GradeSens: a startup that is blowing the winds of change towards predictive maintenance

Wind-powered electricity generation is a key driver to reaching the COP21 target of limited global warming. Safer than nuclear, cleaner than coal, more efficient than solar and less invasive than hydro, windmills are flourishing everywhere and the trend won’t stop anytime soon. The European potential, especially thanks to its offshore opportunities, is huge and its overall capacity is expected to double over the next ten years.

However, windmills are elaborate machines that require specific care in order to be as efficient as possible. Any equipment failure results in costly downtime that can not be recouped by operators. Taking into consideration that the average age of European assets is increasing, the need for efficient maintenance is significant.

These were the facts that the GradeSens founders faced when they started their venture. Yvan Jacquat and Didier Nicoullaz have extensive experience in both maintenance and digitalization of industry, and decided to pool their insights to innovate in the field of predictive maintenance. They tailored their offering around two elements: sensors, plugged to critical equipment, that monitor vibration and temperature and MoonStone cloud platform with AI based algorithms that turns data collected from sensors into predictive insights. This powerful tool analyzes the data and projects these signals in order to predict when the equipment will fail. Operators can then plan their maintenance activities accordingly, decreasing the risk  of downtime because of unplanned failure. Their sensors are fitted with state-of-the-art low-energy high-range proprietary communication protocol (LYRA) and are able to form a star-mesh network, well suited for these kinds of installations.

Electric windmills are just one focus area of GradeSens, who also performed pilots in the hydro-power, robotics and logistics sectors. However, this is potentially the most dynamic industry out there for them, with maintenance challenges projected to keep growing in the short and long term. Our group of four IMD MBA participants was thrilled to work on answering the energy challenge. Like most start-ups, GradeSens needed guidance in order to find the best way to grow further and switch from pilots to commercial roll-out, and this became our mandate.

We applied both our personal experience as well as the learnings from our strategy, finance and marketing classes to come up with recommendations on how to best address the European wind market further. Should GradeSens prioritize targeting the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), the Independent Service providers (ISP) or the operators themselves? Which country should the efforts be directed to? Is there more value in onshore or offshore installations? How should GradeSens target and advertise the offering to potential customers and strategic partners? These were some of the questions that we set out to answer, with additional help and guidance from our IMD coach Carlos Cordon. The ultimate goal was to partner with Yvan and his team to cooperate on maximizing value creation for GradeSens.

We had an amazing learning experience throughout the past few months, working on addressing these strategic questions. We got to experience the exciting start-up life and its numerous challenges, and genuinely enjoyed our interactions with Yvan Jacquat and his partners. We will take our precious learnings with us and hope to have served GradeSens well.

Franck (author), Harita, Andreas and Ihab

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