IoT and Bluetooth Beacons Make Construction Yard Digital

08.11.2021 by Annalena Rauen
Construction worker on a construction site.

Always know where your tools and machinery are. That’s the benefit the construction company Otto Heil derives from its digital asset management.

The concept that Deutsche Telekom and Otto Heil are using to take digitization forward in the construction industry is an IoT-assisted system with which the location of machinery, equipment and shell elements can be determined wirelessly and individual items can be managed comfortably over the Internet. The IT solution’s launch was even worth a visit for Digitization Minister Dorothee Bär and Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, as reported by the local news portal inFranken.de in mid-September.

The impulse for digital change at Otto Heil was triggered by an issue that preoccupies many companies in the construction industry. They often don’t know for sure where their machinery, equipment and other construction implements are in use. That is because when tools and equipment are needed at another site employees still often record the move in handwriting on delivery notes. That not only takes time; at times the records are incorrect or the notes are lost. And employees frequently only notice thefts once a project is concluded and the site is vacated. They have no prebvious real-time overview of on-site equipment.

Locating Excavators Made Easy

Otto Heil contacted Deutsche Telekom with a view to gaining a constant overview of the location of its tools and equipment on construction sites and in its own construction yard. The two companies developed a location solution based on a combination of the Internet of Things (IoT), Bluetooth beacons and a mobile app. Otto Heil attaches the beacons – tiny transmitters – to its tools, construction machinery and shell elements. Via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) they automatically send details of their location to the smartphones of site foremen and managers as soon as they are in the vicinity. In the app employees can then see with ease the deployment location of each registered device on a map. The app was developed by Deutsche Telekom partner Syfit. As the Bluettoth beacons are connected not only with smartphones but also with the cloud, employees on other sites or in Admin can access location data at all times. That makes planning perceptibly easier.

Employees are not always around on-site with smartphones to register BLE signals from beacons, however. To ensure, for example, that workshops do not become digital blind spots, Deutsche Telekom installs stationary hubs there. They receive Bluetooth beacon data and send it via a network connection to the cloud. Depending on the location, WiFi or LTE can serve the purpose.

Connected Comfortably and Cost-Efficiently

Digital transformation at Otto Heil is based mainly on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a variant of the Bluetooth wireless standard. In contrast to technologies such as barcodes or GPS, this solution is better suited for adverse conditions on construction sites. Dirty barcodes, for example, can be read reliably and with ease, and Bluetooth signals, unlike barcodes, register objects wirelessly. That saves time and is easier to do. Compared with GPS, Bluetooth Low Energy also offers much better value for money. That is definitely a relevant aspect given the large number of connected BLE devices that are now in use at the company.

Beacons are available for the construction company in different sizes that are suitable for construction machinery and for smaller tools. In particular, BLE technology requires very little power and Bluetooth transmitters’ batteries are guaranteed to run stably for years. And thanks to IP69k certification the beacons are shock-resistant and unaffected by dirt, damp, heat or frost. Otto Heil uses NFC tags on small devices for which the use of Bluetooth beacons would be uneconomical.

Digitization Replaces Paperwork

This smart IoT technology improves numerous processes within the company. First, digital asset tracking provides Otto Heil with certainty about the whereabouts of its machinery and equipment and whether it it is in use on a site or available in the construction yard or may have been stolen. “Nothing is lost,” Markus Söder noted at the presentation of the solution. And employees become more efficient. Instead of writing delivery notes they need only to be in the vicinity of the company’s machinery and equipment with their smartphones. Digital technology does the rest. “A whole lot of admin is no longer needed,” says Marco Wunderlich, head of IT at Otto Heil. That makes the solution popular with employees. Connected with the company’s new ERP system, it delivers transparency about when and for how long individual items of equipment have been in use. It makes inventories so much faster too.

For Otto Heil the new IoT solution is an important step in the direction of the future, and not only from the viewpoint of technology. Digitization is important as a way of making the company attractive for young recruits and specialists alike. Many young people in particular associate the construction industry with analog and inefficient working methods. “We want to be digital pioneers,” Wunderlich says, and Otto Heil is pursuing this objective consistently with Bluetooth beacons, the Internet of Things and a smartphone app.


 

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Annalena Rauen
Annalena Rauen

Marketing Managerin IoT

Back in 2016, Anna worked on IoT topics at Deutsche Telekom for the first time. Since then, she has been supporting customer best practices in a wide range of industries – always focusing on the benefits that the Internet of Things can provide. Her IoT blogposts describe real use cases and the value these innovations add to market players, their business models, and even entire industries.