Chris Keller stays focused on the big picture at IPEG

The next wave of tech

One recent investment IPEG has made — its biggest in both time and money, aside from an acquisition — is its Conair Smart Services platform, which falls under Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution, which combines automation, artificial intelligence, data, the cloud, internet-enabled devices, etc., to solve business problems.

IPEG partnered with Pittsburgh’s Maven Machines to create an Industry 4.0 product for plastics manufacturers, which can be used for predictive maintenance, machine learning and data analytics.

As of May, Keller says the company had achieved connectivity with real-time visibility to data, which uploads every second or two and comes out in dashboards tied to individual machines, lines of machines and to a degree, a customer’s plant.

Maven had focused on safety and fleet management in the trucking industry its first few years in business, but the software company’s long-term vision is to use its underlying platform for many industries.

“The ability to take in vast amounts of data in real time and instantly analyze it, join it together, run algorithms for optimizing an operation, is the same core technology whether it’s a fleet of trucks or a fleet of machines making plastic parts,” says Maven CEO Avi Geller.

While the process started with Conair, Keller says Smart Services could be applied to Thermal Care in the future, too.

So far, Industry 4.0 has created buzz, but many people still need to be educated. Keller saw this firsthand at NPE2018 in May, a major plastics expedition held every three years, where suppliers touted Industry 4.0 as a way to market themselves.

“We found ourselves with what we’ve developed together with Maven a major step ahead of even the next closest folks that were trying to build the Industry 4.0 platforms, and light years ahead of the majority of folks who really don’t even have an idea of what it is and what it can do,” Keller says. “Going forward, it should be a major competitive advantage for us.”

NPE2018 is also where IPEG officially launched its product. Geller says 100 customers signed up for Smart Services during the conference.

Value together

The connectivity at IPEG, however, doesn’t stop with Industry 4.0. The company’s business system, AMPLIFi, adds value in all four companies by focusing on the customer, the employee, continuous improvement and shared services.

An emphasis on continuous improvement and employee engagement has already resulted in improved metrics. Because of its focus on customers and employees, IPEG gauges how it’s doing through a net promoter score or NPS, which takes the temperature of customers, while a separate ENPS focuses on employees.

“We’ve seen our ENPS go from a -12, when we first started measuring it four years ago, up to a +31 in our latest survey,” Keller says.

IPEG’s philosophy is that if it does right by the customers and employees, everything else takes care of itself. But its business model is a mix of autonomy and cohesiveness.

Each business acts independently from a commercial standpoint. Walls prevent each company from seeing the others’ customer lists, sales leads or commercially sensitive data.

“That’s part of our overall commercial strategy, a belief that multiple channels of distribution will lead to higher market share,” Keller says.

That means on the rare occasion IPEG companies compete with each other, such as Conair and Republic Machine, the parent company doesn’t mettle. It doesn’t play price games, believing the best choice will win.

However, IPEG follows a shared services model for finance, information technology, human resources and some internal operations. For example, Keller and his management team of six, plus a larger group of about 45, spend time each month using information from surveys and town hall forums to identify opportunities for improvement.