The construction industry is stepping up its efforts to digitize its processes, increasingly relying on the benefits of the innovative 0G technology for the purpose of monitoring and managing material flows and deliveries to job sites as well as securing its equipment. One of the pioneers in this regard is Weber Betonwerk, who uses the Sigfox 0G network as the basis for locating and tracking its cargo carrier units, thus adding enormous value to its processes. The resulting real-time transparency enhances customer satisfaction and makes scheduling of transport routes easier while increasing cargo carrier efficiency.
The medium-sized, highly specialized company Weber Betonwerk headquartered in southern Germany is one of the preferred suppliers when it comes to producing and delivering precast elements for residential and commercial construction projects. The business is a member of the Foca Group and produces prefabricated elements such as balconies, walls, stairs, and floor slabs required for the construction of large-scale supermarkets, technology centers, airports, and agricultural buildings and structures.
The company’s customers rely on a perfectly aligned value chain whose key drivers become apparent very quickly: Firstly, about 600 cargo carrier units are available for up to 2,000 precast element deliveries per month within the German states of Bavaria and Hesse. Secondly, these sturdy carrier units remain on the construction site for at least a week because they are indispensable for carrying and supporting the precast elements weighing up to 20 tons until they are installed in the building. Only then will Weber Betonwerk pick up the empty carrier units in order to transport them back to the company premises. They are then immediately put to new use at the four production sites operated by the company. The efficiency of the value chain thus essentially depends on the traceability, availability, and turnaround times of the cargo carrier units. Thirdly, the business operates about 40 trucks that are almost constantly on the road to ensure the transport cycles between the factories, external storage facilities, and construction sites. Coordinating all these processes is obviously so complex that it would be very difficult to manage without digitized workflows.
Satisfied customers; focus on safety and security
Yet Weber Betonwerk is determined to not only manage processes but to also take on a leadership role in optimizing them to the benefit of its national and international customers. In turn, the company’s customers require accurate information on the status of their deliveries and want to know their estimated time of arrival. Since the cargo carrier units form part of each and every delivery, ensuring their real-time tracking quickly proved to be one of the most important goals to be achieved by Weber Betonwerk.
Such a digital tracking system makes it possible to not only locate the positions of one’s own carriers but also to mitigate the risk of theft. Germany’s nationwide crime statistics compiled for 2018 (www.bauwatch.de/kriminalstatistik-2018-baustellendiebstahl – in German) list far more than 24,000 committed acts of theft, and organized gangs are increasingly targeting big construction sites. The related financial losses lie in the multi-million euro range, and this trend continues to be on the increase. Weber Betonwerk also takes this trend very seriously because the sturdy cargo carrier units come at a relatively high price since each of them is worth more than 5,000 Euros, which makes loss prevention even more important.
However, companies in pursuit of the aim of digitizing their cargo carrier routes previously had to overcome a major hurdle because fitting a GPS sensor with a cell phone connection to each carrier frame is just too expensive and difficult to handle with all the SIM cards and cell phone contracts involved. The same holds true for establishing the mobile connection, which requires a more complex embedded logic while also consuming a large amount of energy. This situation results in short battery lives and correspondingly short maintenance intervals, thus making the entire process flow and management far too expensive.
0G-based geolocation saves resources
In contrast, the new geolocation system based on the Sigfox 0G network saves much more energy and can be implemented globally without incurring roaming fees. This system is available in a wide range of setups depending on the integrated set of sensors. The key strength of the Sigfox service is that it reduces the scope and frequency of transmitted status messages to a reasonable minimum in order to save the largest amount of energy possible where it really matters, i.e. for all the tracking devices used in the field. This approach extends the device’s battery life to about seven years, incurs only minimal maintenance costs, and makes asset tracking affordable in the first place. The difference to trackers whose functionality relies on mobile networks is enormous because the latter will last for only a few weeks or months and the lion’s share of the cost will be incurred in maintenance.
“We need geolocation and status information to be able to inform all the managers and foremen on our major construction sites between the cities of Mainz and Würzburg on time about the estimated times of arrival of their precast elements. The Sigfox 0G network is a perfect fit in this regard. The cost of data transmission is extremely low, the process consumes only a tiny amount of energy, and, if required, the system can also be used across borders without incurring roaming fees,” explains Dr. Frank Lorenzoni, Head of IT & Development at Foca Group, of which Weber Betonwerk is a member.
A solution for any tracking need
The Sigfox 0G network provides the basis for integrating a number of different IoT connectivity solutions while also ensuring scalability to the specific industrial requirements. The use of sensors, the embedded Edge logic, the 0G transceivers, and the Sigfox cloud functionalities can be adjusted to the degree of accuracy and precision needed for asset tracking or to the type of information to be captured. In addition, it is possible to integrate any IT environment at the end of the process. The simplest form of geolocation uses only the 0G network. This system is named Sigfox Atlas and does not use any sensors in the tracking device as such. The device is located only through the base stations receiving the signal. In towns and cities, this type of geolocation currently reaches a precision of 800 m, which makes it easy to find out whether the tracked cargo carrier unit is currently located in the storage facility, on the customer site, or in transit between previously identified points. Such basic information also provides some degree of theft protection because deviations from known routes are flagged.
