Sigfox keeps post moving and beer flowing

  • November 30, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

Sigfox is helping keep the post moving in Austria and the beer flowing in Australia and New Zealand following deals with Austrian Post and keg rental company Konvoy Group.

Austrian Post is a logistics and postal service provider in Austria. Sigfox is helping the company gain visibility of roller containers across its 2000 sites and also customer sites. Austrian Post has set a target to track its entire roller container inventory by 2021.

For more than two years, the Austrian Post searched for a commercially acceptable way to track and determine the status of its roller containers, since understanding their whereabouts could lead to significant reductions in losses.

The organisation uses two container types, for letters and parcels, each worth a few hundred euros. Buffering only one roller container more than necessary in its 2000 sites has a drastic impact in investment of roller containers.

The main issues Austrian Post faced during its search were the cost of trackers, typically at €100 to €200 each, and the lack of existing network infrastructure. Alternative methods required the postal firm to set up a supplementary communications infrastructure on site. However, due to complex installation and with many of the roller containers located at customer sites, this was not viable.

Austrian Post was introduced to Sigfox by DHL, a company that already benefits from tracking technology. Across 35 DHL parcel centres throughout Germany and adjacent countries, more than 250,000 roll cages are fitted with Sigfox smart trackers, from Alps Alpine, providing exact information about location and movement.

The Austrian Post implementation started with 500 roller containers, growing to 5000 trackers by the end of November and due to reach 30,000 by the end of 2020. The remaining roller containers will be fitted with trackers in 2021.

The ramp up coincides with the high season for postal services from September to January, when roller containers are in demand. Through proactive management of its inventory, Austrian Post will be in a position to optimise roller container usage at a critical part of the year.

Sigfox’s Austrian network operator Heliot has been working closely with Austrian Post. Heliot, in collaboration with Alps Alpine, provided low-energy and low-cost trackers connected to the Sigfox global 0G network. Heliot owns and operates the Sigfox 0G network in Austria, with a target of nearing full coverage by the end of 2023.

“Asset tracking in supply chain and logistics is key strength and focus for Sigfox,” said Glen Robinson, senior vice president at Sigfox. “We have recognised a significant challenge many industries face in creating visibility across widely dispersed and often fragmented supply chains. With visibility comes understanding, optimisation and competitive advantage. Sigfox, Heliot and Alps Alpine are delighted to be able to partner with Austrian Post, who joins our other postal customers like DHL in Germany, An Post in Ireland, Posti in Finland and others who are using Sigfox low power tracking on the world’s first and largest 0G network. Our technology is purpose built for IoT, connecting autonomous objects that have no access to power of IT support.”

A benefit for Austrian Post is in the fact that the network coverage reaches well beyond Austrian borders, as many of the roller containers travel to Germany, Czech Republic and other European countries. Supported by the Sigfox network, Austrian Post will be able to track roller containers internationally.

“Tracking our assets will make a profound difference to our business, and the Sigfox 0G network coupled with the low-energy tracker with a long battery life meets our business requirements perfectly,” said Mathias Flandorfer, a manager at Austrian Post. “As we fit more roller containers with the new tracking technology, simultaneously the Sigfox network will expand towards full coverage across Austria. This is an exciting prospect as potential future use cases are really endless, for example fleet optimisation, understanding if post boxes contain mail for collection and lots of other innovative IoT use cases which help us in increasing efficiency and quality.”

Konvoy Group, an Australian keg rental provider for the beverage industry, has deployed keg tracking and monitoring IoT across its 70,000-strong fleet of kegs in Australia and New Zealand.

The beacon technology allows Konvoy and its customers to reduce keg losses, while increasing the use of its keg fleet. To roll out this world’s first large scale connected beer-keg system, Konvoy is leveraging Thinxtra’s Sigfox 0G network.

Konvoy’s ambition was to make keg supply chain management easier, with one of the main challenges a lack of visibility of its fleet. Although scanning technology – RFID, barcodes and QR codes – was an important step in keg location, scans were often missed, resulting in lost kegs and incomplete tracking data.

To address the problem of lost kegs, protect their customers’ bottom line and differentiate themselves in the keg rental market, Konvoy partnered with IoT telco Thinxtra and IoT provider UnaBiz to develop purpose-fit tracking and monitoring. This runs on Sigfox’s global 0G network which is owned and operated by Thinxtra in Australia and New Zealand.

“When we first met Thinxtra, we already had a precise idea of what we were looking for,” said Adam Trippe-Smith, managing director of Konvoy Group. “It needed to be robust, low-cost and last a minimum of five years. More than anything, we wanted to offer real-time information and high-visibility to producers and keg rental companies on their keg fleet and enable them to not only reduce loss but also optimise keg use.”

Konvoy worked with UnaBiz to design and manufacture Sigfox-enabled tracking that makes operational and economic sense.

“Konvoy’s go-to-market urgency was a challenge,” said Philippe Chiu, CTO of UnaBiz. “As a complete IoT business provider, on top of hardware development and mass production, we knew it was important to make data accessible to Konvoy as soon as possible. To value-add to hardware, the team also created a mobile application Konvoy and its partners now use throughout the chain for provisioning and pairing the beacon and kegs to accelerate the deployment of Kegfox. The ease of use and access to live location data are what will help Konvoy define its position in the keg rental market.”

The Kegfox beacon, a battery-powered passive tracking device, is programmed to send location data to Konvoy via Thinxtra’s Sigfox 0G network at regular intervals or upon specific events. Thanks to the low-power consumption of the 0G network, the beacon can last up to seven years transmitting location and temperature information several times a day without the need for frequent maintenance. On top of tracking, an accelerometer was built-in with algorithms to detect different types of movement throughout the keg’s lifecycle, such as when the kegs are moved or cleaned.

The beacon technology may offer benefits to other keg owners so, as of 2021, the company’s new business division, Katch Asset Tracking, will offer this to other keg owners globally. This will allow all keg owners to track the real-time location of kegs to ensure efficient keg collection.

A keg is normally used around three to four times per year. The technology gives Konvoy Group’s rental business along with other kegs owners the opportunity to optimise existing assets and use kegs more times per year. Additionally, the Kegfox beacon enables Konvoy’s customers including well-known craft breweries Moon Dog, Fixation, Parrot Dog and Hawkers to monitor the temperature of kegs, ensuring their beverages meet quality guidelines.

“While we focused initially on tracking, this has given us the opportunity to also monitor the kegs’ temperature,” said Trippe-Smith. “Because most of the producers have unpasteurised beverages, leaving a keg at too high a temperature actually spoils the product. Being able to send an alert to our customer saying their keg has been transported at the right temperature is an important benefit for them.”

Today, Konvoy has more than 200 keg rental customers and has fitted 20,000 devices on its own kegs and is expecting to equip 95% of its fleet in Australia and New Zealand by the end of the year.

“We are passionate about accelerating the adoption of mass IoT for asset tracking and monitoring, such as beer kegs, in the supply chain to achieve greater efficiencies and value for customers,” said Anthony Stewart, sales manager at Thinxtra. “Our job is to make sure they are connecting anywhere in Australia and New Zealand. It is fantastic to see Konvoy scaling so fast and even expand globally. It is a great example of what can be achieved today in short timeframes. We see the wider industry adopting IoT more and more as customers simply demand the visibility and efficiency outcomes that can be achieved.”

Ian Terblanche, senior vice president at Sigfox, added: “Once again, the global Sigfox 0G network helps clients across the globe to meet the demand for both innovative and affordable connectivity. It is the perfect match for the exciting field of keg tracking and monitoring.”