The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as 4IR and Industry 4.0, improves manufacturing through the use of technology. The end-aims are to significantly improve productivity, reduce production delays and, for example, avoid penalties or future lost orders due to delayed work.
A key part of The Fourth Industrial Revolution is asset tracking that provides faster and more accurate stock control, item picking, job tracking, capacity measurement, demand analysis and product protection through sensing and automatic auditing.
It’s important that asset tracking is continuous because merely scanning things in/out using barcodes is open to human error and location is otherwise only as good as the last scan. Historical data is also important because it identifies blockages allowing processes to be refined.
When evaluating asset tracking systems consider:
Scalability and Performance – How many things do you need to track today and into the future?
Flexibility – Many of our customers initially buy an RTLS for one urgent purpose but later end up use the system system for additional needs.
Security – Where is your data stored and where does it go?
Look for a stand-alone solution rather than SAAS for greater performance, flexibility and longevity. While SAAS based systems can be a quick way into RTLS, they soon become limiting because you are sharing a platform with other customers. SAAS platforms usually don’t scale well technically and financially and don’t have efficient, direct access to the data for efficient ad-hoc reporting. They also pose potential security and reliability risks as you don’t own your data. The ultimate limitation comes when the SAAS provider, usually a startup, eventually increases costs, get’s bought out by its largest customer or goes out of business.
If you need a more rigorous description take a look at the book IoT Projects with Bluetooth Low Energy. It covers the fundamental aspects of Bluetooth Low Energy scanning, services, and characteristics. It goes on to describe examples of how to monitor health data, perform indoor navigation and use the Raspberry Pi for Bluetooth solutions. The book’s code is also available on GitHub.
There’s a new Mr Beacon podcast with Eason Huang of Minew. It describes how Minew focus mainly on hardware rather than full solutions and how they provide re-branded hardware for many platforms and beacon providers. Steve Statler (Mr Beacon) provides the insight that many of those platforms don’t really want to sell hardware and they are often focussing on software their customers might not necessarily want.
The conversation turns to the growth and challenges of IoT. The main challenges are lack of clarity of return on investiment (ROI), proof of concepts (POC) taking too long and end results not being scalable. Eason identifies that better preparation is required before starting. Steve suggests projects should initially bring in consultants to provide expert and neutral advice.
The podcast resonates with what we do at Beaconzone. We set up Beaconzone because we identified the reliance on subscription-based cloud platforms and beacons locked to platforms was limiting the available information, products and solutions. We set up BeaconZone in 2015 to provide for standalone solutions, using original manufacture beacons, not locked to subscriptions. We use and stock Minew and tens of other manufacturers’ beacons and gateways.
The issues of IoT projects also resonates with what we have seen through providing consultancy. Too many people come to us, too late, with projects that shouldn’t have been started because they had obvious technical limitations or have been developed in a direction that makes them technically or financially non-viable. A small amount of expert advice, early on, can make a huge difference and reduce risk.
Even when organisations know they should seek initial help and contact us, we sometimes find they are reticent about investing what is a relatively small amount of money compared to a failed POC cost. The reason is that these organisations have no experience of using Bluetooth for IoT so don’t know the unknown unknowns. Everything looks feasible until they are deep into the POC. It’s for these situations that we also offer quick, low priced Micro Consultancy.
Nordic Semiconductor, the manufacturer of the System on a Chip (SoC) in many beacons, has published the latest online issue of Wireless Quarter Magazine. It showcases the many uses of Nordic SoCs.
The latest issue of the magazine highlights the increasing use of IoT. Nordic Semiconductor has been known for enabling Bluetooth and cellular solutions and with their recent acquisition of Imagination Technologies this now extends to WiFi.
The magazine covers many usecases including:
Bluetooth connected prosthetics
CHIP smart home
There’s also an informative article exploring the usefulness of patents.
When people think about IoT sensors they tend to envisage, for experimenters, discrete electronic components connected to single board computers (SBC) or for industrial, custom sensors connected to microcontrollers.
The problem for experimenters is the solution is fragile and needs to be evolved into a custom electronic design before it can be used in production. For industrial solutions, they tend to be proprietary, require deeply invasive installation and very expensive.
Sensor beacons provide an easy, ready-made solution that have the following advantages:
They provide a solution that’s equally as good for experimentation as it is for the final production
This gateway detects Bluetooth LE advertising and sends it on to your chosen HTTP(S) or MQTT server via WiFi or Ethernet. There’s a configurable upload period and filtering by RSSI, Bluetooth Service, MAC address (including partial address) and iBeacon. It’s powered by Ethernet PoE or micro USB. It supports up to 240 advertising detections per second when using Ethernet.
It demonstrates the use of IoT to revolutionise farming. A system was implemented to provide for:
Optimum water and fertiliser use
Better quality and yield of crops
Reduction in production costs
Reduction in negative impacts on the health and environment
Sensors allow calibration of irrigation and fertilisation based on crop type, growth phase, soil and environmental conditions. The traceability allows monitoring of the movements of food products from the field, through storage to end consumers.
Bluetooth LE sensor tags are used for monitoring conditions during storage and transportation so as to assess freshness, integrity, as well as to provide for traceability.
The system enables enables management strategies that anticipate or delay crop collection, fine tuning the irrigation/fertilisation timing based on customers’ requests. This allows farmers to achieve economic benefits and reduce agri-food waste.
It never been easier to collect Bluetooth sensor information and store it in the cloud. The INGICS gateways come with step-by-step instructions how to set up AWS IoT Core, Azure IoT Hub and Google IoT Core.
In a previous post we asked ‘What is Productivity?’ and shared how the first wave of IT productivity related to cloud computing, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and enterprise resource planning (ERP) was only taken up by the top 5% frontier companies.
We explained how IoT, 4IR and AI machine learning will improve productivity but again, likely only for frontier companies. The difference this time is that the newer technologies will have more far reaching consequences. The frontier companies will further extend their reach over the laggards. The majority of the 5% are large companies with large budgets who are able to engage consultances such as IBM, Deloitte, Atos, PwC, WiPro, Accenture and KPMG. But what of the small to medium enterprises (SMEs)? Can they compete?
In most countries, a large proportion of companies are small to medium size. For example, in the UK, the Office for National Statistics says 98.6% of manufacturers are (SMEs). These organisations are more price sensitive and usually don’t have the luxury of significant financial resources for engaging the top consultancies and implementing their expensive solutions. Small and medium sized organisations have previously found it difficult to digitise due to the lack of availability of reasonably priced solutions.
However, solutions doesn’t have to be expensive. Low cost sensors such as Bluetoooth beacons, motion cameras, consumer AR can be combined with affordable cloud services to create solutions on a ‘shoestring’ budget. This is the aim of the University of Cambridge and University of Nottingham’s ‘Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring’ initiative. The Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) is helping manufacturers benefit from digitalisation without excessive cost and risk. View the project’s latest news and communicate with them via Twitter.