Q&A with Mike Loepke

Head of Software and DigitalizationatNitrex

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What is Qmulus, and why did Nitrex feel the need to develop it?

Qmulus is a holistic IOT solution with the aim to facilitate and optimize the daily work of heat treaters. It offers different functionalities such as monitoring, controlling things, detecting anomalies, finding reasons and solutions for these anomalies, analyzing certain things, and optimizing the whole process. It also helps auditing and reporting all the things you have at heat treatment on regular base. The reasons why we thought it would be a great idea to develop something like this is that there isn’t such a solution where everything is under one roof.

Nitrex has some really good digital solutions and special furnace software, but it’s only ever really focused on an individual piece of equipment, an individual instrument, or a special functionality. There was a solution missing where all of these things can be brought together in one platform, and that’s really what this is: It’s a platform that lets you have your entire heat-treat plant at your fingertips. It is not only a visualization of furnaces, their current status, and what they’re doing but also the ability to review all the documentation for those assets, whether they’re manuals or spare parts lists or other things. The ability to review past heat-treatment cycle data, compare that to one another, download recipes into individual controllers, identify anomalies, all of this functionality for an entire plant or even a group of plants can be brought under one roof.

How does the cloud allow the heat-treating sites to be managed remotely? What advantages does this allow?

Many furnace manufacturers have provided some kind of remote interface in the past with varying degrees of success. But having an on-prem service that communicates and synchronizes data from furnace systems and instruments to the cloud really improves the ease with which someone can interact and access. I can sit here at my desk, and I can log in and seamlessly check on a facility in the Chicago area from my smartphone or from my laptop with a browser. There’s no software to install. It’s not clunky. It’s user friendly.

Qmulus allows for this real-time visibility of a heat-treating plant. How does it do that?

All of the data is already available in these plants. It’s in data silos and in separated systems already available. Nitrex has created its own edge device for IoT systems, which is collecting the data of different sources, aggregating this data, encrypting this data, and sending it into the cloud environment. And with the cloud environment, I do not only mean the public or private cloud environments hosted for example in AWS or Azure, but also, if needed, an on-premises cloud. The customer can even have its own cloud system and Qmulus can be installed there as well. But the beauty is that we have all the information and software services running and available in one place where it is easy to create backups, to service, and to update.

Additionally, as with any system that collects large amounts of data and with the current tools that are available to users now, like cloud computing power, we can harness this to actually crunch all of those massive amounts of data and actually draw conclusions and inferences and even enable adjustments of processes in real time based on historical trends. And this is something that really hasn’t been available in our industry, although it’s been made available to other industries.

Enabling this for heat treatment in order to provide a level of predictive quality, this is something that’s really powerful, and we’re looking forward to bringing this functionality to heat treaters.

How does Qmulus provide data protection?

Qmulus, in general, is using state-of-the-art communication protocols and also encryption modules. All data in transfer or resting is encrypted with the latest security encryption standards. We are following FIPS 140-2 or higher, which is a requirement for CMMC and ITAR, for example. We are already aiming to meet the upcoming regulations, which are not final yet.

But we also have consultants leading us in the right direction. We are making sure we are meeting the standards, and we are still compliant. If we have a cloud system running on AWS or Azure, we also rely on the security expertise of the infrastructure providers, because they know best how to secure and protect data.

Basically the takeaway is that whatever government-mandated security and data privacy regulations are in effect, Qmulus meets those. It’s being constructed with the ability to host an on-prem system, if that’s required, for sensitive government contractors, for example. Or you could host it in a gov cloud as well, to be defense compliant. And all the customers, even in public cloud environments, are isolated. They have their own private subnets/tenants, so the data is strictly separated. There’s no way a customer can have access to other customers’ data.

What has been the market reaction so far?

All the potential and existing customers we presented Qmulus to say it’s definitely the right way to go and that the market was lacking such a solution. In general, I think that they are happy that finally it is going this route. In particular, the feedback was pretty good at FNA. Every major customer — I’m talking about large manufacturers that have a digitalization strategy — have said it fits with their strategy.  

MORE INFOwww.nitrex.com