Industrial companies must continuously break new grounds to innovation and efficiency. In doing so, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is considered a digital success story. However, many businesses with extensive factory premises or hazardous areas – due to a lack of economic options, compatibility or certifications – are not integrated in the modern information and data flow. Business critical assets are insufficiently managed and monitored, or are very costly to locate. The beacon technology now has the potential to fundamentally improve how businesses operate and manage assets by connecting people, sectors, assets, and systems in the industry.
"Translating the technical progress into practice is a challenge", says Dr. Holger Schlüter, Associate Director IoT/Industry 4.0 at Lufthansa Industry Solutions. "Independent of their industry, businesses share the same challenge: they must design their entire value chain to reduce costs while simultaneously increasing productivity and efficiency. The management, tracking and localization of assets plays an important role in this." Lufthansa Industry Solutions therefore relies on the Loc-Ex® 01 BLE-Beacons from ecom for hazardous areas ATEX / IECEx Zone 1 (Loc-Ex 01) and for non-hazardous areas (Loc 01 HC & Loc 01 SC).
Putting innovative technologies to profitable use
Lufthansa Industry Solutions, together with ecom, enables companies to put IIoT-solutions to profitable use. "We see ourselves as a 'hinge' between business and technology," says Holger Schlüter. "Many industrial companies are looking for economically viable answers and solutions to capture location as well as tracking and sensor data." Lufthansa Industry Solutions was therefore looking to integrate a new solution into its IIoT-portfolio that is also suitable for hazardous areas.
Important criteria were high precision, low battery consumption as well as certified explosion protection and the integration into a digitization strategy. When selecting a suitable provider, Lufthansa quickly took advantage of the explosion-proof, wirelessly interlinked solution portfolio (smartphones, tablets, beacons, peripherals as well as apps and software) from ecom as part of the Pepperl + Fuchs Group. "With the Loc-Ex® 01 BLE-Beacons from ecom we are on the safe side. Common localization solutions are often restricted to location data. Loc-Ex 01® BLE-Beacons on the other hand, provide an exceptionally cost-effective and largely maintenance-free option to collect data from assets and connect them to back-end systems, which is unique in the market", highlights Schlüter.
Real-time solution for close range localization
The real-time localization system was specifically developed for the accurate close range localization of objects. By attaching small Bluetooth beacons, assets become intelligent, localizable objects, which can provide arbitrary information, such as temperature or fill level, and even respond to events such as keystroke, brightness, shock or positional change. Apart from the spatial information, additional information about local process parameters is transferred in real time. The Bluetooth 4.1 standard ensures that the beacons are compatible with both currently popular as well as hazardous area explosion-proof tablets and smartphones. Thus, they are forming a comprehensive system for any digitization strategy. In addition, the beacons do not strain the company WLAN or consume any of the often scarcely available IP addresses by bridging the "last mile" with Bluetooth and only transmitting the data to the backend system at a central location.
"We can configure our Bluetooth-Low-Energy-Beacons Loc 01 and Loc-Ex® 01 specifically to our customer's needs", says Paulo Jorge de Almeida, System Engineer Mobile Computing at ecom. "The Bluetooth beacons can control devices through the built-in back channel or act as a signaling device, so the desired object can be more easily identified. The Quuppa Intelligent Locating System™, which uses the angle-of-arrival technology, is employed. The horizontal and vertical angles between the locators and the beacons are determined simultaneously. A two-dimensional localization with an accuracy within a few centimeters is possible with only one locator. At least two beacons are required for a localization in 3D space.
The key benefits of using beacon technology
The beacon technology offers Lufthansa Industry Solutions distinct advantages: Compared to other geo-location technologies, the beacons provide a high degree of precision and accuracy along all three axes. Due to the long range of up to 300 meters in open space, the costs for monitoring large areas can be kept low and the desired localization accuracy can be varied by the number of locators installed. In addition, neighborhood relations and alarms can be defined, for example, if dangerous goods are to collide or be stored side by side. Also the insensitivity to signal strength fluctuations is a significant advantage over conventional Bluetooth-based localization technologies.
Another advantage is the low battery consumption. Due to the energy-saving Bluetooth standard Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a battery change – even at the highest transmission power – is only necessary after several years. Applications which have the ability to be beacon powered, have minimal impact on the devices’ battery life. Mobile apps can also pick up beacon signals on which a stable Internet connection is not available and store data locally on the device. When re-accessing the corporate network, the backend system is immediately updated.
Localization both outdoor and indoor
Since tracking by GPS inside buildings is difficult due to obstruction of the required satellite signal, an alternative technology is necessary for indoor localization. Bluetooth beacons have an interior range of approximately 10 to 30 meters. Thus it is very rapidly and easily possible to locate the specific location of a person. The number of beacons required for this depends on the area in question and the desired accuracy of the location to be reached.
The signal transmitted by the beacons can be received by a suitable software app installed on the mobile device of the mobile worker. This allows for the distance to the beacon to be calculated. As soon as the mobile worker is within reach of a second or further beacon, the location can be determined relatively precisely, depending on the location method. Even three-dimensional positioning is possible with Bluetooth beacons. That is to say, it is also possible to specify the floor on which a person or object is situated and can be forwarded to the central navigation system of the control center.
Bluetooth beacons are perfect for locating, tracking and managing business-critical assets. They combine digital and physical data into a single, unified business intelligence unit. "Even though only a high-level reference architecture exists for the Industrial Internet of Things, as to say there is no industry standard, the Loc-Ex 01 BLE-Beacons from ecom have established themselves as an accepted asset tracking and localization solution in hazardous areas that can also be integrated into any system. And especially when it came to adapting to specific requirements, ecom advised us comprehensively and provided us with various thought-out customized solutions", sums up Dr. Holger Schlüter, Associate Director IoT / Industry 4.0 at Lufthansa Industry Solutions.