Many assets have often eluded digitization until now because they are not powered. Window manufacturer 4B eliminated this blank spot on the digital map with the help of an IoT tracking solution for its reusable special stillages.
Innovative window and facade solutions are the specialty of the traditional Swiss company 4B. Every year, more than 100,000 windows leave the production facility in Hochdorf on special reusable stillages. While a lot of time used to be spent tracking and locating these stillages, 4B now relies on Sensolus’ tracking and IoT technology. The rollout of over 4,000 IoT-based trackers from Sensolus was successfully implemented within a few months in the summer of 2022.
The challenge of tracking stillages
4B uses special transport stillages to transport new windows to the construction sites undamaged on the one hand and to professionally collect and dispose of removed old windows on the other. These assets have so far eluded digitization because they do not have their own power supply. Without digitized and thus automated tracking, the management of the stillages was very time-consuming in the past.
As soon as the frames and windows on the reusable stillages leave the 4B plant in Hochdorf, external freight forwarders take over the control of the delivery processes. This presented 4B with a number of challenges in the past, especially when it came to collecting the stillages, because precise planning was hardly possible: if too many stillages were collected, for example, they were missing from the construction site and had to be delivered again.
If, on the other hand, too few stillages were retrieved, this led to unnecessary additional transports and search operations on construction sites. This inefficient return logistics not only caused costs to greatly increase, but also jeopardized the previously high level of customer satisfaction due to errors or annoyances during return transport.
IoT tracker impresses with powerful battery
For 4B, the challenge was to find a robust solution with a long battery life and excellent network coverage in Switzerland.
Thomas Hermann, head of digitalization projects at 4B, and his team scanned the market and tested a variety of tracking offerings.
The result, after extensive consultation and a proof-of-value by the solution provider and sales partner Axelion: With five years of guaranteed battery performance as well as extremely robust trackers, Sensolus met all requirements and was awarded the contract. In a record project time of just four months, almost all 4B stillages were equipped with over 4,000 IoT trackers in the summer of 2022 and configured in such a way that the various use cases could be mapped.
Sensor-equipped tracking for precise logistics planning
The digitization of 4B transport stillages not only enables their precise location, but above all the optimization of the logistical processes surrounding their retrieval, in which a wide range of aspects must be taken into account: If, for example, a private customer’s old windows are replaced with new ones, then the old windows must first be disposed of properly. This in turn requires more loading meters in the truck, because full stillages – unlike empty ones – cannot be stacked. In order to be able to track not only the location but also the loading status of the stillages remotely, the trackers are equipped with sensors that detect whether a stillage is fully loaded or empty based on its tipping direction: For example, if a tracker is turned to the left, then the stillage is empty and can be picked up. If the tracker is turned to the right, the stillage is full and can also be picked up – with more loading capacity – to dispose of old windows properly.
Costs reduced, efficiency increased
The digitization of non-powered assets has made many processes not only more efficient, but also more cost-effective. Simply knowing the exact inventory and their location has made many new acquisitions unnecessary. Their use is much easier to plan and this was immediately evident at the start of the rollout in the summer: With a high 4B order volume, 4B stillage logistics could be made much more efficient, also thanks to the associated Sensolus management platform, so that no delivery bottlenecks occurred and all orders could be executed on time.
“We benefit greatly from the new IoT tracking solution because we can now create maximum transparency within our logistics flows,” says Thomas Hermann, Head of Digitalization Projects at 4B. “It turns out that the trackers can be integrated in many different ways.
This tickles our innovation drive and I am sure that in the coming months and years we will further optimize our processes and thus our customer satisfaction with the help of the tracking solution.”
In addition to a new platform that links delivery and tracking data even more closely, 4B is working on linking the ERP even more closely with the trackers via its own returns platform.
In this way, the required loading meters for the return transport will be calculated automatically in the future and vehicles with exactly the right capacity will be sent for collection at the correct time.
4B AG, headquartered in Hochdorf, Switzerland, was founded in 1896. Today, the family-owned company employs more than 750 people and develops window and facade systems with the highest precision. The company produces more than 100,000 wood-metal windows every year.