When Acquisitions Actually Work
Whenever a large established corporation acquires a small innovative technology firm, you never know how it’s going to turn out. Sometimes, the acquirer destroys the very thing they valued; the innovation and enthusiasm of the startup. At other times the anticipated synergies just never materialize. In the case of Stanley Black & Decker’s acquisition of AeroScout two years ago, it seems to be shaping up as a good move for both acquirer and acquired. We recently had the privilege of visiting STANLEY Healthcare’s Executive Briefing Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. It has several realistic hospital rooms set up, where we saw some impressive technologies working together.
Since AeroScout has a presence in healthcare and non-healthcare sectors (such as manufacturing), it resides in two of STANLEY’s divisions: AeroScout’s healthcare technology is part of STANLEY Healthcare and AeroScout Industrial is part of STANLEY’s Industrial & Automotive Repair business.
A Variety of Technologies to Address a Variety of Use Cases
AeroScout has come a long way in developing a broad menu of technologies to solve a very wide range of specific problems. AeroScout got its start focused on WiFi-based RTLS,1 mostly for hospital applications. That approach to locating has the merit of leveraging the existing WiFi infrastructure within the hospital, lowering the investment needed to get started. However, it can’t always locate to room-level accuracy, particularly when the person or equipment being tracked is near a wall — the system may mistakenly think they are in the next room.
To provide room-level accuracy with confidence, AeroScout customers can buy a dual tag which has ultrasonic capabilities. Each room has its own ultrasound exciter, which emits a unique signal, indicating which room it is in. The dual tag has a microphone which picks up the ultrasonic signal and decodes it to identify exactly which room it is in. This provides nearly foolproof room-level accuracy.
Where’s My Baby?
AeroScout also provides LF (Low Frequency, 125 KHz RF) exciters that can monitor a chokepoint, such as a door. These can be used to tell when someone is entering or exiting a room. One product AeroScout sells that uses this technology is a baby monitoring system, called Hugs & Kisses Infant Protection System.2 A tag is placed on babies in the hospital. If someone comes to move the baby, they must have an authorized matching tag.3 If they don’t, and they try to remove the baby from the room, an alarm can go off and other preventative measures can be initiated. This is where you get a glimpse of some of the synergies with some of STANLEY’s other businesses. For example, STANLEY Security has a system that could automatically lock the door before the unauthorized person even had a chance to leave the room with the baby. STANLEY Security’s video surveillance system could take a picture of the person and alert the security staff.
Where’s My Container?
AeroScout also has tags for outdoor locating applications. These include TDOA (Time Difference of Arrival) technology that has long range and high accuracy, which is useful in a yard full of vehicles or containers, or other large open space. They also have dual-mode tags that have GPS for outdoors and WiFi for indoors. That system can seamlessly track assets moving between the two environments, for applications where locating is required in combination indoor/outdoor situations.
Active + Passive
Some of AeroScout’s systems combine active and passive technologies. They showed us a hospital cabinet on wheels that could read the passive tags of the drugs or devices as they were put in and taken out of the cabinet. The same cabinet had a WiFi tag so the cabinet’s location within the facility could be continuously tracked. They are doing similar applications with STANLEY’s CribMaster Inventory Management Solutions, combined with Proto (another division of Stanley Black & Decker) tools that have passive RFID embedded right in the tool. When placed in a secure RFID tool drawer or cabinet (which can be combined with weight sensing technology), they can keep track of exactly what tools are in them, who removed the tool, where it was used, and when it was returned. The active tag can keep track of the location of the tool crib. A tool cage could also be outfitted to keep track of workers entering and exiting, to know exactly who took which tools.
Use Cases and Application Abound
The folks at AeroScout started rattling off some of the applications of their technology. The variety was impressive:
- Jet Engine Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) — When an engine is being serviced, there may be thousands of parts as you disassemble each engine, and they must not get lost or interchanged with the parts from another engine. RFID can be use to keep track of what parts are in each bin and where each bin is.
- Correct Tool Usage — In automotive, RFID is being used to verify that the correct tool is being used at the correct locationwith the correct setting and usage (e.g. correct torque on a wrench). If a worker picks up the wrong tool, that tool can be disabled.
- Vehicle Location on Lot — Large automotive OEMs often have to find specific vehicles on huge lots, where thousands of them look exactly identical. RTLS saves a huge amount of searching time and manual (error-prone) record keeping.
- Tracking Mobile Assets — One of AeroScout’s customers tracks over 40,000 roll cages across their 200 locations in 29 countries.
There were actually many more varieties of applications the folks at AeroScout described to us, but this gives you a feel for some of the diversity and breadth of ways their technology is being used.
Cross-pollination Between AeroScout and STANLEY Divisions
AeroScout and their peers in the STANLEY business units are starting to do more ‘cross pollination’ to uncover new opportunities for blending their solutions and products together. One example we mentioned earlier is when a person or object is being moved that shouldn’t be (whether it’s someone’s baby or a cylinder containing highly dangerous chemicals). STANLEY’s camera system could be alerted and guided by the AeroScout RTLS locating system, zoom in, take a picture, and display what is happening to the security personnel. Another example is enforcement of rules to limit the number of hours a certain tool is used by one person. For example the guidelines on the use of a particular high impact pneumatic hammer may require a maximum of four hours per day for each worker. By using RFID in the tools and RFID to identify the operators, the enforcement of these guidelines can be done more intelligently and precisely, knowing exactly the number of impacts per person, per tool, per location. This could also be correlated with injury reports to better understand cause and effect and reduce injuries. AeroScout technology integration with several divisions has already been released. They are looking to expand it further, offering customers additional significant benefits.
AeroScout partners with Tableau to provide analytics. Real-time monitoring and actions (like locking a door) provided by RTLS can be very high value, but there is a large amount of additional value potential in aggregating and analyzing all that data over time. This is an area that STANLEY/AeroScout has been investing significantly in, which we think could result in some very interesting new solutions and use cases.
A Good Marriage
We had not visited AeroScout since before the acquisition. They have really come a long way since then. We expect to see more of them now that they have Stanley Black & Decker’s backing and so many of STANLEY’s businesses and products they can integrate with. It just shows that, in spite of many examples to the contrary, sometimes acquisitions really do work and can create a sum that is greater than the parts.
For more on RFID, see the ChainLink library.
2 The tag that goes on the baby is called the “Hugs” and the ones the Mom and nurses use are “Kisses.” — cute. — Return to article text above
3 The hospital would typically give one of these authorized tags only to the mother and the nurses or other personnel that were authorized to move the baby. — Return to article text above
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Note: AeroScout,CribMaster, Hugs, STANLEY, and STANLEY Healthcare are trademarks of Stanley Black & Decker.
All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
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