In the 2012 edition of ‘Secret of Success’ issued by the European Commission for the European SME Week, among others, the sole representative of Lithuania the company UAB Ruptela is also sharing its achievements. The publication presents the best small and medium-sized companies that has started as small businesses but eventually has successfully established themselves in the market and started to export their goods and services to other countries
Given the statistics that only one fourth of European small and medium-sized companies have established international contacts, and only 13 percent has business contacts outside EU, the example of Ruptelos should seem attractive and inspiring for many Lithuanian companies.
The company Ruptela, which is one of the fastest growing Lithuanian companies, engages in the area of telecommunications and information technologies. The central office of the company is located in Vilnius with production department set up in Kaunas, and branches in Belarus, Russia, Ireland, Ukraine, and Poland. The specialists in the company work with production and installation of electronics devices, programming, and remote monitoring. Since the establishment in 2007, the company was focusing on export since the market of Lithuania is too small. Currently, the equipment produced by Ruptela is being installed in approximately fifty countries of the world, which generates approximately 70 percent of the corporate turnover. Most of the revenue comes from the freight transport management solution Trust Track that is being used in EU, CIS, African and Arabian Peninsula countries.
The equipment that is implemented by the Ruptela specialists into their clients’ vehicles consists of global positioning system (GPS) receiver, mobile communication module, interface to the vehicle’s on-board computer or digital recording equipment. These tools ensure communication of the real-time data to the transport management systems to ensure efficient operation of the vehicle and optimum fuel consumption. Activity of the vehicle is recorded throughout the geographical space from Portugal to Kazakhstan where lays the most frequent cargo routes of the European transport companies.
Moreover, vehicle tracking, navigation, and control system by Ruptela is also installed in the Lithuanian Military. The system provides real-time data on the location and movement of the vehicle, the work of mechanisms and other necessary information, such as arrival to the destination, exceeding of the speed limit on the track, battery running down, or other faults. The systemized information transmited to the observation centre ensures not only efficient monitoring or control but also efficient operation of the vehicle.
Below we present the interview with the founder and director of this company Andrius RUPŠYS during which we have discussed the role of embedded systems in the technical equipment being installed.
The attractive modernity
Mr. Andrius, do the specialists in the company you manage use the term ‘embedded systems’? Or maybe you use some alternative terms?
Andrius Rupšys. We do use this term, however, more often we call such systems microcontrollers or controllers. The company employs approximately 100 employees 30 of which work in the department of design which we call R&D – Research & Development. This is the department where the engineers and specialists work with those microcontrollers – embedded systems.
Do to you have them supplied, or design them yourself?
A. Rupšys. We design final products GSM / GPS monitoring devices. We do not design microcontrollers, or in other words chips. There are not many companies in the world that produce integrated circuits – microprocessors, and we apply these products in designing ours. There are microcontrollers installed in any modern electronic product, including mobile phones, calculators, voice recorder, photo camera, identity or payment cards.
The traditional terms ‘electronics’ and ‘microelectronics’ were replaced by ‘microprocessors’, ‘embedded systems’, and ‘microprocontrollers’.
A. Rupšys. New things sound better. (Laughs.). If we offer our graduates to study radio electronics and radio technology it would seem like getting them to the époque of radars and radios. Engineering of telecommunications sounds far more attractive. I myself graduated from the Faculty of physics of Vilnius University, and the title of my specialty was Telecommunications Physics and Electronics. It sounded very modern upon entering the university, however, during the fourth year studies, questions started to arise – “why our specialty is called telecommunications physics when the diplomas of the previous year graduates contain the title radio physics.
One of the holders of such diploma is currently taking this interview.
A. Rupšys. So we were studying the same, however at different times and named differently. Universities find tricky ways to attract more students.
