Making sense of stockouts
As feature in Gasworld: Sept 2019
David Wiens’ Eureka moment came in a previous job when he realized something needed to be created to avoid costly and frustrating stockouts. His idea evolved into founding a startup called Pulsa Sensors which has created two sensors: Pulsa Gas, which measures high pressure gas, and Pulsa Weight, a 12 inch by 12 inch platform which supports 260 pounds.
The wireless devices, which have five-year batteries and do not need pairing, measure pressure and weight in gas tanks and cylinders. Pulsa expect another product, which measures helium dewars, to be rolled out later this year. Wiens believes the San Francisco Bay Area, California-based company is offering the industrial gas industry it, avoiding emergency deliveries and stockouts. “I had experience in the past with telemetry and cylinders, where I sold a hydrogen analyzer to energy companies all of the world,” Wiens said. “The number one reason our analyzers went down was the calibration gases would run out. In some cases, I would fly to Asia because the refinery would be yelling at us saying your analyzer is bad, only to get there and see that they haven’t changed the calibration gas. “Also, the company I worked at, we had 200-300 cylinder gases on premises at all times. Engineers and technicians would be tying in the different points of manifolds and we often ran out of gas because the calculations that were done to tell us how long a cylinder would last wouldn’t have the assumption that the technician would plug in to rerun some type of characterization. something different to existing telemetry solutions
“What we initially focused on was if someone could see the level of consumable good, it would help them in a number of ways,” Wiens, Pulsa CEO, told gasworld. “It would help them make their business more efficient – they wouldn’t run out.” It was while working for H2scan, selling the company’s sensor to measure hydrogen gas concentrations in liquid and gas streams, that Wiens felt inspired to set up Bay Area, California-based Pulsa in 2016 and bring his own devices to market. The sensors enable businesses to keep track of their gas inventory without having to send a person around to manually check it, avoiding emergency deliveries and stockouts.
“I had experience in the past with telemetry and cylinders, where I sold a hydrogen analyzer to energy companies all of the world,” Wiens said. “The number one reason our analyzers went down was the calibration gases would run out. In some cases, I would fly to Asia because the refinery would be yelling at us saying your analyzer is bad, only to get there and see that they haven’t changed the calibration gas. “Also, the company I worked at, we had 200-300 cylinder gases on premises at all times. Engineers and technicians would be tying in the different points of manifolds and we often ran out of gas because the calculations that were done to tell us how long a cylinder would last wouldn’t have the assumption that the technician would plug in to rerun some type of characterization.
Set-up “The two problems I really found were No 1 that set-up was always difficult. I couldn’t send a telemetry product to a customer on the other side of the world and trust that they would be able to set it up.
“From the beginning, it was we want to build a consumption sensor. We don’t want to build a telemetry system. We want to build something that is plug-and-play and works out of a box. There are no buttons, there are no configuration steps, we constrained the use of the sensor and made the sensor as simple as possible so that someone doesn’t have to understand how sensors work to be able to use the system. “We have really streamlined the setup and use of the product, and the way that we do that is that we own everything. We make all of our own sensors, we do all of our own characterization and then down to the delivery of the data to the user, whether it’s the dashboard or through alerts or an automated order, we control that whole stack.
That allows us to blend the seams between hardware and software. For instance, on our cellular gateway that works anywhere in the world, you don’t have to provision it with different sim cards and you just start receiving reading. We’re finding our customers really appreciate that set-up. “There’s still a stigma, or fear, in the market that telemetry is going to be a project and some additional amount of work I’m going to have to do. We’ve spent the last three years refining because unfortunately before you get to the more exciting stuff if you make an enterprise hardware product, you have to really get it working extremely well before anyone will give you a chance.” Ease of use “If set up and ease of usage is the first part, the second part is that we’re really software experts and we take measurements every three minutes which is different from most other telemetry providers,” Wiens added.
