Real-time asset tracking



Accurate, fast, and continuous data on orders will be the standard in the construction industry and part of the data economy of the future. Thomas Concrete recognized the great potential, for both their business and their customer’s business, in offering real-time asset tracking. With the expertise of Axelsson Cloud Consulting and our connected solution, we enabled the client to offer new services which allows its customers to run their business more efficiently and sustainably through data driven insights and cloud native technologies.

The concrete industry is a conservative industry and its processes have remained largely unchanged for many years. At the same time, concrete is a very time-sensitive material and delivery delays can lead to high additional costs.

This is where Thomas Concrete Group, a global producer and distributor of high quality ready-mixed concrete to commercial and private customers, recognized the opportunity to innovate and to capitalise on data-driven connected solutions and extract more value inherent in their data, making it one of the first companies in the construction industry to commit to digitally transforming their business . With Axelsson Cloud Consulting’s IoT and cloud computing expertise, Thomas Concrete was able to tackle two key challenges, while making business operations more efficient, scalable, and competitive. The first of these challenges was to allow end-users to track their concrete deliveries in real-time.

In this case study, we delineate this first challenge, elaborate on our process of developing a cloud-native and data-driven asset tracking solution tailored to specific business case of the client, and illustrate the competitive advantage gained from the solution.

The challenge: Providing continuous exact position and arrival information of deliveries

The concrete market, commonly part of the construction market supply chain, is a highly competetive market, and concrete quality alone is no longer enough to get a competitive edge. What makes a difference today is offering additional digital services to customers, which would expand Thomas Concrete’s business, add value to their customers, and help launch their business into the data-driven future.

The material delivered, concrete, is a time-sensitive material and if a delivery is delayed for too long or the construction site is not prepared on time for the pouring, the quality of the material can significantly deteriorate and may need to be scrapped entirely. Having to scrap deliveries due to delays is a surprisingly common scenario, and results in irrecoverably value-loss. So, knowing precisely where a delivery is and when it will arrive to prepare everything on-site is pivotal. The solution: Real-time asset tracking.

Seeing the need to innovate in this conservative industry and how end-users could benefit from the additional insights from real-time data, we set out to create a connected, cloud native, IoT solution that allows their end customers to track deliveries in real-time, including a digital interface that displays the current truck GPS location and a continuously updated ETA. With all delivery information instantly on their devices, including event- and data-driven web and native mobile push notifications when the delivery has left the manufacturing plant geofence leveraging Azure Notification Hub, customers can now know precisely when to expect a delivery and optimise pre- and post-delivery operations based on real-time insights, and enabling Thomas Concrete to plan delivery routes more effectively, taking traffic, weather, and type of vehicle into account, as well as integrate additional services offered in their pricing models. We achieved this thanks to our thorough process in analyzing, selecting, vetting, and tuning the best fitting solution architecture for the use case at hand.

How we developed the right real-time data integration architecture

At the beginning of our vetting process adopted stand the two most important steps: First, getting a complete picture of the client’s existing data landscape, how it can be utilised, and what the client’s use case requires from our solution as well as how it can be scaled for the future. For this, we worked together with Thomas Concrete’s IT decision makers to answer a list of detailed technical questions about their technical requirements, how they plan to grow their business in the future, and what improved services they want to offer customers and what is most important for the end users. This critical step allows us, on one hand, to understand the functions, performance, and limitations of the company’s existing data, and on the other, to set clear requirements as corner stones for the second step. With a clear picture in mind, we then thoroughly vet all possible solutions for our client’s requirements, from technical choices on data flow to event handling and processing, enabling the highest possible throughput and thus real-time streaming architecture. With our corner stones placed, we then know what detailed technical questions we need to ask to not only define key success factors but also to select the cloud native architecture best suited for the client’s needs. For this use case, we identified that the IoT architecture needed to be high-performance, high throughput with low latency to handle the vast amount of data from trucks and delivery real-time location and provide as accurate as possible ETA to the client’s customers.

Creating an IoT architecture with for high data ingestion and still achieve actual real-time processing at scale is a difficult and highly complex process and even a single slow component will risk the real-time throughput of the whole architecture and possibly reduce the added value to the business. To achieve the optimal outcome, business requirements need to be taken into account from the very beginning so that relevant aspects can be designed accordingly . We realised a holistic approach was needed, covering all aspects of the architecture. With this in mind, our foundation in place, and after strict examination, we decided that Azure was best suited for our use case and to make full use of Azure EventHubs, serverless Azure Functions, Azure Kubernetes Service, Azure Premium SSD Managed Disks, and Azure DevOps. Serverless Azure Functions, for example, has unmatched elasticity to scale almost infinitely within an App Service plan based on load, and Azure Premium SSD Managed Disks has unmatched I/O performance, making them a perfect fit for our high throughout use case. As primary data store is the time series database CrateDB with its good fit for handling large volumes of semi-structured sensor data, maintained performance also under heavy load, as well as dedicated edge modules for offline capability to prevent data loss in the case of temporary network outage. With these, and working closely with the client, we set the overarching architecture shown in the diagram above and further optimised it for high throughput, performance, and reliability during the implementation phase to ensure business requirements were met, as well as setting the foundation for future IoT use cases on the road map at the time.

How we helped create a competitive advantage through data-driven and cloud-native technologies

The cloud-native asset-tracking solution that we developed for Thomas Concrete Group was deployed approximately six months after initiation and four months after commencing full-time implementation and has since allowed the client to continuously track more than 1500 delivery trucks across Europe with a 9 ms latency, even while storing tens of millions of data points. Thomas Concrete’s end customers can now know precisely – in real-time and on any device – when a delivery is about to arrive and prepare accordingly. For Thomas Concrete, this means that they can run their business more efficiently, offer new services to customers through new business models, enabled through digital cloud technologies, meaning reduced delays, considerable cost savings, and reduced waste for their end customers, making them significantly more sustainable.

Developing scalable, secure, and cloud-native solutions requires expertise in several areas: device connectivity, supply chain digitization, and, when applicable, edge computing. Perhaps it’s no surprise that, according to Cisco research, up to 75 percent of IoT projects fail. We believe that a thorough vetting process, based on the business requirements, are essential to developing successful big data streaming architectures and IoT solutions that fulfil current business objectives.

With our cloud-native and data-driven real-time asset tracking solution implemented in Microsoft Azure cloud, we enabled the client to leverage the benefits of Azure IoT and to digitalize their business.

As mentioned in this case study, CrateDB, was used as an integral part of the architecture for storing the geospatial data. You can read more on how the database was used in the solution here.

Our approach used to deploy the big data streaming architecture used for the asset-tracking solution in this case study can be used for other use cases as well.

In our next case study, we explore our Industrial IoT solution – a cloud-native solution using wireless IoT sensors to measure material hardening at construction sites. Get first notice as well as exclusive content from the Axelsson team by subscribing to our newsletter.

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