Digitization at the push of a button

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Many companies have problems when it comes to digitization. A new easy-to-use “IoT Service Button” could now make any object a “thing” on the Internet.

Amazon’s “Dash Button” was one of the most remarkable IoT devices in 2016. The quick order buttons cost just five euros and allow nappies, water and washing detergent to be purchased at the push of a button via WiFi and the Amazon servers. However, each product requires its own button. Hacks which allow the battery-operated button to perform more practical functions such as turning on the TV and dimming the light at the same time soon appeared on the Internet.

Amazon appears to have followed developments with interest. Last year, the e-commerce giant launched the “AWS IoT Button,” a freely programmable version of the “Dash Button” which is not linked to a particular product. The WiFi button can be used as a remote control for Netflix, a switch for Philips hue lamps, to order a pizza or to forward a fault report in a company quickly.

Digitization with a click

Digitization with the "IoT Service Button"
A single click on the “IoT Service Button” launches collection, ordering, and maintenance processes. (Image: Telekom).

In contrast, the “IoT Service Button” from the Fraunhofer IML and Deutsche Telekom is designed exclusively for business applications. It is a retrofittable solution for existing devices aimed at applications in logistics, production facilities and workshops, on building sites or at hospitals. It can do many things including ordering spare parts, reporting technical faults or emptying full containers. A small display provides feedback for users.

Würth Industrie Service for example uses it to order screws, nuts and washers. Naturally, these are not ordered straight from the provider. Instead, the order is received by the company’s IT system which then takes care of everything else. However, staff do not need to fill in forms, use a computer or make a phone call.

Krones AG – a manufacturer of bottling and packaging systems for the beverage and food industry – has equipped 28 collection points with the digital button. Once a spare part has been produced, the small IoT device sends a message to the cloud at the push of a button. It then automatically instructs the logistics department to collect the machine part via a text message or e-mail. Waiting and idle times between various stages of the value creation process are minimized. The link to existing IT systems also allows data to be automatically carried over and processed further – resulting in fully digitized process chains.

Narrowband IoT from the cellar

Data transmission takes place via the mobile phone network, independently of existing network infrastructures, and – if available – via narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) as part of 5G. In the process, small data packets are sent in a way which saves extremely large amounts of energy and, because the system easily penetrates building structures, reach recipients reliably even if they are sent from factory halls or cellars. 

Summary

The Internet of Things offers companies many opportunities to digitize their processes. However, few of them are as simple as the “IoT Service Button.”

 

IoT Service Button (image: Fraunhofer IML).

Pushing the IoT Service Button triggers processes in laboratories, on production lines or on building sites (image: Fraunhofer IML).