Protocol Converter Challenge: Case Study Snapshot

Last year, Zollner Elektronik AG sought help to resolve a significant workflow problem.

Since its founding in 1965, the leading German electronic manufacturing service (EMS) company had acquired a variety of industrial production equipment made by different vendors using different communications protocols. Consequently, the firm found that transferring data between machines had become a needlessly complicated and time-consuming process.

Thus, the firm needed a hardware/software solution to streamline its production facilities. However, Zollner found neither of its traditional options appealing. The company didn’t want to spend countless hours developing an in-house solution or pay exorbitant fees to lease a third party’s system.

Ultimately, the corporation decided to eschew the traditional route and worked with to harness the power of crowd engineering and address the problem.

As a result, Zollner got much better results than expected.

Challenge Summary

To address Zollner’s machine communication issues, Surcle launched a crowd engineering challenge that would run across 16 weeks. Beginning on December 3, the firm solicited ideas that it subsequently aggregated to refine requirements for the project.

By harnessing input from the engineering community, Surcle determined Zollner needed an Internet of Things (IoT) service solution that could convert protocols between Zollner’s different industrial machines.

Notably, Surcle completed that essential research in weeks instead of months thanks to the wisdom of the crowd.

Furthermore, the firm determined the EMS company needed an interoperable network that:

  • Utilizes IoT devices made with off the shelf UDOO x86 boards
  • Operates on Windows 10 and connects via Ethernet and Wi-Fi
  • Features a touchscreen user interface running the Apache Kafka messaging system
  • Interfaces with sensors using GPIO pins/library

Zollner offered $45,000 in prize money for a product that would bring advanced analytics to its factory floor.

Next, Surcle turned to the marketplace to find an engineering firm that could fulfill its client’s needs. After consulting its network, the company received bids from three reputable engineering firms that proposed to take on the entirety of the project. Furthermore, the competitors estimated they could complete the challenge from anywhere between $20,000 to $35,000.

On June 20, the competition’s two-week software programming phase began. Eventually, the trio of engineering firms developed 13 software solutions to facilitate the project. Surcle ensured the competitors developed their IT protocol converter software with the appropriate discretion via nondisclosure agreements.

Following the completion of software design, the engineering companies spent three weeks developing working prototypes of their machine interoperability systems. On July 8, Surcle presented Zollner two IoT protocol converter designs for review.

Challenge Outcome

In the end, Zollner Electronk selected a system that best suited the needs of its 19 international worksites. The corporation paid Surcle a $2,500 concierge fee and the winning engineering firm $35,000. Consequently, the manufacturer saved 17 percent to complete a mission-critical project.

Because it partnered with Surcle, the German EMS Zollner no longer has to waste valuable time translating data between its equipment. Also, because it’s using a customized solution, it doesn’t have to pay licensing fees for a generic third-party product.

By harnessing the power of crowd engineering, Zollner benefited from the experience and expertise of a host of programmers and designers instead of just one company. And with its latest challenge complete, Surcle is now free to provide other companies with its expedient, innovative, and affordable services.

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