“Every data point that comes in, we use machine-learning algorithms which are constantly trying to work out what is the real consumption of this product. We use machine learning to give you a depletion date so that you can actually take action on. We’re constantly evaluating different time periods to work out when is this going to run out. Because we take readings every three minutes we can also be a second pair of eyes on the road for the user. If there’s anomalous behavior we will know that. Say we see a leak or a blockage we can start picking out things that are below the 20th percentile or above the 80th percentile of the normal trends that we see for that consumable.” Wiens, who has a mechanical engineering background, was responsible for the design of the products which are receiving a lot of interest for use in the beverage industry. “I’ve worked in sensors my entire life and there are two things I have learned,” Wiens told gasworld. “One is you have to constrain the use of it, you have to be able to trust the data, and you do that by making the sensor easy to use and specific for usage so somebody can’t misload it.
“The second thing is you have to have enough context in your data to come to a conclusion. We’re very confident that as the good gets down to zero the user has a very high chance of being able to say I need another one of these. We want to sell the service and don’t want people to worry about the sensor at all so we sell an annual service so if the customer pays annually as opposed to monthly we give a sensor for about $15 and we want to move towards you don’t pay for the hardware at all, you just pay for the service, then we provide the hardware for you.” New products Wiens hoped Pulsa’s third product, in response to customers’ demands, would be ready to purchase this month. “We have been piloting dewar scales, or heavy duty scales, 24 inch by 24 inch, and 36 inch by 36 inch, square steel scales,” Wiens said.
“They have working loads up to about 1500 to 2000 pounds, and then overload to about 5000 pounds. “We built this scale for people who want to put dewars on the scale. We have had some welding manufacturer say that they want to measure welding wire. We have built it to be bullet proof so you can drive a truck over it. It’s going to be more expensive, but it’s the
“We know we can bring a lot of transparency to the industry and really help them reduce their cost per pile and expand the radius at which they can deliver to. ”
market tell us we need to do. We’ve been piloting now for about five months. This is the one product we won’t make in house. We will buy this from a supplier and then we will do the final calibration and do the electronics. We’re not actually welding the steel where as we make all the other sensors ourselves.
“Another big ask we have had from the market is differential pressure. That is not as far along as the dewar scale and we’re just now starting to test that. What we are hearing from distributors is that they don’t want to have multiple telemetry systems, they want to have a single one. We will have differential pressure by the end of the year and we should then be able to go to a distributor and say we can measure any gas that you put at a customer’s site.”
The Pulsa CEO is convinced its pressure and weight sensors can help gas distributors reduce costs and make their operations more efficient. “We are very focused on solving the issues in the gas industry because of the unit economic of the consumables,” Wiens told gasworld.
“The unit economic of the distributors’ trucks is a large driver of their business and we know it’s extremely inefficient. We know we can bring a lot of transparency to the industry and really help them reduce their cost per pile and expand the radius at which they can deliver to.
“We spent a lot of time with our early distributor partners and what we found was that all day they are putting out fires. The level of service is so high in the gas industry that the end-user doesn’t actually care too much about their inventory levels because they know that when they run out they can call up their supplier and they will get something to them usually within 24 hours. The results of that is that they have to be very agile and plan their truck routes carefully.
A lot of distributors still do milk-runs, where they will just stop by customers and replace empties, or they get there and there’s nothing to replace. “We’re going towards make the sensor low cost so it makes sense to put it on everything. We believe there is this threshold dollar value where it does make sense on liquid containers it’s a no brainer, like dewars. I think on specialty gases it’s a no-brainer, and we believe that once you get down to welding gases and your more industrial gases there is a price point where it does make sense so you can plan your own production and truck routes much more effectively.” Pulsa has held back from breaking into new markets, and its sensors are exclusively going into gas. “It’s been one of the hardest things we have done since the beginning, but we’ve said no to anyone who isn’t in the gas industry,” Wiens said.
“We hope that our existing customers use it for things other than gas but until we really build the business and get all the case studies and significant traction in the gas industry we just can’t handle outside of it. We get regular calls from other industrial supply companies, medical supply companies that want to measure their supplies at hospitals, insurance companies too.” Pulsa has a growing customer base, and Wiens says the company will have sold thousands of units by the end of 2019. “Our sales are growing substantially every month, we have had a lot of months where sales are more than doubling,” Wiens said