On the other hand, these changes in the titles apparently reflect certain changes that take place in science. When we hear the word electronics we understand it as a wide entirety, including analogue electronics. When we say embedded systems, what we have in mind is digital electronics that operates on the basis of microcontrollers. In our company, we have also divided into groups according to the areas of activity: electronics engineers work with the so-called hard part, and programmers of embedded systems or microcontrollers specialize in their flexible area, however they also know how to work with the hard part, and sometimes even take a soldering-iron into their hands. However, tasking them with board tracing would require additional effort for this is not a task of programmers. It wouldn’t be wise to waste the specific skills of our specialists. Tracing of boards, selection and positioning of analogue and digital elements are the tasks of electronics engineer, and he is not very into subtleties of programming. Of course, there may be some pleasant exceptions which depend on the personality and predispositions. There might be some universal specialists, however my personal experience showed that with more than three workers they start demonstrating certain inclinations and specializations.
We are solution providers
What is the most important thing in your company Ruptela; how would you briefly describe the specifics of company activities? In the world, many companies engage in telecommunications, means of communication, and how would you differentiate your company in this context? What is the uniqueness you strive for in certain areas?
A. Rupšys. We see ourselves as providers of solutions rather than producers of boxes. This means we solve certain problems of our clients, for example, inefficient use of company vehicles. The system we offer in the form of a small box, a specific device that I currently hold in my hands is one of the tools to solve this problem.
When we started the company in 2007, we only had three employees including myself. It was a pre-crisis period, and we did not have any material or financial resources. We worked with few suppliers, purchased necessary devices from them, and installed them for our clients. We often encountered with the concerns faced by truck companies’ owners, and soon we understood that we cannot solve all the arising problems, and satisfy all the needs of our clients. Take a look to the modern trucks full of electronics, on-board computers, temperature and fuel level sensors, devices to connect to additional interfaces, cooling units, possibility to monitor air pressure in the tyres, and obtain other additional information. The newer the vehicle, the more features are available.
Thus, at first we could not manage to satisfy all the requests from our clients, and eventually it became clear that we need to implement more functionality and additional features into our devices. This objective gave start to our unique approach.
It would be great if you could give some specific examples.
A. Rupšys. A simple device can show where the vehicle with cargo is heading, and a sensor can warn about the possible faults of any indicator or a device. Nevertheless, the faults needs to be communicated to the respective services to react to some serious faults. Therefore, the telecommunication system of the car needs to be connected to control room, and transmit the necessary information about the fault. A certain software in the control-room helps monitoring the events on the track, and react accordingly. Even on the expeditions abroad, the driver can be informed about the necessary (or unnecessary) further steps. For example, in case of a failure in the exhaust system pipe, the driver can go to the closest car service company, however, a brake system failure needs an immediate response. Or, if the engine cannot develop the full speed, the driver will inevitably need professional service.
For the logistics and transport companies, it is important to use fuel rationally, and work economically. We install equipment that provides this type of information: on-board computer records engine speed, mileage, and analyse fuel consumption. These data are recorded and transmitted to the central server from which the information is further transmitted via a browser to the clients – respective services of transport companies. You can instantly see what needs to be corrected in fuel norms. Fuel is becoming more expensive, economic driving becomes the indispensable indicator of corporate activity and competitiveness. Ruptela offers technical solutions that helps selecting the optimum economic solutions.
Much depends on the drivers’ competence, responsibility, and integrity. How the systems offered by Ruptela can be useful in this respect?
A. Rupšys. Our devices show not only technical faults of the vehicle but also the quality of driver’s work. Information about non-economic driving is transmitted to the specific software as specific data, and managers of the companies can judge about each driver’s quality of work. The numbers show the best ones and the worst ones: pressing the accelerator only will not change the indicators. Or, for example, excessive usage of brakes shows that the driver cannot ensure safe distance from the cars ahead and constantly experiences stress. All this affect fuel consumption rates not to mention safety of driving. This allows for 5 % fuel economy.
