Developing hardware and software for the Internet of Things (IoT) is a fast-growing market in Spain and the rest of the world but to date, Spanish companies haven't ventured far in IoT tech development, a sector dominated by multinational giants like Siemens and Intel. Now one Spanish company is changing that.
In just over four years, Burgos-based Creatio Energy Systems has launched 10 IoT tech products for businesses. Its clients include the Italian heating equipment supplier D'Alessandro Termomeccanica and sports retailer Cisalfa, Portuguese building supplier Coprax, and in Spain the retailer Lefties, car dealer Grupo Julian and biomass machinery manufacturer EcoKcal.
Creatio's hardware includes sensors to collate data on, among others, temperature, humidity, luminosity and oxygen levels for any size or variety of facilities as well as agnostic control boards and data loggers that can integrate with machinery of any brand or technology.
The compatibility is a key feature of Creatio's products. “IoT is about the integration of different technologies and different devices in such a way that the final user can access meaningful data in a single place and doesn't need to know where each bit of data comes from,” Creatio's co-founder and technical director Jesus Pulido said in an interview. He was speaking at the recent IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona, where Creatio showcased its products.
“It is our job to build this integration and so we follow all the original equipment manufacturers' standards, so when we develop a product, it is compatible with all brands.”
Used in farming
The IoT sector, which is the backbone to Smart City and Industry 4.0 innovations, is predicted to grow to $1.6tn by 2025, nearly eight times the $212bn estimated in 2019.
Creatio's main software is the “Creatioweb!” SaaS platform on which users can visualize all the data generated from their IoT installations using desktop or mobile applications. Users can also control devices, such as, chillers and water boilers, in real time.
Intensive animal farming companies, which were among the first adopters of ambient sensors, is a key market for Creatio today. The startup works with agricultural engineers, who interpret the data collected by Creatio's system, to better understand how they could save energy by optimizing climate conditions within farm buildings, or determine the best time to use fertilizers. Creatio's products include automatic plant watering systems and the real-time control of livestock feed. Its sensory equipment can work at temperatures from -10 to 50 degrees Celsius, which is essential for cold chain management.
According to Pulido, 90% of Creatio's products use the long range (LoRa) communications modulation technique for sensors and actuators. LoRa is a long range, low power wireless chipset that is used in IoT networks worldwide. Though it is not the cheapest, it is “reasonably priced with a tried and tested track record,” he said. The company outsources its manufacturing.
Hobby to IoT tech
An aeronautical engineer by training, Pulido co-founded Creatio with two other engineers and former business partners, Roberto de Vita and Javier Martínez Lesmes. All three had headed companies before. Pulido and Martinez ran their own renewable energy startups in Spain, while de Vita was based in Italy working for a boiler manufacturer.
“I had a lot of demand from the biomass world for boilers so I contacted Javier [Martínez] because he was importing and distributing boilers,” Pulido said. “I started to do technical service for him while he was representing Roberto [de Vita]'s company, Intech Italy. Roberto invented an electrical board as a hobby to control the boiler in his house. We got together in 2012 and shared ideas on how to improve the electrical board, which led to other ideas in the IoT that we felt may have a huge impact.”
The trio began working on IoT tech products part-time while remaining in their respective companies until Creatio was formally established in 2015. By then the co-founders thought it was “the right moment to strike out fully” as they all felt comfortable in the IoT world.
However, product development was not easy and was initially “hit and miss in terms of mass appeal,” Pulido said. “We developed a small board to measure temperature and humidity but that did not interest the market. On the other hand, we were surprised at the interest in our control board for pre-paid heating systems in social housing.”
IoT products were also a good fit for customers of the co-founders' three existing companies' in Spain and Italy. “Our past customers were looking to save energy so we began learning which devices would help in this area and created them," said Pulido.
Those products include control boards for the biomass sector that regulate oxygen production and set temperature or pressure parameters and also for connected photovoltaic systems. These boards optimize energy production from autonomous solar plants by calculating the sun's position and following the solar orbit.
Creatio also provides consulting services. “We have two different lines. Manufacturing, to satisfy customers looking for products for business-wide application; and consultancy, for individual companies who want ad-hoc support on implementing IoT in their installations, where the solutions may be Creatio products or from a third-party,” Pulido said.
The company now maintains a presence in the co-founders' three cities, namely, Milan in Italy, and Martos and Burgos in Spain.
Creatio is also taking a long-term approach, offering product trials to overcome businesses' reluctance to over committing to IoT technology, and providing support for implementation and integration. “IoT is not something to introduce for the short-term. It's designed to make a long-term difference," said Pulito.
“The IoT sector is still nascent so most companies have heard of the technology but they don't know how to implement it. You don't just buy an IoT product. To make it work you need to collate and analyze the data to feel the benefits.”
Creatio uses its experience to help translate “the indefinite” data input measurements for the customer, giving the client training and support following any purchase. "When they purchase an IoT device, we help them collate and present the data in web platforms where it can be of use, for example, to save money by optimizing resources,” said Pulido.
"One of our most important customers is the Italian sports retailer Cisalfa for whom we first consulted and then produced customized solutions,” he said. “It has over 100 buildings, each with an area of 1,000 sqm or more, and we manage all of their energy monitoring and control. Before working with us, there was no constancy in the ambient temperature nor predictive maintenance of the heating equipment.”
The company is now actively targeting the residential property sector through information sessions. Creatio recently invited architects and property developers to a talk in Madrid onrehabilitating old buildings with IoT and sees South America as key to developing this sector. It is also receiving orders through its web store from many countries, including Holland, Greece, Peru and Costa Rica.
According to Pulido, since Creatio was formed, the co-founders had invested “several thousand euros” of their own money and did not need any external financing. To date they have funded all growth, including nine additional staff, from product sales and consulting.
For the moment, Creatio is happy to grow organically and is not looking for external funding, nor does it have any plans to do so in the immediate future “unless its business strategy changes," Pulido said.