Deployed at Deutsche Post DHL Facilities Throughout Germany

Logistics Asset Tracking System

Ten Years Without Charging – Our Role Behind a Remote Monitoring System Deployed Across Germany

The 5G age is upon us and the world is embracing the Internet of Things (IoT), exploring applications in many different domains. Alps Alpine is developing its own IoT solutions, harnessing technologies and expertise relating to sensors, actuators and communication modules. Projects within the industrial equipment sector include an analog meter remote monitoring system, a worker condition monitoring system for factories and construction sites, and a predictive maintenance solution for machinery and motor pumps.
One Alps Alpine solution addresses challenges in logistics, an industry which is vital to the economy. We teamed up with Sigfox S.A. of France and KYOCERA Communication Systems Co., Ltd. of Japan to create a remote monitoring system for logistics asset tracking that has been adopted by Deutsche Post DHL Group, the global leader in international transportation and logistics.

Watch: Brief introduction to our Remote Monitoring System for Logistics

The Issue: Overconcentration and Loss of Logistics Assets

The explosion of e-commerce has led to freight all over the world being transported in smaller lots and on tighter deadlines, immensely complicating management of all the roll cages, pallets and other logistics assets helping to transport the freight efficiently. The industry wants solutions. Each year, roughly 10 percent of all roll cages and pallets go missing and many operators, while aware of those losses, have been unable to determine what has happened to them.
Freight volumes vary a lot with the seasons and at certain times of the year and logistics assets, too, must be ready to go to keep pace with demand fluctuations. A shortage of assets during a period of peak demand would increase the risk of delayed deliveries. But if it were possible to pinpoint the location of assets and manage them efficiently, both profit and business efficiency would get a boost.

Remote Monitoring System with an Original Communication Method

Utilizing IoT technology, Alps Alpine and its partners jointly developed a remote monitoring system realizing efficient management of logistics assets. This type of system has been attempted before, making use of GPS and 3G technology to track assets. However, around 90 percent of logistics assets are found indoors, out of reach of GPS signals being used to locate them. Other obstacles were high communication and equipment costs and short battery life. Not only that, it would be virtually impossible to replace or recharge batteries. Instead, batteries would have to be made to last around 10 years, the same as the life of an asset. Weather and shock resistance were other requirements.

Existing system based on GPS and 3G

Alps Alpine’s remote monitoring system for logistics – the Long-Lifetime Asset Tracker – employs the Sigfox Atlas Wi-Fi® service combining Sigfox’s low-power wide area (LPWA) communication technology with position information from Wi-Fi® access points.
When the Long-Lifetime Asset Tracker detects a specific event, such as an asset moving, it gathers two MAC addresses from the vicinity and sends them to a Sigfox base station, from where information is then sent to a cloud. It is at this point that position data will be relayed based on information received from multiple Sigfox base stations (Sigfox Atlas Native service). For even more detail, the MAC addresses obtained from the Wi-Fi® access points are checked against an online database to return even more accurate position information.
The system enables seamless, low-energy, low-cost indoor and outdoor positioning with accuracy down to around 50 meters. Another advantage over GPS is that positioning is faster.

Alps Alpine system based on Sigfox and Wi-Fi®

Alps Alpine Technology Enabling 10 Years Operation Without Charging

Alps Alpine possesses expertise relating to sensing of a range of parameters (including air pressure, temperature and humidity, and geomagnetism) and communication modules. We draw on this know-how and packaging technology while working closely with customers to develop prototypes that will withstand proof of concept and conduct comprehensive field tests. The Long-Lifetime Asset Tracker, for fitting to logistics assets, also underwent a lengthy process of prototype development and demonstration testing on the path to commercialization.

Example of a general-purpose sensor module for simplified proof of concept

To realize 10 years’ operation – the average number of years a logistics asset is used – without charging, communication frequency had to be kept to an average 1.5 times per day while not missing any movement of the assets being tracked. We set an algorithm to detect only those situations where assets loaded onto trucks moved at a certain speed over a certain period of time. Slight movements inside a warehouse were omitted, with the scope of detection narrowed down to actions under specific conditions and stationary status. During the demonstration testing stage of development, it was discovered that assets did in fact go missing. In many cases, assets accumulated in corners of the warehouse and other blind spots. Quickly finding and returning those assets to their normal routes is expected to lift their utilization rates and enable appropriate action during asset shortages in peak periods.
Because the Long-Lifetime Asset Tracker only tells users what they really need to know, the system achieves exceptionally low power consumption and efficient management of logistics assets.

Added Value for Logistics Operation Improvements

The Long-Lifetime Asset Tracker also supports cost reductions with price close to around one tenth the cost of a roll cage or pallet. Not only that, we are also working to generate added value aiding improvements to logistics operations. Installing this module enables not just positioning, but also timely sharing of progress updates, delivery errors and delivery notification between shippers and recipients, as well as analysis of usage data with business intelligence tools. We are also exploring provision of information for use as key performance indicators in improving business management. This could include data, from each facility, on asset turnover, asset locations and numbers, dormant assets, numbers of assets used at different times and on different weekdays, and monthly trends in numbers of assets used.

Dimensions of the Long-Lifetime Asset Tracker are a compact 140 × 50 × 25 millimeters for easy attachment to logistics assets. The module is weather-resistant, possessing an IP67 dust and water resistance rating. It also has a removal detection feature as a security consideration. Approximately 250,000 units of the Remote Monitoring System for Logistics incorporating this module have been supplied to Deutsche Post DHL facilities throughout Germany (as of August 2019). We also have our sights on worldwide deployment, starting in North America and Asia.

Customer Demands Met with Bold Move to Deduct Functionality

The Long-Lifetime Asset Tracker that Alps Alpine has developed as a Remote Monitoring System for Logistics is not a 24-hour, non-stop, high-detail positioning system. It is a product that can operate for 10 years without charging because functions have been limited to just the location of assets.
Product development usually involves adding elements in order to introduce new features or enhance specifications. In this case, however, the option available to the customer through careful deliberations is not addition, but deduction. By narrowing down performance and omitting functions, it was possible to achieve a good balance between fundamentally essential elements and cost, leading to realization of a groundbreaking solution.
In addition to our Remote Monitoring System for Logistics, Alps Alpine is developing IoT solutions for diverse markets, including the industrial equipment, infrastructure, offices and retail sectors. Our aim is to become a solutions provider helping to resolve the many different challenges faced by customers. We will innovate value through not only manufacturing activities, but also our actions and services.