Oil and gas equipment manufacturer achieves 30% sales increase with user experience overhaul
- Oil and Energy
- UX/UI Design, Development
- Custom Analytics Kiosk
- 11-50 Employees
“They embraced our vision and tried to do everything in their power to make it happen.”
–Director of Operations, Equipment Manufacturer
5/5 CLIENT REVIEW
Product improvements, backed by our human-centered design and user research, allow MFE to recoup their development costs within a year of sales.
“They were definitely involved in jumping over some of the hurdles we ran into. It felt like they were there to help us get what we wanted, instead of them telling us what we need and want, and then us having to try and get them to listen to us.”
Director of Operations
We were tasked with creating a new tablet app for MFE’s fourth-generation oil tank scanner.
The new technology needed to resolve critical user experience issues that had previously prevented MFE customers from experiencing the full time-saving impact of the first digitally-enabled scanner on the market.
How We Helped
Custom Windows desktop app development with Electron framework / Wrapper and Angular.js
Custom animation with D3.js
UX design & prototyping
User interface design
New user interface allows operators to easily and accurately capture current locations and scanning direction on the first attempt.
Adjusted the software’s velocity calculations, allowing MFE to make the scanner machine more than 200 pounds lighter. Now, the scanning job is far more efficient and far less hazardous.
Together with MFE, we created a new feature that eliminates the need to rock the scanner back and forth over a defect.
Inside an oil tank, it is dark and damp. The atmosphere is susceptible to extreme temperatures: sub-zero in cold parts of the world and over 130 degrees Farenheit in the hot desert. Even after it has been thoroughly cleaned, hazardous chemical substances coat a tank’s inner surfaces.
Imagine climbing into one of those tanks wearing a bulky hazmat suit and gloves for the tedious yet critical job of scanning the floor plates to locate defects. Imagine fumbling with the tablet in extremely low light as you seek the exact positioning of every defect. The pressure is significant–mistakes could cost the tank owner thousands.
MFE Enterprises designed and built a high-tech scanner for inspecting tank floor plates. The first digitally-enabled tank floor scanner, MFE’s third version of the Mark Tank Floor Scanner was revolutionary. Intended to help customers spend less time and labor fixing tank floors, it not only located defects but presented operators with a detailed report and a digital map of tank-floor deficiencies.
While the Mark III Tank Floor Scanner was well received by customers worldwide (nothing like it had ever before been available), there were usability issues that MFE needed to address in its next version of the product. Re-working the original Mark III software was not a viable option, so we built brand new software from scratch for the Mark IV Tank Floor Scanner. Our custom solution fully resolved each of the usability problems customers were experiencing with the previous version.
“When we went through the quotation process, they gave us an actual working quick model of the software. It allowed us to actually click through the screens and show how it would feel and look, which was very impressive.”
Director of Operations, Equipment Manufacturer
How we Helped
We drove down to Dripping Springs for a visit with MFE Enterprises. At the ranch, we got a firsthand experience of what it would be like to use a scanner and tablet app from the floor of a giant oil tank.
Our hands-on experience provided us with a long list of critical user requirements. In order to succeed in the market, the tool we were creating needed to be hyper-sensitive to the very human experience each operator would face at the bottom of a gigantic oil tank.
1. MAP THE TANK FLOOR
To use the scanner, a human operator must first equip the scanner with the data it needs to create a virtual map of the tank floor. This step requires the operator to manually enter data about the tank’s dimensions into the app on the accompanying tablet.
2. POSITION AND MOVE THE SCANNER
The operator then pushes the scanner along each portion of the tank floor. Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL) technology allows the scanner to read the volumetric loss of mass along each point on the floor and correlate the defect to the relative floor position in the tank via a velocity-adjusting algorithm.
3. USE THE REPORT TO FIX THE DEFECTS
Using the dimensions entered by the operator, the scanner then determines the relative location of each defect and submits that data to the desktop application on the tablet. There, the operator can access a summary of defects and their locations so they can be found and treated.
