B&B Electronics: The advent of "feature-rich systems"

B&B Electronics: The advent of "feature-rich systems"

TU: Can you give our readers a sense of what your department at B&B electronics does?

MH: The Automotive Business Unit of B&B Electronics was founded in 1996 coincident with the OBDII standard. During the past 15 years, the company has developed a deep understanding of vehicle diagnostics, and as a result leading telematics service providers (TSPs) such as Trimble have come to rely on us to deliver the vehicle diagnostic intelligence used in their fleet management systems. This data gives fleet managers the insight to enhance efficiency and cut costs through better routing, scheduling, strategic planning, and driver management.

Specifically, B&B retrieves and translates the often complicated and non-standard on-board diagnostics (OBD) data (vehicle/engine speed; odometer/distance traveled; instant fuel rate and total fuel; diagnostic trouble codes; emissions; and ignition, brake switch and seatbelt status), and then presents it to the TSP’s application in a simple-to-use format.

The company’s expertise has to date been in U.S. automobile diagnostics. But, we’re excited to have a European (EOBD) solution in live vehicle tests now and expect it to be available in Q2 2012.  We’re also growing our presence in the European market through a variety of strategic partnerships and channel relationships.

TU: What are the biggest challenges you face when it comes to supplying the automotive market?

MH: B&B’s biggest challenge in the automotive market is keeping up with a constant flow of new vehicle makes, models, and features as well as non-standard implementations.  Although the OBDII specification has existed for many years, as have the various vehicle bus interfaces such as CAN (ISO 15765-4), implementations differ and proprietary extensions exist.

Through B&B’s expertise, partner relationships, and over 40 man years of roll-up-your-sleeves work, we’ve managed to turn this challenge into a strategic advantage, developing vehicle-specific extraction/calculation techniques and a proprietary automated polling technology that ensures vehicle data is up to date. 

What B&B does is messy, tedious and time-consuming, and has definitely distracted TSPs who have tried to sort out diagnostic data on their own.  Our TSP customers get to focus on what they do best – providing award-winning fleet applications and service.

TU: When you look at the telematics market at large, what do you find most exciting about it?

MH: The most exciting thing about the telematics market is that feature-rich systems and applications are now available to small-to-medium sized vehicle fleets. Previously, such sophisticated tools were the domain of the large, heavy-duty operators.

With the advent of inexpensive, powerful hand-held devices, ubiquitous wireless services, and diagnostic information retrieved from the vehicle, nearly any fleet manager can now enhance efficiency and cut costs.

Some of B&B’s TSP customers even offer a shrink-wrapped solution that fleet managers can install and run themselves with very little intervention.

TU: What was the most challenging part of 2011 for your company and how do you overcome it?

MH: The most challenging part of 2011 was managing our recent growth, both internally and through acquisition, and this will continue through 2012. B&B has just completed two acquisitions within the last six months, including embedded M2M connectivity technology developer Quatech, from Ohio, and cellular M2M wireless technology developer Conel, from the Czech Republic in Europe.

B&B is now a much different company than even 12 months ago. However, by bringing in experienced leaders, integrating best practices from throughout the organization, and keeping a keen customer focus, we are well-positioned for the future.

TU: Connectivity and mobile are evolving so quickly. From your perspective, what are one or two exciting unmet opportunities on this front?

MH: Given the rapid evolution of mobile connectivity technologies and the wide variety of standards, there are unique opportunities for companies that can offer a range of connectivity options in a single device.  That is one reason B&B continues to invest in wireless and now offers solutions covering a broad spectrum of wired and wireless products. 

In the automotive market alone, for example, we have seen applications which require seamless connectivity between Bluetooth, cellular, and Wi-Fi in the same device. Because the current solution requires multiple devices resulting in increased cost, difficult installation, and lots of customer support, there is an opportunity for someone to develop a single device that serves all of these connectivity needs.


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