How Glanbia Uses Asavie’s Tech to Connect Fleets, Factories, Farmers and Retailers

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

An Irish manufacturer of nutritional supplement and dairy products uses Asavie's technology to add visibility to the beginning and end of its supply chain.

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Integrating Internet of Things connectivity across disparate systems or business functions in an enterprise is rarely a fast or simple endeavor. One hurdle is identifying and testing the most appropriate type of communication network—be that cellular, a local or wide-area network, or some other radio network. But another is creating an infrastructure by which the correct data is securely routed to the right parts of the network at the proper time.

Headquartered in Kilkenny, Ireland, Glanbia manufacturers nutritional supplements that are sold in 32 countries. It also sells dairy products, sourced from a network of 5,000 farms, via its Dairy Ireland business arm.

A milk intake hose at a farm, with a Glanbia milk tanker in the background

In 2008, Glanbia sought to displace the paper-based tracking system that fleet drivers used when delivering orders of milk and other dairy products to its retail customers. It also wanted to automate the collection of temperature data from sensors mounted inside the fleet’s cargo holds, to ensure that products were properly refrigerated during transport from the Glanbia plant to the stores.

To do this, Glanbia turned to Asavie, an enterprise mobility management and IoT connectivity platform provider, which deployed its PassBridge technology on ruggedized handheld Motorola computers, with cellular connectivity, that drivers now carry. The devices collect temperature data from the truck and integrate this information, along with an electronic signature from the retail store worker who accepts the delivery, into a proof-of-delivery message that is sent to Glanbia’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform.

PassBridge is built on a software-defined networking architecture, explains Keith O’Bryne, Asavie’s head of solutions, and uses off-the-shelf SIM cards to create a private access point name (APN) and a private internet protocol address that are used to create a virtual connection between the handheld computer and Glanbia’s business systems.

“We think of ourselves as providing essential plumbing” for device connectivity, O’Byrne says.

In 2011, Glanbia began integrating new technology into the beginning of its dairy product supply chain as well. The company purchased metering technology, known as Diessel Flash, from German manufacturer GEA and installed it on its fleet of milk tanks. As the tanks are being filled at a dairy farm, the meters use a range of sensors to track both the quantity of milk and its characteristics, such as the percentage of cream, protein and lactose. Glanbia tasked Asavie with developing a means by which this data could be collected at the farm and transmitted to Glanbia’s manufacturing executive system (MES). Glanbia’s objective was to both automate payments to the farmer (by replacing paper-based billing) and increase the efficiency of milk deliveries to its dairy processing plant.

The data generated by the Diessel Flash meter on the milk tanker is transferred to a GPRS radio via an RS222 serial port. The information is then transmitted to the MES using PassBridge.

“This triggers a payment to the farmer, which cuts out a lot of paper-based processes,” O’Byrne explains. “The tanker then notifies the factory to ask, for example, ‘This milk has a high cream content; where should I bring it?’ So, the MES system will respond to say ‘Bring it to loading dock 4, because we need to make whey and that dock is primed for that high-cream product.'”

In addition to selling milk, cheese and yogurt under the Dairy Ireland brand, Glanbia provides whey and other ingredients for its nutritional supplement products.

“The implementation of the Asavie PassBridge, in conjunction with the GEA Diessel Flash system, has led to improvements in the timeliness and quality of milk-collection data, and supports the implementation of milk-planning systems,” says Fergal O’Shea, Glanbia’s IT manager. “It has provided automated data gathering from our fleet of trucks in real time, giving us information faster—which, in turn, is fed immediately to our processing facilities, giving us time to adjust to varying supply patterns.”

O’Shea says Glanbia also shares data with farmers via an online portal, so that they can track their herds’ performance.