How geo IoT can improve your business – Lessons learned from the market
In addition to presenting our Industry 4.0 solutions and a talk on lean production by Dr. Daniel Hug, Bosch Software Innovations also held a workshop at the Industry of Things World, held end of September in Berlin.
At the workshop, we talked to participants about asset tracking and geo IoT. We wanted to know if they had already had experience with geo IoT. What technologies do they use, and what do they see as the pros and cons? Read on for my summary of the results.
What we mean by “geo IoT”
Let’s start with how we define geo IoT and how it differs from classic asset tracking. In the latter, the system requests the position of an asset – a tool, for example – and then visualizes it. Geo IoT goes a step further. Besides determining the location of the tool, a geo IoT system can also find out how often the tool stayed in a particular position and whether or not it is currently in use. Events can be triggered and rights of use can be granted.
Topic 1: Use cases for (asset) tracking
The participants named a wide range of use cases for asset tracking. One example was cows in the agricultural sector. Using GPS, owners can better track cows roaming over vast pastures, making it easier to locate and take care of them. It is also possible to use the animals’ movement and resting patterns to draw conclusions about possible illnesses.
Other highly specific industrial use cases were named as well. One pump manufacturer was running a pilot project in which pumps are tracked during transport. The goal was to find out where the products are and gather information about their condition while en route, such as strong vibrations. By using this data to optimize the supply chain, the company hopes to save costs.
Pump manufacturers, food producers, the pharmaceutical industry – players in many sectors don’t just want to know where the product is, but also what’s happening to it during transport.
Information about transport conditions is especially important for the chemicals industry. Intense heat or cold can have a major impact, particularly on liquid chemicals – the products can even lose their effectiveness. In addition, the participants could envision their companies using this information for predictive maintenance in the future. With the help of sensors, companies could for example continuously gather and analyze localized information on transport conditions. They can then detect any correlations and predict possible damage. This interplay makes it possible for them to optimize maintenance processes. Furthermore, it opens the door to completely new maintenance services.
Besides the advantages of cost savings and maintenance optimization we have already named, manufacturers believe that geo IoT furnishes them with a deeper understanding of their customers. For many companies, the customer becomes a black box as soon as the product leaves the warehouse. However, geo IoT can now let manufacturers learn where and how their products are being used. One example given was that of a maker of electric toothbrushes. The company used tracking to find out where its products were being used and planned its advertising accordingly.
Topic 3: Challenges of asset tracking and geo IoT
Several participants are hoping for great things from 5G mobile technology. It promises improved data rates, stability, and reliability, thus enabling real-time tracking on transport routes. It was primarily participants with projects in buildings who named localization technology as the biggest challenge of geo IoT. What works excellently outdoors using GPS doesn’t work indoors. In many cases, existing technologies are too expensive for the level of precision needed. Location-specific maps are not available, and the overall investment is simply too high. Many participants in the supply industry reported that, in many tracking use cases, mapping material flow was of critical importance. Therefore, bar codes and RFID would continue to be key technologies for them.
Participants named a further challenge in applying geo IoT. Specifically clarifying legal issues, especially connected with the tracking of people.
Our three most important findings
The workshops as well as our talks with customers show that geo IoT is still in its infancy. A handful of participants are already conducting a proof of concept (with clearly defined objectives). Others have ideas about how they can benefit from geo IoT. But several still see no advantage to it. In closing, I want to name the three most important findings that underscore these opinions:
- The fact that the IoT is fundamentally changing business models is no longer news. Localization technology is playing an increasingly central role in this process. Positional data is key to being able to sell products as a service.
- The industrial sector in particular uses bar codes and RFID technologies to track material flow. These will probably remain the preferred means to do so in the future – again, particularly in this sector.
- There is no “one size fits all” tracking solution. Instead, a geo IoT solution depends on the use case in question and how much the company is prepared to invest in it.