(by Jim Gaines, USA Today Network) What’s shaking? RDI Technologies knows.
The Knoxville-based company sells a package of camera, computer and software to monitor vibration. Thanks to an algorithm developed by CEO Jeff Hay, movement of any pixel is magnified to show just where vibration is occurring. And the information is available immediately, instead of taking days to gather and analyze.
Industrial uses are RDI’s main focus, but the technology has applications in medicine and other fields.
Beginnings and growth
The company started in 2013, went to market in 2015, and sells to companies worldwide, said President Bob Wilson.
“We’re growing at about 300 percent a year, year over year,” he said.
Vibration sensors have been around for a long time, but standard ones are contact-based: they have to actually touch what’s being monitored. That can cause safety problems, and trouble monitoring very small or very large objects, Hay said. With each camera pixel acting as a sensor, though, an object can be studied from a distance.
“If you can see it, we can measure it,” Wilson said.
Contact sensors can take a day or more to collect vibration data from an object, Hay said; even then, the readings have to be pieced together into usable information.
“With us, it’s simultaneous,” he said.
The company’s Iris M system is a kit including a digital camera, four lenses, tablet computer, tripod and USB cable in a case, Johns said. Also included in the $30,000 bundle is the necessary software and certification training to use it, Wilson said. Components are made elsewhere, but everything is assembled in Knoxville, said Chief Operating Officer Jenna Johns.
The ‘secret sauce’
The software incorporating Hay’s algorithm is the “secret sauce” that makes Iris M unique, Wilson said.
Hay said vibration experts tell him, after viewing RDI’s results, “Now you can see what I had to have training to be able to see.”
That’s useful in a lot of fields. Johns said RDI chose the industrial market to start with, but uses are manifold.
Industries use the Iris M system to monitor machinery, for quality control, and check on infrastructure, Wilson said. The company has sold and installed systems at Fortune 100 companies in automotive, mining, paper, power, pharmaceutical, chemical, oil and gas industries, he said.
Moving into the medical field, RDI has also worked on using the technology for monitoring patients’ breathing, Wilson said.
The Iris M system won a silver award in April from the annual Vision Systems Design Innovators Awards. Wilson said RDI’s executives are asked to speak at major industry conferences, and Hay is asked to submit articles to major journals about the technology.
A team of MIT researchers announced a similar technology in a 2014 journal article. Wilson said there are differences between MIT’s work and RDI’s, but the biggest is that RDI already has a product on the market.
For now, RDI has no direct rivals in camera-based technology, Johns said. And it won’t necessarily replace direct-contact sensors.
“We see our technology as more complementary to what’s out there,” Johns said.
According to Hay and Wilson, the Iris M system lets users see in seconds where they need to focus their attention.
The company employs 10, and has moved to a West Knoxville office which includes a new training facility, Wilson said. Customers from around the world can come there for training, he said.
RDI plans to expand with new products aimed at quality control and industrial processes, Wilson said.
“The expansion is really within the existing markets,” he said.
(This story originally appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel, part of the USA Today Network, in May 2017.)