LAS VEGAS -- Reynolds Consumer Products, the maker of some of the best-known household brands, is testing a cloud-based IoT system that could significantly reduce the company's multi-million-dollar annual gas bill.
The IT system, developed by DXC Technology, is the first time Reynolds has leveraged the cloud in its manufacturing operations. The technology uses meters installed on furnaces to gather data on natural gas use and send the information to an analytics engine running on AWS.
The two plants that operate the furnaces use more energy than any other company facility. Reynolds decided to run the test on those ovens first, said IT director John Pulford. The furnaces run at 900 degrees for 20 hours to soften the aluminum that eventually becomes Reynolds Wrap.
Natural gas to run the furnaces costs Reynolds millions of dollars a year. Shaving off just 2% of the energy would amount to substantial savings, Pulford said following a recent AWS re:Invent conference presentation. AWS engineers assisted DXC in installing the system.
Reynolds is among the 30% of manufacturers expected to pivot IoT spending toward reducing their energy bills in 2023, according to Forrester Research.
"Energy prices in key industrial regions are sky high right now," Forrester Research said in a recent report on 2023 manufacturing trends. "Even when they can afford to pay for it, manufacturers have struggled to secure dependable sources of power in 2022 as geopolitics, drought, and even unseasonably slow winds combine to constrain supply."
The cloud was not Reynolds' first option for modernizing the IT hardware and software for monitoring and managing the equipment that makes popular brands like Hefty trash bags, Diamond food storage containers and the Fresh-Lock re-closable pouches. Reynolds' revenue last year topped $3.5 billion.
For three years, Reynolds IT deployed on-premises custom technology. But the company was unhappy with the process. Projects took too long to complete, and IT couldn't run the finished work throughout Reynolds' diverse manufacturing processes. Most of the time, it was easier to build a new system.
"It felt a lot like a giant box of Legos with no instruction manual telling you how to make that cool Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle," Pulford said during the presentation.
Reynolds hired DXC as a consultant and learned that the company had a cloud-based product designed to make the production of consumer packaged goods more efficient.
"Cloud was ultimately where we would end up. And this was our first [affordable] chance to move in that direction," Pulford told TechTarget Editorial.
DXC paid for setting up the test, Pulford said. Reynolds IT assisted with only the connections to the company's in-house systems.
"From our perspective, it was just [contributing] our time to implement it," Pulford said. "The funding for DXC to do the work and everything else was on their dime."
The SaaS product, called DXC SPARK IoT for CPG, uses sensors to collect data from the equipment on the factory floor and ships it to an advanced analytics engine on AWS. Customers log into a web interface running on AWS to access the information to cut costs.
Depending on the deployment, the savings could come from lowering energy use, improving product quality, making the production process more efficient, or reducing equipment downtime through more accurate predictive maintenance.
Reynolds will evaluate the data it receives to decide whether to negotiate a contract with DXC.
"If we find that this is really making a huge difference, then we can go after licensing or subscribing to the service," Pulford said. "But for right now, we've got a set duration of time that we're going to pilot this that they fund."
The current project focuses on gas use. But Reynolds could eventually turn the DXC service toward lowering electricity costs at the company's mills.
"We'll start with the gas meter, and then will start to look at electricity," Pulford said.
Reynolds understands the urgency of reducing its carbon footprint to help in the battle against climate change, but it's cautious about how it gets there, he said.
"It's always about cost," Pulford said.
Antone Gonsalves is the networking news director for TechTarget Editorial. He has deep and wide experience in tech journalism. Since the mid-1990s, he has worked for UBM's InformationWeek, TechWeb and Computer Reseller News. He has also written for Ziff Davis' PC Week, IDG's CSOonline and IBTMedia's CruxialCIO, and rounded all of that out by covering startups for Bloomberg News. He started his journalism career at United Press International, working as a reporter and editor in California, Texas, Kansas and Florida. Have a news tip? Please drop him an email.