Urja: Sensors that act as fitbit for machines

A complex algorithm tells the user about machine health and whether maintenance is urgently required
If a machine could have a best friend, it would be the sensor that Delhi-based startup Occipital Labs Pvt. Ltd — better known as Urja — has developed. There are reasons for the founders, Saurabh Jhamb and Anant Jhawar, to compare it with a fitbit — a smart computing device designed to track important health and activity markers. “Once installed, the sensors start monitoring the health of the machine and begin sending data to a cloud server. A complex algorithm interprets the data and draws a detailed picture of the machine’s performance in real time for the end user,” says Saurabh, the inventor of the technology and a software engineer with specialization in Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning.

The batteryless, wireless gadget harvests energy from the machine’s power cable in a non-invasive manner — Urja’s patented innovation ensures that the device, like a fitbit, can be installed or removed any time, without forcing the machine to shut down. Interestingly, the sensor does not require any maintenance over the years.

While reading the pulse of the machine, so to speak, the sensor also gathers information that can lead to early identification of a possibility of a breakdown or if the machine requires maintenance in the days to come. These key insights help the user take proactive measures much in advance to stave off a critical shutdown.

Urja EcoSensor tracks machine’s health to stave off unplanned shutdown

“In any manufacturing setup, machines are prone to constant wear and tear. Consequently, the data relayed by the sensors is also dynamic. This is where ML comes into play in interpreting the rapidly evolving information to alert the user to the kind of losses the machine is currently suffering and the magnitude of the losses in the future,” says Anant, an electronics and instrumentation engineer with a grounding in semi-conductor industry.

One may argue that the in-built safety mechanisms in sophisticated machines can minimize damage or identify a snag. Both Anant and Saurabh claim that their algorithm can detect the problem much before a machine’s internal system gets wind of a glitch.

Essentially, the algorithm studies the complex relationship between a machine’s inputs and output in real time to assess Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), which is derived from the machine’s health, how it is being used and the quality of the output. OEE is the best way to identify losses, benchmark progress, and enhance the equipment’s productivity, says Saurabh.

These sensors can be of great help for industries, which run 24/7 and consume maximum energy, such as iron or steel plants, cement industry, plastic factories, and the automotive sector where downtimes/disruptions lead to mounting losses. “Our sensors can be installed with just clamps and require zero maintenance as there are no batteries. They can run as long as the machine lasts. The communication with cloud servers happens through a GSM chip in the sensor or via our own wifi system,” says Anant, adding that their devices help industries become energy efficient, optimise their productivity and improve decision-making in infrastructure investment.

Urja is looking to scale up. “We have been bootstrapping till now and have had a good run with several corporates, where the focus has mostly been on proof of concept. The time has come to further strengthen our technology to expand our footprint,” says Saurabh. Urja is also gearing up to consolidate its go-to-market partnership through standardised channels as manufacturing industries follow an established pattern of engagement. It’s seeking Tata Power’s help to make inroads into the manufacturing industry.

Founders Saurabh Jhamb (left) and Anant Jhawar met through the alumni network of Indian School of Business

The startup was formed three years back, thanks to a robust alumni network of Indian School of Business of which both Saurabh and Anant are a part. The founders have complimentary skill sets. While Saurabh looks after the technical aspects, Anant takes care of the business side.

Urja has won several awards and competitions, namely, Nasscom Design4India (Category — Connected Intelligence), 2019, IoTNext 2019 (TiE Bangalore), Schneider Electric Global Top 8 Industry Startup in 2018, and Top Startup in Google Cloud Platform Challenge in 2017. With the industrial sector not in the pink of health, Urja sensors can reduce significant economic losses in manufacturing due to unplanned downtime of equipment.

Social Alpha’s role
Urja.io was incubated at Social Alpha’s Clean Energy International Incubation Centre (CEIIC).

“When the founders approached Social Alpha, their product was at a preliminary stage. Social Alpha provided them with technical help as well as infrastructural and marketing support, connecting them with peers in industries,” says Ganesh Kaveeshwar, the portfolio manager handling Urja.

Social Alpha was closely associated with developing Urja’s business plan, creating the company’s cash flows and financial projections, he says. “We place our bet on early-stage disruptive startups and de-risk the venture through our incubation support. We are glad to see that this has paid off as Tata Power, the industry leader in the segment, made its first ever investment in a startup based on rigorous due-diligence and innovative deal construction.