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Smart self-returning tool rental through IoT

Digitalization is transforming a wide range of industries and the construction tool rental business is no exception. Ericsson recently partnered with Europe's second-largest rental services company specializing in construction machinery and the global leading producer of outdoor power products to evaluate the feasibility and transformative potential of Internet-of-Things, cloud and data analytics for this industry.

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In the collaboration between Ericsson, Cramo and Husqvarna, we have designed, installed and evaluated a Proof-of-Concept prototype that enables an automated and more efficient return process of rented machines. We have also evaluated some key technologies such as BLE, LWM2M and IPv6.

Digitalizing the tool rental business

Availability of technologies in the area of Internet of Thing (IoT), cloud, and analytics, enable rental companies like Cramo to make the rental fleet more supportive to customers’ needs, as well as, streamlining their processes. For leading construction tool OEMs, like Husqvarna, there’s an opportunity to differentiate and provide additional services.

Streamlined process

Cramo has around 230,000 rental units and today, each one must be inspected and serviced every time they are returned to the depot after rental. Some inspection points require a lot of time from a mechanic, which makes the return process labour-intensive. In addition, there is a risk of over-servicing the machines when mechanics change parts that are not yet due for replacement.

“In the future, our customers will mostly use digital solutions to rent equipment. We believe this will speed up our service tremendously. If we can simplify our customers’ workflow, it will benefit both us and them”

- Martin Holmgren, Senior Vice President of Fleet Management at Cramo.

If the machine, at the time of return, could automatically send its identification and status to a central system, the return process could be automated for the bulk of the returned equipment. Read more about the project from Cramo’s perspective.

Proof-of-concept – architecture and technologies

 

We built a Proof of Concept (PoC) around a Husqvarna K760 Power Cutter, which automatically sends its status about some key items when it is returned to the depot. The inspection is then performed based on actual status of the power cutter.

Technology components were selected to target requirements on energy consumption, computation power, memory consumption, and light-weight device management. The PoC is based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for connectivity between the power cutter and the Ericsson developed Capillary Gateway (CGW); and 4G connectivity between the CWG and Ericsson’s IoT platform – hosting various cloud-based services such as machine device management, CGW management, and machine analytics. The IPv6-based Light Weight M2M (LWM2M) protocol is utilized for device management and device information transport. The machine analytics functionality analyzes data from the power cutter and provides recommendations to Cramo regarding the state of the machine – such as whether it needs to be serviced or not. The overall system architecture is shown below.

We quickly realized that BLE will be one of the key technologies for future IoT applications. Although the data rate is rather low, up to 1-2 Mbps including overhead, the energy performance is impressive, resulting in long battery lifetime. However, the low data rate is not the best choice for large data volumes, which should be avoided. A machine being rented out for a long time obviously has a large volume of data logged. As an option to uploading this big log from the machine, the data could be analyzed on the machine itself (i.e. instantiating a light-weight version of the machine analytics function in the power cutter) and report the summary back to the CGW. This we call Quick Check, and it allows mechanics to service the customer quickly, followed by more-detailed reporting by the machine to provide further input with regards to the degree of service required.
The emerging NB-IoT technology would allow more frequent data upload, and future 5G networks will reduce the time to upload also big data volumes. It’s also possible to host the machine analytics functionality in the tool vendor’s platform, for example.

Communicating with the machine

We implemented two ways to communicate with the machine. In the first option, IPv6 packets were terminated at the CGW and translated to Generic Attribute Profile (GATT) messaged over BLE. In addition, we tested running IPv6 all the way from the machine to the IoT platform. The latter was supported through the Internet Protocols Support Profile (IPSP), which offered the chance to run LWM2M clients from different BLE sensors.

Our experience showed that IPv6 is well-designed and well-suited for IoT deployment: end-to-end connectivity improves security solutions while stateless auto-configuration feature removes the need to manually configure the address of each device. The large address space provided by IPv6 is going to be a requirement for every one of the billions of devices expected to be in operation in the future.

Real-life testing with positive results

The entire PoC was installed and tested at the Cramo depot in Gothenburg, Sweden. We managed to verify its functionality as well as evaluate the suitability of the technologies chosen – the coverage of BLE was sufficiently large to cover the area in which the machines are returned. Our conclusion is that these technologies are likely to become vital technologies for the construction tool rental business.

Ericsson's collaboration in the project has been supported by the EIT DIGITAL project, HII ACTIVE.


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