CIRT, AB InBev take IOT refrigerator solution to Barcelona

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Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) South Africa and Consumption Information Real Time (CIRT) will head to Spain to showcase their Internet of things (IOT) solution used by the brewer to capture data about locations and the temperatures of beer refrigerators.

ABInBev’s local subsidiary, SAB, has been piloting the solution on 105 refrigerators across SA.

This is claimed to be the first time a South African or African project has been selected to be showcased at global IOT event.

Both companies will demonstrate the functionalities of the solution and its impact on the SAB business, at the IOT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona, at the end of the month.

Ajay Lalu, founder and director of CIRT, says the invitation to showcase the solution highlights that SA is at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

“Many companies talk about what their IOT solutions could do, but CIRT has actually deployed its Fridgeloc Connected Cooler solution across South Africa with SAB.”

Lalu believes South Africa has the potential to become a real-life Wakanda.

“South Africa is one of the first countries in the world where you can open a bank account using a selfie; your insurance company gives you cash back when they monitor your driving behaviour; your alarm company uses IOT to send tamper signals,” says Lalu, demonstrating how advanced SA is in the 4IR.

The Fridgeloc Connected Cooler was installed in a pilot of new AB InBev Staycold refrigerators sent to customer sites throughout the country. The device is mounted in the cooler. Some have GPS units included; most, however, use GSM triangulation-based data from the cellular network to understand where each cooler is located.

The sensors, using edge computing, read temperature levels and location information every 15 minutes to one hour, forwarding that data to a cloud-based server via the Thingstream cellular connection. Each sensor uses a cooler unit's power source, though it can also employ a battery that provides up to four hours of power in the event that an electricity source is not available.

When temperature data is uploaded to the cloud, CIRT's IOT platform software stores the information for each site and can indicate when a given cooler is online, what temperature it is maintaining and where it is located. If the data indicates a problem, such as the unit being moved outside of its expected area or going offline, an alert can be issued to authorised parties at SAB.

The software is provided via Microsoft's Azure IOT Central software-as-a-service and Power BI for the dashboard.

Once the system started collecting data, the beverage company began learning more than just where coolers were located – it now knew how they were being used. For instance, Lalu explains, if temperatures increased several degrees, then gradually cooled to desirable levels, that could indicate a unit had been restocked with new product.

If temperatures rise and fall quickly in spikes, he says, the company can infer that many beers are being purchased and removed from the cooler, one at a time. The company can also understand how well compressors are operating in coolers, based on how quickly a unit can resume normal temperatures after its door has been opened.

The temperature-reading functionality, which originally served as an added benefit to a cooler-management system, has proved to be useful for other reasons as well, Lalu reports. The company requires that the coolers be plugged in and operational all day, every day, in order to keep products at optimal temperature levels and ensure no extra pressure is being put on the cooler's mechanics.

Sameer Jooma, solutions Africa director of innovation and analytics at AB InBev, says the pilot has been largely successful, with lots of lessons for both SAB and CIRT.

“The data generated by the pilot provides us with unique insights into market behaviour and will help us to optimise our fleet of coolers and deployment locations, which in turn optimises asset utilisation.”

AB InBev had been losing a significant number of its refrigerators annually, costing the company millions.

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