Satellite-enabled Tracking Keeps Tabs on Assets
The Internet of things (IoT) is without doubt one of the hottest topics in communications today, and organizations everywhere have woken up to what’s possible when you can stay connected with your mobile and fixed assets. Corry Brennan, EMEA Simplex Regional Sales Manager at Globalstar, explains how satellite-enabled asset tracking is helping companies harness the power of IoT to work smarter in new ways.
We have seen a dramatic uptake of application-specific, satellite-enabled solutions that can monitor assets ranging from cargo to trucks, oil pipelines, reservoirs, rail tank cars, even livestock and some of the world’s most endangered species. Because of their reach and hyper-availability, even in extreme environmental conditions, tracking solutions with satellite connectivity allow all kinds of organizations to reach deep into remote and hostile locations while mitigating against land and mobile network outages and overloading.
In geographies where there is limited or non-existent terrestrial-based communications infrastructure – such as where many oil and gas, mining and construction operations take place in North Africa, the Nordic region and the Eurasian landmass – relying on GSM mobile communications alone will simply not support 24/7 connectivity. Satellite communications is the only option to stay in touch continuously with assets and freight anywhere in these thousands of hectares of terrain, as well as at sea.
Companies in the oil and gas industry have been particularly progressive in how they have put IoT to work. IoT proved early on to be an effective way to optimize the remote management of oil and gas pipelines and can reduce or eliminate the need to send a crew to a remote location.
IoT can also transform the supply chain. New hybrid communication solutions, which switch seamlessly between satellites, GSM or other kinds of networks dependent on location, are resulting in a raft of new IoT hybrid devices that constantly monitor and share valuable information with users as well as their customers and partners. The key enabler is the size of the chip in the device.
When the chip is small enough, it can be very cost-effectively integrated in dual-frequency tracking and monitoring devices.
Identec Solutions, for example, helps businesses in the oil and gas industry to manage their land-based and offshore assets using an innovative combination of satellite technology and active RFID features. Hybrid multi-frequency capability means that users can take advantage of low power and long range active RFID transmissions as well as reliable satellite connectivity. The system dynamically switches transmission types to deliver uninterrupted tracking visibility. The first-ever ATEX-certified, multi-frequency asset tracking solution, it also provides valuable metrics on movement, instantly reporting whether the asset has experienced damage or shock.
As well as reducing operating costs, satellite communications allow partners in any industry’s supply chain to collaborate using near-real time data for better, faster, decision-making. Delivery times can be more predictable and reliable, and the amount of unproductive ‘downtime’ of any particular asset is minimized.
The business benefits of optimizing the usage and maintenance of assets is demonstrable. And being able to provide supply chain partners rich and accurate data on delivery times and production schedules helps to galvanize business relationships and make operations more efficient.
These same systems can additionally play a valuable role in protecting staff. For example, oil industry and civil engineering companies operating in Africa have deployed Globalstar satellite-enabled asset monitoring solutions that help manage assets and which also deliver critical safety support for staff and site visitors.
Early in 2016, a Tunisian civil works contractor, Kilani Enterprise for Public Works, deployed Integrated Vehicle Monitoring System (iVMS), developed by Globalstar’s Tunisia-based partner VMD, to track its fleet of 4x4 vehicles with the goal of achieving better fleet security. But the system also helps monitor driver behavior. iVMS delivers the precise locations of the fleet while transmitting engine data which indicates driver performance, such as sudden braking or unexpected acceleration. Kilani Enterprise was already familiar with the usefulness of satellite communications because it has been using Globalstar’s SPOT handheld devices since 2013 as its only means of safeguarding staff carrying out operations in southern Tunisia’s vast desert. A Ukrainian oil services company also uses this system to help its exploration and production customers monitor vehicle fleets and safeguard staff in the same region. The devices monitor vehicles used for transporting heavy engineering equipment, including scientific engines for seismic measurement, as well as monitoring vehicles used to transport personnel.
VMD customized all three deployments by adding a one-touch SOS button onto the vehicles’ dashboards. If the driver or any passenger is in danger, requires emergency medical help or if the intervention of security forces is needed, a single button press alerts security teams. Also, by automatically transmitting GPS data, first responders can instantly know the precise location where help is needed. This level of always-on connectivity is an essential security measure in the remote regions in which oil operations take place.
A key benefit of iVMS is that the system seamlessly switches from GSM to Globalstar’s satellite network as soon as it detects weakening GSM signal. Smart harmonious use of these two types of network yields maximum cost efficiency, while delivering reliable, ubiquitous connectivity.
“The operational challenges posed by inadequate GSM coverage in the regions where oil is extracted are compounded by remote, inhospitable terrain and additional security risks,” commented Karim Chagra, Health Safety Security Environment (HSSE) Manager with Kilani Enterprise for Public Works. “Our satellite-enabled monitoring system enables us to work more efficiently and securely.”
The Perfect Pint
Another very different satellite-enabled asset tracking deployment illustrates the flexibility and multiple benefits that users can realize. Brewing quality craft beers that truly represent the skill of the brewer is a delicate task. Moreover, transporting the beer, especially if the trip involves crossing thousands of miles of land or sea, comes with many risks that can have seriously detrimental effects on the product by the time it eventually reaches its destination. Shipments conveyed in tanks that are at the wrong temperature or pressure, or which have suffered an impact, almost inevitably result in beer of inferior quality and taste.
For over 20 years, Connecticut-based B. United International has been importing high-quality craft beers from around the globe. Founder and proprietor Matthias Neidhart is on a mission to deliver to American beer lovers the taste and aroma complexity that only true craft and microbrewery produced ales possess.
Neidhart decided to deploy the Ovinto Sat tracking and monitoring solution by attaching sensors to each of his seven large stainless steel tank containers. The sensors monitor numerous metrics that help ensure optimum beer quality, including the environment in each tank. Critically, since there is no power source in a closed container, these sensors consume a very low amount of energy, and therefore can continuously monitor the contents of the tank even on long journeys.
The solution ensures that B. United minimizes the beer’s exposure to pressure and temperature fluctuations, resulting in complex brews all naturally re-fermenting and tasting exactly the same on arrival in the US as when they left the brewery in their home country. B. United also knows precisely where the containers are on their lengthy journeys – even as they make their way across land and ocean to the US. This helps supply chain operations run smoothly and enables them to give accurate delivery times to their customers.
Asset tracking solutions incorporating Globalstar’s satellites are helping businesses work smarter in commercial fishing, alternative energy and forestry as well as in non-commercial government-sponsored missions. With ATEX certification, ensuring safety even in potentially explosive situations, providers of petrochemicals are transporting essential, yet hazardous, materials around Europe and across the globe. With governments encouraging more transparency in the transport industry, and a constant motivation to improve safety, there is an increase in regulation requiring cargo-carrying vehicles to have trackers installed. Technology innovators are creating new solutions to help their customers meet these regulations while improving efficiency.
From all this, one thing is very clear – the applications and benefits of IoT tracking, supported by ubiquitous reliable satellite communication, are limited only by the imaginations of people who need to monitor ‘things’. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.