The Next Generation of IoT
MHD sits down with IoT leader Loic Barancourt, CEO and Co-Founder of Thinxtra, to find out more about the latest technology that is set to transform supply chains across Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
Twenty years ago the term Internet of Things (IoT) was coined by a British technology pioneer named Kevin Ashton.
Kevin was working at Procter & Gamble’s research and development department in Surrey, England on a project that used radio frequency and sensors on products across the supply chain to generate data about where the products were, whether they had been scanned, whether they were on a shelf or sold.
Fast-forward to today, and there are now billions of physical devices around the world connected to the internet.
According to TechJury, there are expected to be more than 64 billion IoT devices worldwide by 2025. Furthermore, IoT has the potential to generate $5 trillion to $15 trillion in economic value by 2025 and the main revenue driver for 54 per cent of IoT projects is cost savings.
While IoT is revolutionising the way that we connect with and utilise technology, Loic Barancourt, CEO and Co-Founder of IoT Telco Thinxtra, says this technology is not just about the smart watch or the smart fridge.
“The perception of IoT is that it’s consumer play – the smart watch, the smart goods in the home. But this technology is revolutionising so many industries,” he says.
Loic is a pioneer and leader of IoT technology and is on a mission to solve operational inefficiencies and sustainability challenges with this technology.
After leading some of Australia’s first strategic IoT initiatives in the utilities, health and transport sectors at NetComm Wireless and Sagemcom, Loic discovered first-hand that in order to improve business on a large-scale, the market needed a next generation of IoT connectivity that the existing Telcos were not equipped to service properly.
In 2015, Loic co-founded Thinxtra. “We founded Thinxtra with the view to becoming the IoT Telco. Our mission is to bring the next generation of IoT network infrastructure to Australia to enable businesses to connect their assets and become more efficient by making them work smarter,” he says.
Working with its international partner Sigfox, Thinxtra deployed and owns the Sigfox 0G Network covering Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Macau.
Compared to the more commonly known 3G, 4G or 5G networks, the Thinxtra 0G Network offers a much more cost-effective way to track assets. “In the industrial world, IoT and 5G are associated a bit too much. Of course, you can do smart things with 5G – facial recognition through CCTV, remote surgery, real-time drone control etc. But 0G is more about small data and tracking assets cost-effectively,” Loic says.
Thinxtra’s 0G Network, dedicated to IoT applications, presents a major opportunity for those in the supply chain.
“The opportunity that this kind of low-cost, low-power connectivity brings to the supply chain is helping to improve visibility and control to supply chain managers and operations managers who would benefit from knowing more about what is going on with their assets in the field. Basically, it’s about making assets such as roll-cages, IBCs, ULDs, kegs, or even pallets work harder and smarter in your supply chain,” Loic says.
Less is More
Visibility and control are two of the main aims in supply chain management and Loic says in order to get there with technology, the first step is to think about what you really need to measure and understand.
“If you want to know that at 8am at any given depot you have 15 roll cages available so you can process and deliver all the parcels you need to in your network that day, then you only need to use small data that is extracted from your roll cages maybe once or twice a day,” he says.
This approach is very different to the big data approach, when you need to know where everything is at any given time.
“What you really need to make better decisions in your supply chain can be captured in only a couple of messages a day from your assets,” Loic says.
When you break the technology down to what is really needed, it becomes a very cost-effective solution and with some assets in the supply chain costing as little as $200, it’s important that any tracking technology is cost-effective.
“With our 0G Network, we have totally disrupted this space in terms of price point. If you think small data, you can really make the business case stack up,” Loic says.
A recent global example of this technology delivering transparency and efficiency gains can be seen with a 0G-enabled tracking project deployed by DHL, one of the world’s largest logistics providers.
More locally, a partnership between Loscam and Active Supply Chains Asia Pacific (ASCAP) is revolutionising the high-value packaging rental market with a track and trace solution.
“The Loscam and ASCAP stories are inspiring examples of how industrial IoT can transform logistics. In our region, Thinxtra is working with many customers using IoT to improve supply chain resilience with fit-for-purpose, scalable solutions offering near real time visibility to control assets and make them work harder,” Loic says.
The tracking devices that are attached to assets and connected to the 0G Network, bring things alive and transmit information about location or conditions such as temperature, humidity or shock. This information is usually only required two or three times a day, which means that the battery in these tracking devices lasts up to seven years, in line with the lifecycle of, for example, a roll cage.
This creates a ‘set and forget’ situation where operations can just keep running without the need to maintain the tracking devices or the network. The relevant data just keeps coming for the life of the asset.
“Supply chain organisations can now know where all their returnable packaging solutions or assets are, every day with a business case that stacks up. It’s simple. It’s IoT at work. This is a great example of how small data can deliver big things,” Loic says.
Knowing where assets are not only decreases loss rates, but it also enables a much more efficient operation and better asset utilisation.
“If you don’t have the right container at the right place at the right time, it will disrupt your operations and impact the bottom line,” Loic says.
Once these opportunities for efficiencies and a reduction in loss starts to come together, the business case for IoT stacks up.
“If you simplify the approach and use small volumes of valuable data, it becomes very economical to enhance visibility and better monitor and control your assets. You remove friction across the supply chain, you no longer need to pick up the phone to find your lost assets such as IBCs or stillages, you know where they are,” Loic says.
As supply chains are put under more pressure, visibility and control will be crucial to better service customers. “You don’t need to send team members out with a clip board to count and find out where your assets are. You can do it all remotely and better utilise the workforce you have,” he adds.
Loic is excited about the fact that large scale industrial IoT adoption is growing rapidly in Australia. “We are past the ‘early adopter’ phase and are now working with many ‘fast followers’ to make sure they don’t miss out on this next generation of efficiencies. 0G connectivity in the supply chain is becoming mainstream. We will soon reach a stage where operations managers who have assets out in the field and who don’t know where they are nor how they are doing becomes the exception,” he says.
Thinxtra’s approach is technology agnostic – they offer connectivity solutions from 0G to 5G – depending on their clients’ needs. But in the supply chain – for non-powered distributed assets that need to ping less than 10 times a day, nine times out of 10, 0G is the right fit.
“With 0G, you sacrifice bandwidth to get a very long range and a very long battery life for your trackers. It doesn’t take much energy to send a message on the 0G Network so you can get a battery life of six to seven years, as opposed to a few months to a maximum of 3 years battery life on the 3G/4G networks with the same small batteries.” Loic adds.
The supply chain industry is today very familiar with RFID tracking technology, and this has largely been used to track assets that are low-cost. However, Loic says while RFID can create efficiencies, it relies on someone physically scanning the assets or assets going through a gate and will only give you information at the time of scanning. That leaves a lot of blind spots.
“The difference between RFID and IoT is that with IoT your supply chain can become scanless and frictionless. You do not need to rely on a person scanning the assets properly, IoT data is accessible remotely and just automatically communicates as many times a day as you want it to,” he says.