Chocolate, Hazelnut Factories Automate Emergency Mustering With BLE

By Claire Swedberg

Ferrero tracks approximately 1,200 employees at two of its Turkish sites when they report to a mustering station, using a BLE badge, an app and software provided by Litum.

Sweets company Ferrero has deployed an automated solution to boost safety and the efficiency of its emergency responses without installing any hardware at its facility. The Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solution, provided by technology provider Litum leverages an app, mobile phones and badges to identify when individuals report to a mustering site during an emergency or drill.

With Litum's Automated Roll-Call System, the chocolate company can capture automated data regarding who reports or fails to report to a mustering site, and thus identify anyone who may require assistance. The solution replaces a slower and less accurate method of manually counting individuals and recording them via paper and pen. It consists of BLE badges worn by personnel, as well as Litum's software and reader infrastructure.

Litum's Alp Ülkü

The system is in use at the company's two facilities in Turkey: its chocolate factory in Manisa, which employs 400 workers, and its hazelnut plant in Trabzon, which has 800 employees. The app is integrated with Ferrero's existing automatic-attendance system. Ferrero is an Italian maker of chocolates and confectionery products, including Nutella, Kinder, Ferro Rocher candies and Tic Tac. Turkey is the world's largest exporter of hazelnuts, which are ingredients in some Ferrero products, and it has opened multiple factories throughout that country which serve a global market, as well as local Turkish consumers.

The company sought an automated solution for emergency evacuations that would require no infrastructure, such as the installation of gateways or readers in the case of Wi-Fi or RFID systems. In the past, the company has employed a manual roll-call system and has also tried barcode-scanning ID badges, but it found these methods to be insufficient. For instance, scanning barcodes at a mustering site is relatively slow and could lead to some individual badges being missed due to human error, even if the badge-holders responded to the mustering point.

However, occupational safety regulations require companies like Ferrero to conduct periodic firefighting exercises at its plants, and to record the results. The total time spent on a full evacuation, and the reliability of the results, are primary indicators of a successful evacuation, according to Alp Ülkü, Litum's marketing director. The automated system improves the efficiency and accuracy of evacuations, he says. In addition to automatic people-counting, the technology logs the number of exercises and the total duration of the exercise, and also archives the results.

"Seconds can be crucial in an emergency situation to account for all employees and visitors," Ülkü says. The panic that occurs during an emergency evacuation makes it difficult to manually count employees who arrive at an assembly point, he explains. Ferrero wanted to be sure it could account for every worker, and it wanted a system that would operate in any situation, including complex environments in which employees work in different shifts.

Litum provides Internet of Things (IoT)-based solutions that employ a variety of technologies, including RFID, ultra-wideband (UWB) and BLE. Its solution provides automated roll-call during emergencies by leveraging the BLE functionality in muster officers' mobile phones, as well as a GSM cellular connection and Litum's app.

The deployment began with the Manisa chocolate production plant during the second quarter of 2019, Ülkü recalls, and the system was taken live in August. "Right after this implementation," he states, "the customer decided to roll out this solution to their Trabzon nut processing plant." That system was taken live in December 2019. The automated roll-call solution works in integration with Ferrero's attendance system, which independently collects data about who has reported to work and who is working during a particular shift, then creates attendance lists accordingly.

As part of the Automated Roll Call System, Ferrero issues badges to all employees and visitors at both sites. The name of each worker or visitor is stored in the Litum software and app and is linked to the unique ID in the battery-powered badge, provided by Litum. A worker presents his or her badge upon entering the facility, thereby creating a record in the company's software of who is onsite at any given time. Visitors' identities are input into the system when they acquire a visitor badge, and each guest's status is updated as having left the facility as he or she later returns the badge.

In the event of an emergency, both Ferrero facilities have a protocol in place by which every individual must report to an outdoor mustering point. The officer in charge of that location uses the app on his or her device to begin capturing BLE transmissions from all employee or visitor badges as they approach the appointed site. The app works on both iOS- and Android-based phones and tablets. Using the Litum system with BLE functionality, the officer can capture the beacon transmissions of up to 250 individuals assigned to that mustering point.

The reading distance between the badges and the mustering officer's device is adjustable via the app. For the Ferrero deployment, Ülkü says, "We set it for 10 to 20 meters [33 to 66 feet], to only cover the assembly point and eliminate [stray] signals coming from inside the buildings."

The device forwards BLE read data to the cloud-based software via a cellular connection. The software can then confirm who has been accounted for and compare that data against the names of those who reported to work at the site. Any missing individuals can then be displayed for management or rescue workers. "This automated headcount system provides emergency services and safety personnel with instant and accurate information about who may still be inside," Ülkü states. In the meantime, he says, the data can be stored in the software for digital archives.

Because the Automated Roll-Call System requires only electronic badges and a mobile app to operate, the company is spared the cost and time associated with hardware installation or external power supplies. The solution can also operate with fixed BLE beacons to help locate individuals as they move around a facility. However, Ferrero is not currently using this features since it wanted to avoid infrastructure installation. Going forward, Ferrero has indicated to Litum that it plans to expand the solution's use this year to its Istanbul headquarters.