Selling Industrial Tech in the Time of Corona

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By Isaac Brown

Across hundreds of conversations with operational leaders over the past 6 weeks, there seem to be 3 main categories of industrial tech solutions in high-demand across the world’s industrial enterprises:

  • Augmented reality (AR) solutions for remote support/guidance
  • Worker health & safety solutions, especially ones that can enforce distancing
  • Autonomous systems replacing manual labor across myriad use cases

Let’s elaborate on each of these three categories below, and then end with a brief analysis of the overall market for industrial tech vendors, given the current climate…

AR remote guidance tools enable a remote expert to guide a local (theoretically non-expert) through performing some type of task, generally equipment/process-focused. This could include installing machinery, training on a new process, guiding through routine maintenance, or helping to troubleshoot and fix equipment. A strong player in this space that we’ve worked with is XMReality, and the videos on their website are quite illustrative of the concept. Now that people can’t travel, remote guidance tools are a tremendous efficiency booster across industrial operations.

Worker health & safety solutions are something that industrial operators have enjoyed talking about for years, but by and large they have failed to put their money where their mouth is in terms of actual dollars spent… until now. Ford – among others – is already piloting social distancing solutions that alert staff when they get to close to one another. One of our companies – StrongArm Technologies – was already in-market with a robust solution for avoiding workplace injuries and reducing worker’s compensation… they’ve now turned on distancing and historical exposure tracking features. Most operators will invest in a solution in the coming months to stop the spread of the virus in their operating environments.

Autonomous systems in industrial operations are of course not new, but there is a newfound thrust towards leveraging these solutions in order to reduce the critical personnel count, and to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. We see a lot of large industrials quickly trying to implement autonomously-guided materials handling systems to move stuff around their environments. This helps reduce the amount of people necessary for operational continuity, while also reducing exposure via people who often circulate the entire facility moving materials around. A good example here is one of our companies – Cyngn – who has a great approach thru their applied autonomy software platform that can integrate with various sensors and enable any industrial/commercial vehicle to become a self-driving vehicle (or fleet of vehicles) for a range of use cases.

[If you’d like to connect with any of the companies above, please message me directly!]

Regardless of whether the technology is in vogue or not, there are two essential parameters that determine whether vendors will be successful or not during the current climate: customer criticality/operationality and the ability to sell/deploy remotely.

Vendors that target consumer paper products or alcohol producers are in good shape; vendors targeting automotive OEMs or airlines are in bad shape – plain and simple. If customers are operational, or perhaps seeing an uptick because people are hoarding toilet paper, then vendors will be able to make sales, and perhaps even ride the coattails of people obsessed with that sweet, extra-soft Charmin Ultra. Vendors selling into non-operational industries, or even ones that are operational but heavily impacted (like oil & gas, which experienced negative oil prices recently)… these vendors are in trouble, and they should somehow try to cater an offering to operational industries (quickly).

The other essential aspect of selling during COVID is a vendor’s ability to sell and deploy virtually. Vendors that require extensive site visits and high-touch personal interactions are going to have a hard time right now. We’ve seen several vendors redevelop products so they can be shipped and deployed through some basic remote support, and this is the kind of thing vendors should be pivoting towards right now.

So to assess marketability of a given industrial tech vendor, you could essentially put Customer Criticality and Remote Salability on a couples axes on a quadrant, and then plot out where various vendors would fall.

Regardless, this is an interesting time for industrial tech vendors to be developing business. Despite the obvious economic downturn, the current climate is in fact a major accelerator for certain categories of vendors. If you’ve got a use case and you’re trying to find a partner, feel free to reach out to me and there’s a good chance I can be helpful.

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