REMONDIS & Rhenus: Smart Filling Level Checker Uses Laser and IoT

01.06.2022 by Annalena Rauen
Woman brings empty bottles to the used glass container

How waste disposal specialists REMONDIS and Rhenus use connected filling level sensors to perfect used glass container and data protection bin pick-up services.

Over a meter tall with a capacity of 250 liters in polished aluminum, the data protection container, an office environment classic, is usually overlooked. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of data protection bins on wheels in German office corridors and copier rooms. They store confidential paper documents securely until they are collected for disposal and destruction.

Disposal, but GDPR-compliant

Companies must dispose in conformity with data protection regulations of business documents and documents containing sensitive data such as company secrets, personal data, bank account details, contracts and job applications that they no longer want to keep, and paper documents must be shredded to a specific maximum size. Waste disposal service providers like Rhenus offer this process as a professional service, providing data protection containers for documents destined for destruction that they collect at regular intervals.


 

That is a task performed by Rhenus Data Office. The document logistics service provider from Westphalia provides customers with data protection bins, collects them and disposes of their contents in compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (see Info box). This process was long conducted on a regular schedule, and that was where Rhenus saw scope for optimization. Some containers were only half full while at other locations they were full to the brim with documents stacked next to them on the floor. The existing option was far from ideal. A customer’s employee had to keep an eye on the filling level and call Rhenus in time to request collection of the full bin. That in turn required Rhenus to set up a call center to handle calls.

Smart Data Bin With a Wireless Transmitter

What Rhenus lacked was automatic notification of the filling levels of its data protection containers. The digital filling level checkers available were too expensive for use in large numbers – over 100,000 data bins. And they mostly used energy-intensive ultrasonic technology that required frequent battery replacement. The solution was to digitize the collection process, for which Rhenus developed jointly with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) and Telekom at the Fraunhofer Enterprise Labs (see Info box) a low-cost filling level checker.

Fraunhofer Enterprise Labs

The Fraunhofer Enterprise Labs are a joint research facility for industry and science founded in Dortmund in 2013 by the Fraunhofer IML, Rhenus, Telekom, Commerzbank, the European Pallet Association (EPAL), Dachser Logistics, DB Schenker and the Würth Group. Another result of this research is, for example, the Low Cost Tracker that EPAL and Telekom developed to monitor pallets.

Rhenus fixes the filling level checker to the underside of the bin’s lid. The sensor is directed toward the interior and records the filling level by laser. There are various levels, such as half full, 60 percent, 80 percent. The device’s wireless module is on the outside of the sensor. The module relays the filling level via the NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) machine and sensor network. This mobile network standard for the Internet of Things (IoT) is designed to save energy as it transmits small amounts of data. As a result, subject to transmission frequency, the wireless module can run for several years on a standard commercial battery. In addition, NB-IoT transmits data reliably from warehouses or data archives in basements.

All Bins at a Glance

The filling level checker relays the reading as required, either at predefined intervals or in accordance with the level, to Deutsche Telekom’s IoT Cloud. There the customer can specify the site, the floor or the office where each bin is located and which wireless module is assigned to it in Rhenus’s SAP system. By linking the ERP system with the cloud platform’s dashboard the logistics enterprise’s operator can, for example, group all containers by customer or location and check the filling level of each bin and the battery status of the module. Alarms can also be defined, such as a first notification at a filling level of 60 percent and a second at 80 percent. Alarms are sent automatically by e-mail or via the application’s API interface to the service provider’s ERP backend. Pick-up vehicle routes can be optimized. Locations are only visited if their bins are really full.


 

“The newly developed filling level sensor transforms our data bins into smart security containers and optimizes collection as required by our customers.”

– Michael Wiegmann, Managing Director Rhenus Data Office


 

This process automation makes personal notification of the filling level, and with it the operation of a call center, superfluous. A further advantage is that if the containers are collected before they overflow, data protection is ensured. Rhenus can use the sensor data to plan pick-ups and disposals precisely. The IoT platform provides the data in a user-friendly way and connectivity enables the waste disposal company to offer an improved service. If the bin is full the collection service will be there to collect it. Too early or too late pick-ups are a thing of the past. The all-inclusive solution, consisting of device, connectivity, IoT platform and service, is designed to be inexpensive and thereby suitable for large-scale use. After a successful test phase Rhenus aims to equip 100,000 data bins with sensors.

Benefits of the Smart Filling Level Checker


  • It is universally and simply usable by plug-and-play
  • Optimizes and documents pick-up processes
  • Low costs and a fixed price ensure costing certainty
  • NB-IoT technology provides a high level of building penetration
  • Robust hardware and IP55 protection class for industrial suitability
  • Long service life without maintenance or battery replacement
  • A user-friendly IoT platform easily integrated into backend systems

The filling level checker system can be applied in many industries and to many materials: containers of industrial liquids, grain silos in agriculture, trash cans at truck stops, letter boxes. Or used glass containers.

Glass Container, Please Report!

REMONDIS, one of the world’s largest service providers in the recycling and waste disposal industry and, like Rhenus, a member of the Rethmann Group, has optimized the collection schedules of its used glass containers with the IoT solution. REMONDIS used to empty used glass containers in cities and municipalities at regular intervals irrespective of how full they were. On average they were only 60 percent full at pick-up. That led to superfluous collections and additional fuel consumption as a crane arm emptied the contents of containers into the pick-up truck. At busy times, in contrast, containers were too full and bottles were left alongside the containers – a potential cause of accidents and injuries, not to mention environmental pollution.

Continuous Filling Level Measurement

REMONDIS equipped its used glass containers with laser filling level sensors and got a grip on these problems. Thanks to IoT it can now optimize its route planning. Containers are emptied as required on the basis of the latest filling level data and are now, on average, 90 percent full when they are emptied. So the pick-up vehicles with their gas-guzzling cranes can be put to much more effective use, and that means a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. “We are totally satisfied with the Telekom solution, which is worthwhile for us in several respects,” says Arne Brosch, Managing Director of REMONDIS Olpe GmbH. “Together with our local authority partners and customers we all benefit from the reduction in emissions.”

Glass Recycling – Our Contribution to the Circular Economy

On average, every bottle in Germany consists of around 60 percent recycled glass, and in the case of green glass up to 90 percent. People drop used glass into about 300,000 used glass containers around Germany, making an active contribution to saving natural resources and energy and to a high recycling rate. There are different containers for different kinds of glass and separate chambers in the pick-up vehicles for green, white and brown glass. The glass is sorted again, broken up, melted down at a glassworks and finally made into a new bottle. Only certain kinds of glass are suitable for the container, such as bottles and jars for beverages, cosmetics and food. Read here what not to drop into a container.

The labor input was reduced too, enabling REMONDIS to better offset the growing shortage of drivers. And there is less unpleasant and labor-intensive overspill at container sites. A further advantage is manipulation-proof automated documentation of reports and emptying times. Thanks to NB-IoT the wireless modules are inexpensive to manufacture and energy-saving in operation so that they continue to function, requiring no maintenance, throughout the service life of the glass container. So thanks to IoT REMONDIS can offer its customers a more efficient pick-up service.


 

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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.