If more precise geolocation data are to be transmitted through the Sigfox 0G network, special areas need to be defined beforehand, such as the construction site, the storage facility, or other transshipment sites, and so-called Sigfox beacons can be installed in these places in order to serve as landmarks. Depending on the specific needs, these Sigfox beacons will then define geofencing areas with radii between 1 and 15 m, for example. Any tracking device entering this area will be identified immediately, and the related information will be transmitted, thus providing an extended solution not requiring any in-device sensors either.
In addition, Sigfox also discovered location landmarks for its customers, with which the above-described, extremely low-cost Atlas functionalities of the 0G network can be complemented, namely by using fixed Wi-Fi nodes as points of orientation. This principle works both in outdoor spaces and indoors at company premises. A Wi-Fi sensor integrated in the tracker ensures a geolocation precision of at least 300 m outdoors while this precision can even go down to 30 m in interior spaces. However, these features require the network assets to be located only in densely populated regions where such Wi-Fi access points are actually installed and available.
Companies, for which even the above geolocation options are too imprecise, including Weber Betonwerk, can still revert to using the Sigfox-0G-based location through global navigation satellite systems (GNSSs) such as GPS. The precast business opted for this solution because it wanted to provide its business partners with the highest possible transparency regarding current deliveries. In addition, truck drivers and staff at Weber Betonwerk must be able to locate cargo units on the construction site or at the storage facility down to the very last meter. This degree of precision will also be very helpful in the event of any loss. Weber Betonwerk launched the related project in collaboration with SVA, the German Sigfox partner and system integrator. The in-house IT department also upgraded the internal ERP software to enable it for system integration. Within a period of only six weeks, this geolocation project was completed in an integrated fashion down to the last implementation stage. Key work steps involved the alignment of the in-house IT system. In contrast, the go-live of the h2n tracker proposed by SVA, the system integrator, proved to be very quick and easy. Using the h2n device cloud that can be integrated seamlessly with existing systems and other cloud solutions made it possible to develop a usable solution within a setup time of only a few hours. The related tracker data were stored on the Weber in-house server. “Also, SVA, the system integrator, provided outstanding consultancy to us when it came to selecting and implementing the most appropriate Sigfox 0G tracker so that we were able to digitize the first 100 cargo carrier units within a relatively short period. And this is just the beginning of our digitization strategy,” adds Dr. Frank Lorenzoni.
Small tracker, big impact
Meanwhile, the business has successfully completed an extended testing phase involving 100 of its cargo carrier units, and it will proceed to also equipping the remaining 500 units with 0G trackers because the successful geolocation process brings about a number of benefits on many levels of the company. Most importantly, Weber Betonwerk customers can use the installed system to obtain information on the estimated times of arrival of their precast element deliveries. This option also markedly improves customer satisfaction because site managers and foremen are experiencing reliable processes leading to an enhanced service experience. They consider themselves to be business partners and customers rather than mere recipients of a delivery, which results in much greater appreciation. At the same time, the precast business seizes this opportunity to stand out from its competitors.
In addition, picking up the empty carrier frames has become more efficient because transport routes are being managed through networked fleet management functionalities while optimizing the number of carrier units in use. The proprietary app for truck drivers developed by the in-house IT team helps customize delivery routes. Locating empty carrier units thus also enables their pickup at very short notice. However, staff continues to determine whether carrier units are loaded or empty in a non-digital way relying on times indicated on delivery slips because they are able to roughly estimate the usual timeframe for the installation of the precast elements. Lastly, any incoming or outgoing carrier units are automatically recorded at the outdoor storage facilities so that their numbers are known at any time. After all, Weber Betonwerk aims to shorten the overall turnaround times of its cargo carrier units so that the costs of procuring new carrier units can be lowered in spite of further business growth. The experience that Weber Betonwerk has gained while using its tracking system has been so positive with regard to its robustness, reliability, and precision that the company is currently exploring further areas of application within the Foca Group of companies.
Future-proof fields of application
These include civil engineering and earthmoving operations where the geolocation of vibrators or small rollers can be useful because they are constantly moving between job sites. This is where the longevity of the 0G network tracking solution comes into play. Another example of use will be the group subsidiary where glazed façade units are produced. This business intends to track the transport routes of its large-scale, exceedingly valuable industrial products up to the point where they are accepted by the customer, which will help prevent commercial losses.
Besides locating cargo carrier units, the GPS technology opens up additional areas of application in the construction and real estate industries in conjunction with the 0G network, including real-time stocktaking of construction equipment, power distribution units, or valuable scaffolding components, or for ensuring site fence surveillance. In addition, the Sigfox technology is used for gathering countless other pieces of status information, including 0G-enabled moisture sensors that can be embedded in the concrete during the casting process in order to accurately measure hardening progress with the aim of optimizing the construction process.
The system is also suitable for triggering alarms if, for example, a circular saw gets stolen. It also provides the option of transmitting filling level data of reservoirs or containers and thus the just-in-time pickup of construction waste because it will be possible to capture the filling progress of the waste containers early on. Similar optimization processes can be developed, for instance, for monitoring the filling levels of silos containing self-leveling screed. Thinking about 0G is thus worthwhile irrespective of the potential that construction contractors and their suppliers want to unleash by digitizing their processes. The partners.sigfox.com portal includes the above-described as well as many other solutions. If these do not suit the customer’s purpose, the system integrator, SVA, and the Munich team of Sigfox Germany will be available for further advice and consultancy.