While the Mark III scanner was conceptually innovative, our improvements for the Mark IV version allowed customers to experience the full impact MFE intended to deliver.Eager to generate early interest, MFE Enterprises began exhibiting the new scanner app at trade shows prior to launch. They drew in dozens of pre-order sales, and after only one year of post-launch sales, MFE Enterprises had made enough money to cover the cost of development and start generating profit.
Introduce your business and what you do there.
I am the Director of Operations for a company that manufactures inspection equipment for the oil and gas industry.
Specifically, our equipment does an inspection process where it uses permanent magnets to saturate metal plates in order to detect volume loss created by corrosion.
Opportunity / Challenge
What challenge were you trying to address with Praxent?
In our industry, all of the software is very technical and difficult to use because it requires a lot of effort and thought. The problem is that the equipment itself is used in very intense environments where it is extremely hot or extremely cold. So, in order to get the people using it in and out of the tank quickly, we were trying to take something that required a lot of attention to detail and streamline it as much as possible. This required the most user-friendly technology that also allowed being able to quickly enter as few inputs as possible. We believed this would cause a better overall quality inspection improvement.
What was the scope of their involvement?
It was about a 7-9 month long scope project. We were attempting to do something that really had not been done before in the industry. We had to use Toughbook because we needed something that was rugged for the environment, but one of our goals was to make it feel like you’re using an iPad application. We wanted it to be highly responsive. We also wanted to develop a dedicated software that basically ran in kiosk mode. Our previous software was a Windows program that the operator would click on to get it to engage and operate, and would then navigate from there. However, he had to deal with saving files to different folders. We were trying to move away from the headaches involved with Windows. We wanted this to be in kiosk mode where the only purpose of that computer was to run our equipment. That’s what we worked with Praxent to achieve.
Praxent essentially developed the user interface, which handled mapping and recording, that then displayed this feedback for the user. There were a lot of aspects to the process. Praxent also had to deal with the data acquisition. We were recording data every millisecond. There was a lot going on and we had to make sure we weren’t losing data, and that everything was displayed properly and was repeatable. Trying to get it to be easier to use and running by itself, while not displaying too many screens, was important to us.
One of the first people Praxent brought on was a graphic artist named Nick [Graphic Artist, Praxent], who was pretty incredible. It’s difficult to have that artistic flair that a lot of the big companies have, but Nick was very big in basically looking at what color schemes we were going to use. He was asking questions as far as, “Okay, where are they using this? If they’re inside this tank, is it dark in the tank? Is it bright in the tank? What’s the level light like?” They were very conscientious of the color scheme and how it looked relative to how it fit our brand as a small company. I did a lot of the initial artwork, like our logo and color schemes, thinking that I’d need to give them this. I didn’t realize how involved they would be in the process, which impressed me, because it showed they cared about the presentation.
After that, they started asking some of the technical questions about what we are trying to accomplish with each screen, and then trying to figure out the least amount of data that we needed to get the final product. After all the mapping and data recording is complete, it generates an inspection report.
We had our own plan for Praxent to execute on the technical side, but they took care of the details and how it presented itself. A bulk of the project was planned to a T but there was a big 10% on the page that was just a question mark, and Praxent had the experience to come up with good solutions to those problems. Sometimes they would try something, and if it didn’t quite work the way we wanted it to, they’d try something else. They were definitely involved in jumping over some of the hurdles we ran into. It felt like they were there to help us get what we wanted, instead of them telling us what we need and want, and then us having to try and get them to listen to us. They embraced our vision and tried to do everything in their power to make it happen.
How did you come to work with Praxent?
I had to look at many options locally on the East and West Coasts, as well as Texas. We were looking for companies and navigating through their websites, trying to get a feel for what they could do. We had to make sure we weren’t engaging a software company that’s used to dealing with a $20 million project, but instead look for someone who works with small businesses.
