibility problems, the web-based application had to become the key to enter the makerspace, book and use the equipment/tooling, manage own/FabLab components and consumables inventory as in CRM/ERP system.
  • All the equipment and door lockers had to become IoT devices, talking to a server and managed via the web application.

In order to properly create and leverage industrial IoT, it’s critical to have the proper ERP foundation in place.

Our Role

  • Requirements Analysis
  • Concept Development
  • Industrial Design
  • CAD Development
  • Custom Electronics Development
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Embedded Software Development
  • Web and Mobile App Development
  • Proof-of-concept Development
  • Prototyping
  • Alpha & Beta-testing
  • Low Volume Manufacturing

Technologies Used

IIoT communication protocol

IIoT communication protocol

Java 11

Java 11

Spring Boot 2.3 framework

Spring Boot 2.3 framework

MongoDB database

MongoDB database

Docker software platform

Docker software platform

QR Code readers

QR Code readers

WiFi onboard

CAPsMAN controller

EnCata offers comprehensive hardware and IoT product development services at a fraction of the cost

For Enterprises

R&D + design + manufacturing under ONE roof
Scale up and down your team
Intergrated hardware + software development
New technologies and research 

CORPORATIONS click HERE for more info

For Startups

MVP and POC prototypes
Affordable consultancy rates
All IP is yours
In-house batch production

STARTUPS click HERE for more info

Approach & Solution

When opening a fabrication laboratory (Fab Lab) or makerspace comprised of advanced industrial equipment, specific tools and integrated software, one eventually faces challenges in managing and controlling access to the equipment. Visitors of Fab Lab - who could be anyone inside the community of entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, educators, students, and professionals - have different training and experiences, come at different times and have unique projects with a different readiness level. This often leads to queues at the equipment, project managers and staff become overwhelmed, and the scheduled maintenance of the machines disrupts the schedule of the clients.

To avoid such situations and provide Fab Lab users with the most comfortable and efficient experience, EnCata developed a CRM/ERP software platform integrated with IoT devices and QR code readers.

There are countless use cases for QR codes as they can dramatically increase the efficiency and accuracy of fab lab’s daily operations. Here are a few uses EnCata realized:
- Tracking inventory. Makerspaces need to know not just their current inventory levels, but the location of those products at all times.


- Tracking assets: QR code works perfectly for tracking the assets that makerspaces use to support their daily operations, like machinery, industrial tools and computers. QR codes, paired with asset tracking software, help facilities monitor the status and location of those assets and store any relevant records about maintenance or repair. 

The management system connected to Wi-Fi modules tracks the user’s access to equipment, components and materials inventory and allows inventors, startups, SMEs to scan QR codes and book machine time to do self-prototyping, to study how to work with machines and specific tools, to buy all required screws for example in a vending machine and pay at reduced rates due to lower operational expenses, to manage workflows and budgets with the help of an embedded fund asset control system.

That fund asset control system has an internal currency for paying for hard-goods and hard-services and a grant system - software developed for the transparent process of using money in Fab Labs so that users through their personal admin profiles have access to all payments. This is very important for Universities, for example, for monitoring expenditures. The payment system includes a tokenized blockchain-powered system connected to conventional payment systems.

In order to personalise the use of common prototyping facilities (a range of sophisticated CNC prototyping machinery and a solid tools set), EnCata developed a software web application with elements of artificial intellect (AI) combining both User and Administrator interfaces. All the equipment, door locks and vending machines are equipped with IoT devices and QR code readers, communicating with and managed by a server application allowing for automated tracking/charging for use of supplies and equipment. This controls access to the building and enables daily routine operations such as  auto payment for coffee in the kitchen. Updating firmware in different time zones for various international users required, on the one hand, a centralised to one-time firmware upload on the main server, and on the other hand, selective firmware by Administrators of a specific region.

EnCata has adopted the best LEAN development methodologies and learned from the Toyota Production System philosophy. One of 14 basic Toyota principles says to follow the 'pull principle’ for the development of any solution. However, IoT vending machines we designed for the client could not contain all 2,500+ components such as screws, materials, etc. inside the vending machine. 
We came up thus with the idea to integrate a warehouse store into the client fabrication laboratory ecosystem so that often-bought components are sold by vending machines and rarely-bought components are sold by individuals.

On the backend, all the machinery gains ‘IoT access’ through the intermediate ‘IoT-enabling’ WiFi power sockets and IoT-connected lockers, talking to the gateway and connecting all the devices to the server. To get all these software pieces connected and make them work as a system convenient for all types of users, we developed a custom enclosure and electronics of IoT WiFi modules with an internal data transfer protocol. It required us to develop a unique data exchange protocol to enable the correct message transfer between server and IoT devices. 

During the development process, we had to ensure the operation of a large number of 2.4Gz devices in a challenging environment as a large number of metal parts coupled with thick >1.5m walls of the rooms in the fab lab facility created  significant interference. We solved that big challenge by fine-tuning and splitting WiFi channels with the help of the CAPSMAN tool. 

When designing a PCB board, a fairly large current flows through the tracks. 
We thus decided to reinforce the tracks with additional copper conductors (φ 1.5 mm), which in turn required us to produce special tooling for further PCB manufacturing.

In the process of booking equipment, an inconsistency in the response of the interface and IoT WiFi power sockets appeared. The asynchronous operation of the module and the application did not allow the receiving of up-to-date information in a number of cases (vending machine, bill acceptor). We addressed this problem by introducing transactions in the interaction of equipment and interface. The developed client-IoT device communication protocol allows the unambiguous determination of the status of the device at any time.

First, we made one prototype and tested it. We then scaled the project to all machines. The project went through all product development stages from idea validation to successful launch in real conditions and got excellent feedback from the first users.

Results

The client fabrication laboratory received a complete IoT system with a powerful web application that helps to manage the space and its users. The software solution fosters the reduction of administrative expenses, making fablabs sustainable in the long-term. The fablab is now actively pursuing new domestic users and franchising its innovative service through opening new makerspace facilities under its own brand. This has all been enabled by EnCata’s software solution.

4 licenses

of software modules were developed and are available for white labeling

50

prototypes of IoT-connected WiFi power sockets and lockers were manufactured

3 IoT

devices were separately developed and integrated into the client fabrication laboratory ecosystem while working on this complicated project

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