Simply install it and get started: The IoT Service Button allows workers on the assembly line at BMW’s factory in Leipzig to easily order new supplies. The foundation for this Industry 4.0 technology is the wireless standard Narrowband-IoT.
Inside the BMW factory in the eastern Germany city of Leipzig, there’s a button the size of a one-euro coin ensuring that the assembly line is never short of materials – everything from the headlight sockets, door handles and gearshifts. It’s a huge help for the auto worker Paul Krube and his colleagues. When workers on the factory floor ordered new parts in the past, they had to walk off the line to call their colleagues in the warehouse causing regular production delays. The reason? It often could take several minutes to jot down all the necessary parts on the phone.
But these days, every supply shelf has an IoT Service Button stuck to it. When Krube notices, for example, that gearshifts are needed, he simply presses the relevant button. This, in turn, immediately sends the order to the transport and warehouse systems via the cloud. The colleagues in the warehouse can then quickly see which parts are missing, load the forklift and drive straight to the production line to replenish supplies. This allows Krube and his colleagues to concentrate on their assembly work without unnecessary delays.
JUST A PUSH OF A BUTTON AWAY: THE INDUSTRIAL INTERNET OF THINGS
Not matter if it’s on the assembly line, at construction sites, in hospitals or for the logistics sector: Just like at the BMW plant in Leipzig, the Service Button is already widely used by many companies across several industries. Deutsche Telekom developed the intelligent button together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) in Dortmund. “One clear advantage is that the button connects immediately to the Cloud of Things via NarrowBand IoT – without any installation drama each time or having to make a WiFi or Bluetooth connection,” says Professor Michael ten Hompel, the chair for materials handling and warehouse management at the University of Dortmund and director or the IML. The principle behind the button works on a simple plug-and-play basis: Customers attach the button to the location of their choice and can instantly start using it.
NARROWBAND IOT AS THE FOUNDATION OF INDUSTRY 4.0
Companies can instantly process the data generated by the buttons, for example, by integrating it into SAP systems or using it for analysis. Networking devices and machines is done via Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT). The advantage? Low energy requirements and excellent wireless coverage, ensuring transmission of information from high buildings, large factories and deep cellars.
It’s not just auto workers like Paul Krube set to benefit from the technology at BMW. The German carmaker is planning other projects based on NB-IoT: “We can imagine using this wireless standard to connect self-driving transportation systems and robotics applications,” says Sarah Fink, a project manager in the mobile device unit at the BMW Group.
NB-IoT is future-proof wireless technology, since it’s part of the new network standard 5G. “Narrowband-IoT is already today the first phase of the 5G network,” says Fraunhofer IML Director Michael ten Hompel. “We’ll still be using this wireless standard 20 years from now.”
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Digitization and the Internet of Things are among the favourite topics of Daniel Kunz. He has been with Deutsche Telekom since 2017 and regularly writes about technology trends and many exciting topics, especially for the retail trade and the logistics industry.