Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Deutsche Telekom puts 500 smart pallets into operation

Steve Rogerson
October 16, 2018

Deutsche Telekom, the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow & Logistics (Fraunhofer IML) and the European Pallet Association (Epal) have put 500 intelligent pallets into real-life operation.
Cargo losses and delays are two of the two perennial challenges facing the supply chain business. Theft of shipments costs the business billions of euros every year. The absence or inaccuracy of information means that 30 per cent of all shipments fail to reach their destination on time.
Smart networked pallets are the latest nuggets in the supply chain. Deutsche Telekom, Fraunhofer IML and Epal will show the latest standardised pallets at this week’s International Supply Chain Conference in Berlin. In future, businesses will be in a position to monitor the movements of their goods on water, rail and asphalt using smart pallets.
“With the introduction of smart pallets, Epal is entering a new era,” said Ingo Mönke, chairman of the German branch of Epal. “The decisive factor in our decision to participate was the need to secure our investment through the quality and availability of data. Only with such information at our fingertips can we reliably offer our customers added value and a robust business model.”
The small, inexpensive tracker was developed in Deutsche Telekom’s Open IoT Labs at Fraunhofer IML. It was there too that the trackers were embedded into 500 of Epal’s pallets. The tracker can detect its own position, as well as being able to track any movements, impacts and changes in temperature.
As well as its location, the waterproof sensor detects impacts, inclination, acceleration forces and the temperature of each pallet. The pallet reports its status whenever there is a deviation from plan, such as if it senses any unexpected shaking or temperature fluctuations. It passes data updates automatically back to a dedicated portal.
“We’ve developed the low-cost tracker specifically with Epal in mind as one of our first customers,” said Ingo Hofacker, the manager responsible for IoT business at Deutsche Telekom. “They have more than 500 million pallets circulating around Europe alone. That represents huge potential for the digitalisation of the supply chain.”
The tracker’s robust and compact design makes it easy to embed into virtually any load carrier. Data exchange takes place using Deutsche Telekom’s NB-IoT network for machines and sensors.
Among the benefits of NB-IoT technology are its low energy consumption, its low cost and its penetration through buildings. It has a battery life of up to ten years. On top of all that, it uses licensed spectrum and 3GPP standardisation to give the system security conforming to LTE norms.
“The low-cost tracker makes load carriers smart, allowing us to extract nuggets of data gold for the supply chain industry,” said Michael ten Hompel, head of the Fraunhofer IML. “That’s set to be their decisive advantage against the competition in the supply chain industry. If the technology is going to be capable of scaling up into the billions, a worldwide standard involving a secure certification and authentication mechanism is going to be essential – using SIM cards, for example – along with a long-term guarantee of stable networks, competitive tariffs and flat rates. And the only technology that can achieve that at the moment is NB-IoT.”