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Lipa Betoni Uses Bluetooth-Based RTLS to Manage Production

The Finnish precast-concrete manufacturer says 9Solutions' Indoor Positioning and Communication Solution is helping it to become more efficient.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 23, 2012Lipa Betoni, a Finnish producer of precast concrete structures, is using a Bluetooth-based real-time location system (RTLS) to manage the manufacturing of its concrete pieces. The company creates 30 to 50 elements—such as columns, retaining walls and balconies—for the construction of buildings and roadways, on a daily basis. Many of the structures it creates are unique, requiring a more flexible manufacturing process. The firm wanted to determine the exact production time for each step taken to produce a precast element, but prior to installing 9Solutions' Indoor Positioning and Communication Solution (IPCS), it could only estimate such times.

The IPCS RTLS employs Bluetooth battery-powered RFID tags and reader nodes that plug into power outlets, as well as a cloud-based hosted server running 9Solutions software. The IPCS is less expensive than most other RTLS solutions, says Jari Kylmänen, 9Solutions' cofounder and R&D manager, as well as easier to install. The system is used by businesses throughout Europe (primarily in the Nordic region of Scandinavia), such as hospitals and mines, in order to track assets and personnel.

The IPCS node serves as a tag reader and forms a self-organizing Bluetooth mesh network with other IPCS nodes.

The company offers several types of tags, some designed as ID badges, for applications involving the tracking of personnel, as well as for others designed to monitor equipment or other assets. All of 9Soutions' tags are battery-powered, and include a Bluetooth radio transceiver powered by a cell battery. The ID badge tags have a button that, when pressed, can be used, for example, to indicate a need for assistance. The nodes are powered by either a transformer that plugs into a power outlet or, in the event that power fails, a rechargeable 48-hour back-up battery. The nodes receive the tags' Bluetooth transmissions and forward them to a gateway device—known as a Cell Controller Unit (CCU)—that then transmits the data to the server via a Wi-Fi or wired network connection. The nodes, which act as a self-organizing Bluetooth mesh network, not only receive and send information, but also act as locators, since they transmit their own ID number, along with that of the tags, to the CCU. If a user required room-level accuracy, for example, a node would be plugged into an outlet within each room. The CCU can also store data in the event of a loss of Internet access, until such a time that a connection is restored. The system can accomplish a read range of 10 to 30 meters (33 to 98 feet) for tag-to-node, node-to-node or node-to-CCU transmissions within an enclosed environment, says River Boche, 9Solutions' sales and marketing manager, or up to 160 meters (525 feet) within an open environment.

River Boche, 9Solutions' sales and marketing manager
To manufacture a precast element, Lipa Betoni must complete about 10 different steps, such as building the mold. A specific work crew is involved for each step—and in some cases, one working group may take part in several steps of an element's manufacture. As a result, the company simply had to estimate work times for each step. Knowing every step's work time, however, can be critical, since the firm can utilize that information to estimate the cost and time related to future projects incorporating some of those same steps.

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