Smart Logistics A Constant Eye on the Product

The condition of freight on a truck used to be the last great unknown in logistics processes. With the "deTAGtive logistics" data platform, Openmatics, the connectivity specialist of ZF Services, has found a solution to this problem. It is based on the proven Bluetooth technology used in smartphones.

Michael Burkhart is standing in front of the truck, checking the loaded transmission components with a glance at his tablet. "Looking good," says ZF Services' technical project manager of "deTAGtive" without even looking up. And he doesn't have to because he can easily track the freight's condition, just like that. This is enabled by the "deTAGtive logistics" data platform and the corresponding Bluetooth smart tags. The tags are high-power monitoring specialists and can be attached to the load carriers as they have a ground area smaller than a business card. With the help of integrated acceleration, temperature and light sensors they measure their environment and transfer the data directly to Burkhart's tablet. Three different tags are available: The basic variant enables location information and identification, meaning the entire route taken by a pallet can be shown on a map. Variant 2 shows additional information about acceleration and jolts, temperature and light, while the third variant also measures air humidity. The tags can be used for up to five years before the button cell's power is depleted.

Watch this video to see how "deTAGtive logistics" works and how it is tested in field trials.

Tracking the complete supply chain

Since November 2015, ZF has been testing the smart logistics concept in the internal movement of goods between two plants at the company's headquarters in Friedrichshafen. Hollow and turbine shafts for the EcoLife automatic bus transmission are transported from production directly to the assembly line, where they are subsequently installed. "This is the ideal use case for us," explains Burkhart. "We are on site and can monitor the 2.5 kilometer distance anytime. Still, we map the complete supply chain: from the rack through the forklift truck and truck right up to the delivery to the assembly line."

In order to test the tags' sensitivity, the limit values for vibrations are kept extremely low in field trials – even though the forklift truck is very careful when lifting the load carrier with transmission components onto the truck.

Attached to the load carriers, the smart tags are always exposed to the same environmental conditions as the transmission components. In the event of temperature changes, shocks or wrong lighting conditions, the sensors installed in the tag transfer the data to the integrated chip first, which immediately forwards the data and tag ID to a mobile device via Bluetooth. If no mobile device is available on site, the data is transferred to the stationary tag finders, which are installed along the route of transport, while passing by or to the Openmatics connectivity unit installed in the vehicle. All recorded data is stored in a cloud, processed and can be retrieved and managed from there.

The last great unknown

The condition of freight on a truck used to be the last great unknown in logistics processes. Once the freight was loaded, neither the driver nor the forwarder or customer knew what shape the goods were in during transport. This could only be determined with certainty once the trailer was opened or the goods were further processed. Supply bottlenecks or production downtimes due to missing parts were the time-consuming and expensive consequences.

Everything in view: If the previously defined limit value is exceeded due to a jolt during transport, for instance, the Bluetooth smart tag transmits the incident to the mobile device. All that needs to be done is install an app beforehand.

Unlimited opportunities

The cloud computing platform Microsoft Azure is the technological basis of "deTAGtive logistics." It manages the tags' connectivity, stores, analyzes and visualizes data. In principle, the smart tags may also become an interesting business model for non-road applications: "In the future we will use Openmatics across the entire product portfolio for predictive diagnostics and predictive maintenance concepts," says Thomas Rösch, Managing Director of Openmatics. Such a model, which is used to "predict" the ideal time for maintenance work on wind turbine gearboxes, was presented by ZF at the Hanover Industrial Trade Fair. It is the Group's answer to the growing trend of digitization: "With the Bluetooth smart tags, we would also like to focus on stationary industrial applications or mobile applications in the construction industry and agriculture." Moreover, the tags could be used in security systems to localize people in sensitive areas, for example. In a nutshell: There are no limits in sight for the application of this attractive solution.

Always up to date: The tag finders installed on the load carriers transmit the data to the cloud via the connectivity unit.

Openmatics

Openmatics from ZF Services has been offering tailor-made connectivity products since 2010. The company behind the product brand is Openmatics s.r.o., a subsidiary of ZF that was established in Pilsen, Czech Republic. It offers an open telematics platform that is independent from both the industry and automotive and component manufacturers. As a basis for the smooth exchange of information between operator, planner, driver and vehicle, it improves the management, cost-effectiveness and safety of bus, coach and truck fleets. Its core component is the compact connectivity unit, which acts as a communication gateway for internal and external data in the vehicle. The special advantage of the open platform: Its range of services can be individually defined and expanded at will via apps. Also, engineering products and customer services are developed based on the telematics platform.

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