While smart cities might be the obvious manifestation of large-scale IoT, numerous asset intensive industries are also pushing ahead with implementations, particularly in mining and logistics.
One company that has leapt ahead in its adoption of IoT is the Australian waste management and industrial services company, Toxfree, which has up to 600 vehicles on the road each day carrying thousands of assets such as waste bins. It is now using sensors and RFID tags to collect data about a large and ever-growing percentage of them.
Toxfree’s CIO, Josh Bovell, previously spent time working in BHP Billiton’s iron ore division, where he first saw the potential for using sensors in a mobile asset-based company to drive operational efficiency and improve safety.
“It’s really about the data you collect from your fleet,” Bovell says. “People are collecting data all over the world, but they are just stockpiling it. Translating that into real world operational change is where you get competitive advantage.”
Toxfree has implemented a Cisco backbone and communication platform to connect and monitor sensing data, with more than 100,000 sensors and tags have now been deployed across the company’s assets.
Bovell says Toxfree is making significant gains from the data collected. One recent example is at a small site in WA, where sensors have been deployed on ten collection vehicles to monitor movements in real time and provide access to systems such as engine data, with all bins fitted with RFID tags. This information is all integrated into a single communications platform.
The information is being used to calculate the optimum routes for each vehicle, including factoring in the long term wear and tear on the vehicles from each route.
“We can monitor and supervise and understand exactly what is happening with all aspects of that vehicle – brake pressure, oil temperatures, and how many lifts it is doing,” Bovell says. “We aggregate all that data, and at this one site we have taken 30 minutes a day off each of the ten vehicles.”
The company is now able to scale that learning up to a national level.
“We’re now at a point where there is the potential to reduce fuel consumption by between 5 to 25 per cent across the national fleet,” Bovell says. “And when you look at the numbers that is millions of dollars, as fuel is one of the biggest expenses in the company.
“There’s nothing we’re doing that’s ground-breaking, but what we are doing is aggregating all these well-known technologies like telemetry, RFID, and tracking containers from cradle to grave.”
Having aggregated data on every vehicle and load also provides Toxfree with a competitive advantage in customer service that Bovell says competitors can’t match, including delivering near-real time information on the location of their containers, their waste, and the state of processing.
Bovell says the company is also investigating use of IoT technology to improve safety, such as through disabling vehicle ignition until pre-start checks have been completed, along with the use of technology that detects driver fatigue.
The need for openness
While much of the discussion regarding IoT has focused on connecting the devices themselves, it is becoming clear that its real value is in the data they generate and the ability to share that amongst numerous potential beneficiaries.
The final factor Heydon says is needed to bring IoT projects to life is access to existing data sets to use alongside data sets created by new IoT deployments. Heydon says government data is critical to providing a complete picture for IoT implementations, as it provides a basis and context for data created by IoT deployments. But again Australia is lagging behind some parts of the world in terms of data openness.
“The thing that really matters her is the analytics and the data openness,” Heydon says. “Just gathering data from sensors is fairly boring unless you can do some good things with analytics and make the data sets sufficiently open that you can do clever things in the future with it.”
Data openness forms part of the mission for the Knowledge Economy Institute (KEi), being developed at the University of Technology Sydney. Founding CEO and UTS’ industry professor of IoT Michael Briers says KEi will be developing projects in conjunction with industry partners, with the intention of not locking down data for narrow commercial purposes, but will have a good chance of sharing data with the research community.
“It’s a case of trying to build a commercial value proposition but to amplify the benefits of the collection of the data to the research community,” Briers says. “We are still infants in this space, but we know that once this data comes online it will be like a tsunami. So what we are trying to do is get in on the ground floor and influence where this new internet of things goes.”
One of Australia’s longest-serving IoT researchers Ros Harvey is bringing this philosophy to her new start-up, the agribusiness sensing company, The Yield. Initially focused on using sensors to better understand pollution levels in oyster farms, The Yield will make its data available through the KEi.
“I think IoT holds enormous potential to really change the way we create knowledge, how we understand the world around us, and how we can more effectively use resources,” Harvey says.
“But it is still in its infancy in terms of business models and making sure it is user-driven and delivering value. And there is just so much more to be done on that.
“We will come up with ways of socialising it, but it will only happen when the Internet of Things is led by people focusing on real business problems for real people that create a value proposition that will get real uplift.”
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