As a result of the analysis of plenty of such situations and the related demand of transport companies, we have decided to deal with these most relevant technical problems of those companies. This is the unique feature of Ruptela I would distinguish.
Eliminates failures at a distance
Can dispatchers communicate with each of the drivers in real time despite their geographical location?
A. Rupšys. This depends on the level of technological solution installed. Base level solution provides the possibility to trace the movement of the car on the route. This is the bottom level solution, and we cannot speak about any type of communication. Then we can climb the ladder of additional services by implementing more advanced telecommunication models. Using the most advanced models we install navigation screed in the driver’s cabin, and with the help of this screen the driver can communicate with the control room.
Is it possible not only to troubleshoot but also to remove failures in a distance? For example, to replace some embedded system, microprocessor, or a sensor?
A. Rupšys. This is possible, and we are already doing this. However, what we perform is not a physical replacement of defected device or a microchip but rather modification of software. We cannot perform some screwdriver functions in a distance but we surely can reprogram a microcontroller.
Here in my hands I hold a module of telecommunication system GSM / GPS. It has the incorporated satellite GSP antenna, standard electronic components, power battery, SIM card. The “mind” of the module is concentrated in three microchips. The modem communicates with the GSM network. The module receives information from satellites and processes it. The most important “brain” is the microcomputer that collects and processes information. One device has three operating embedded systems. Now I will answer to your question: we cannot repair even a simple cable or condenser in a distance. However, we have all the “mind” concentrated in the mentioned three embedded systems. If any of them is defective the client would say that the entire device is defective. Can we fix this? Since the module has mobile connection, in our servers, we see all the tens or hundreds of thousands devices that we have installed for our clients. The functions of every controller are programmed and the developed software is written to such device with the help of a special equipment. If we notice any defect, the program may be rewritten as much times as we need to. All the hundreds of thousands devices we have sold can be reprogrammed in a distance. If some device does not recognize certain parameter, for example engine work failures signalled by the sensor, or falsely recognized fuel consumption, we can take measures immediately. The server can be given a command to update the software for a faulty device. The server sends an instruction to accept the update. All this happens even without the client’s knowledge for the client purchases a service, i.e. a possibility to have certain functions. If we notice a malfunction, or if a certain node operates inappropriately, we update the software without disturbing the client.
This reminds a kind of space equipment that can also be repaired in a distance.
A. Rupšys. There might be some parallels. We do not have any special ranks, and the entire “mind” of the company was improving together with our devices. When we started our activity nd started developing equipment, it did not have the majority of the functions it has today: we used far too much hardware than we actually needed. The demands from the clients’ side were growing and we were far from being capable to accomplish them. We used to say “Yes, of course, we will try to fulfil this request with a new software and the new functions…” In the modern times, it is no wonder to rewrite a software even for a washing machine. Or let’s take a new radio equipment: if we register on the internet, we receive offers to install new software when the time comes.
Thus, we are talking about the multifunctionality of devices that are constantly improved?
A. Rupšys. We might call this one of the competitive advantages of our company, however, it is not the only one. Let’s take the smart phone iPhone that has recently launched the 7th version of the software. Apple Inc. gives the possibility for all the holders of the phones to update the software in their phones to the last version available. Thus, even without purchasing the newest updates we can use the benefits of it. This customer approach is an example to follow for our company. Other companies operate on other principles.
To what extent this principle reflects the objective of the company Ruptela to foothold in the Northern American market of service supply where you still cannot boast of some significant achievements?
A. Rupšys. We have established contacts with the Northern American consulting company 151 Advisors, and we expect good results from this cooperation in order to foothold in this rather new and very promising market. Since we do not have our agency or company in the American continent, we will rely on the support from the mentioned company. This is necessary for dealing with the challenges we confront with our clients in this continent. Business hours in the Western Coast of America starts when it’s already 6 o’clock p.m. in Lithuania, therefore it would be difficult to ensure real-time communication with the clients.
Interviewer Gediminas Zemlickas