When we met with the team at Praxent, Tim [Owner, Praxent] was extremely helpful in the interviewing process. He demonstrated not only what the company had done, but when we asked questions, he was very responsive and showed us software capable of doing exactly what we needed. Moment to moment, he was improvising the presentation, and it was very clear that he was listening and was onboard with what we were trying to accomplish. We were willing to spend more money to work with someone if we felt they were at least listening to what we had to say. It was important to us that the company we chose was affordable and were going to do what they said they would.
Working with Praxent was the first time we actually outsourced a company. Previously, we worked with an individual who helped us move from a physical electronic LED display to a computer system. We did as much as we could with that, and he did a really good job on the software, but he could only take it so far.
What surprised me the most with Praxent, was the start of the process and how they were able to really get a good idea of the look and feel. When we went through the quotation process, they gave us an actual working quick model of the software. It allowed us to actually click through the screens and show how it would feel and look, which was very impressive.
Could you provide a sense of the size of this initiative in financial terms?
The cost of the project was about $340,000.
What is the status of this engagement?
We started working with them February 2016 until December 2016.
Results & Feedback
What evidence can you share that demonstrates the impact of the engagement?
The feedback we get from companies has been extremely positive. The owner of the company started going back to trade shows and commented that it was the most well received product we’ve ever released, which is impressive because the previous model was also very well received. You could see in his expression that he’s actually excited to go out there and present this product, which is good for the company. We’ve pre-sold dozens of them and we are on track to have a strong sales year. There are no negatives to the quality of the product. The biggest things that did occur, as far as the scope of the project, was that it took longer than expected and costed more. However, we attributed a lot of that to what we were trying to accomplish. It wasn’t like we had a software, and said, “Just make it this.” We were trying to add features and maybe trying to be a little bit too ambitious with what we were trying to do.
How did Praxent perform from a project management standpoint?
Once we established what we wanted, and how it was going to look and present itself, we communicated on a weekly basis, if not more regular. We were constantly meeting to deal with any issues that came up. That’s a big difference between using a single person who we would give a project to and not hear back for two or three months. He’d come back with something, and it might be 90% of what we want, but the other 10% was a little too late to fix because he had already gone too far.
With Praxent, it felt like we had the ability to navigate, and if there was something wrong in the direction they were taking, or if it was taking too long, we could change directions. It felt like we were in control of the development process. We could actually fine tune it as it was being developed. The idea of meeting with teams of people was new to me, but I felt like it was extremely effective. They had a main Software Programmer, a secondary Software Programmer, and a guy who was just doing design work and graphical presentation. They had probably two people who were handling the logistics of the features, and also guys who were managing the overall project.
They were conscientious of whether we were getting behind schedule, and always let us know. It felt like we were able to make informed decisions throughout the entire process. We might have hoped something would take a little less time, but it didn’t, and we knew that going into each phase.
What distinguishes Praxent from other providers?
Now that we have the software designed, one of the things that has come up over time has been issues with bugs, and Praxent has been extremely responsive. The thing I like most about Praxent is that I feel like I can hand off the issues that I have and say, “Look, here’s the list of the problems,” and they get it done. They give us an update for our software, and it’s in a timely fashion. I feel like you can just describe what the issue is and they can get it done. We were concerned about their ongoing support after the product was created, but they have been really good at remaining responsive.
Is there anything Praxent could have improved or done differently?
No, I don’t know of anything they could have done to improve. The biggest thing I had to try and figure out was the budget issue, which doesn’t completely fall on them.
On Time / Deadlines
Service & Deliverables
The deliverables were great; they were succinct and very useful.
Value / Within estimates
I thought they provided really good value.
Willing to Refer
We are going to be using them again for other products. Even though we were over budget and took longer than expected, the outcome has been so positive that there’s no question whether we’ll be using them on future product software development.
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