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Why location is the language for logistics

Without location data, the internet of things would be … lost.

Google Maps, Uber, wayfinding apps and other location-based services rely heavily on location data. But just as importantly, location is a vital and growing element within the industrial internet of things.

Logistics provides a great example.

Today, there are warehouse systems that reside on forklifts, gathering critical information such as:

  • How long has this forklift been running?
  • What are its average speeds?
  • What’s the remaining battery life?
  • Has it been in any accidents?
  • What are the diagnostics of its components?

These data points provide valuable insights into how each forklift is operating.

If you take that one step further by adding in location data for each forklift, companies can actually learn how the entire warehouse is doing. With indoor positioning systems and positioning asset tag sensors that relay their exact location in real-time to the cloud, companies can see where and how their warehouse operations are struggling or even failing. This location data will provide mission-critical data that helps optimize operations.

The Swiss Federal Railways (SSB), is an excellent case in point. The railway regularly encountered forklift bottlenecks in its maintenance facilities, which include indoor and outdoor warehouse spaces, as well as a surplus of spare parts that was surpassing the warehouse capacity. With a looming redesign of its warehouse layout, it knew it needed to resolve the issues quickly.

SSB’s existing approach for understanding the congestion issues included manually counting forklift movements — using a pair of interns ticking off on sheets of paper and then entering that data into an Excel spreadsheet for analysis. The process was imprecise, expensive and time consuming.

Managers at the railway knew there had to be a better way.

Dirco de Corso, a senior project manager at SSB, realized he needed a system that could deliver reliable positioning data. With this, he would be able to pinpoint the congestion areas caused by heavy forklift traffic in the indoor/outdoor warehouse. He hoped he’d never have to manually count traffic again.

The solution involved using a beacon-based indoor positioning system and location asset tags attached to each forklift. Once installed, the system calculates the position of every forklift in the warehouse in real time and relays that position to a cloud server via Wi-Fi. From the cloud server, the railway company generates weekly forklift traffic reports illustrated as time-lapse heat maps, making it easier to predict where and when congestion is most likely to occur, so they can design solutions to alleviate the traffic jams.

In the SBB case, it took de Corso just a couple of hours to put the system in place and instruct the forklift drivers on how to use the system. After a successful pilot, the company rolled out forklift tracking to the rest of its warehouse sites. The year-long participation in the location of things project in four of its warehouses has saved the company several man hours per day and resulted in a complete return on its investment in just a few weeks, de Corso said.

For me it has been a great opportunity to visit the warehouses, and to see for myself how the movement of forklifts, goods and people is orchestrated. The more we learn about logistics and manufacturing, the more we’ve come to realize the incredible potential of IIoT.

In this case, location truly is the language of logistics.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.