The Device Chronicle spoke to James Yong, Head of IoT, Katch Asset Tracking and a subsidiary of the Konvoy Group. The beer and beverage industry is being touched by IoT (and IoT beacons) and in a way that is minimising administrative burden and the need for human intervention into the process of delivering and collecting keg assets.
James is an accomplished solution design and delivery manager with an extensive knowledge of both IT and OT. He is a rare breed: a strong technical and business building professional with a Master’s Degree focused in Engineering Science and Computer Science from University of New South Wales.
Under Konvoy Group, there is an IoT product development wing called Katch. James manages this wing and the ecosystem of IoT devices within it. This covers the design and manufacture of the beacons through to the solution platforms.
Innovation in keg pooling with IoT beacons
To talk about Katch Asset Tracking, we need to first introduce Konvoy Kegs, the sister company of Katch under Konvoy Group. has fitted more than 40,000 of its stainless steel kegs with Katch’s Kegfox Location Tracking Beacon, and is on track to have 150,000 beacons fitted by the end of 2021. Konvoy Kegs offer a one way keg rental service to more than 390 craft beer brewers in Australia and New Zealand, empty kegs are sent to producers who will fill up the kegs with beer or other beverages , and dispatch directly to venues or distributors, no scanning or manual recording required. “From concept to 40,000 operational beacons in less than 2 years is unprecedented in the industry, especially for a IoT technology startup. The more exciting thing is that it is only the beginning of our journey, we’re on track to have 150,000 Kegfox beacons fitted by the end of 2021, and the launch of a much anticipated Katch IoT platform that will revolutionise asset tracking with Artificial Intelligence and Data Science.” said James.
The goal of Katch Asset Tracking IoT Platform and IoT beacons is to solve the problem of logistics, to inform the owner where their assets are located and how they can be utilised efficiently. Manual interventions are minimised or eliminated.
Solving the market problem with IoT beacons
James describes the market problem. “Managing a fleet of kegs is an expensive exercise. A typical brewery would need to have a few thousand kegs to make it viable.” Under the analogue model, these breweries would also need to have dedicated warehousing and logistics personnels to handle the chain of events, from storage, service, dispatch to the retrieval of kegs.
Katch does this with the industry’s first non-scanning, self-reporting location tracking technology for beer kegs . With IoT powered location intelligence, Konvoy Kegs can coordinate keg collection from the venues with increased efficiency and offers its customers insight into various performance metrics such as cycle times. To make a one way rental successful we really need to be able to track down precisely where the kegs are. This is why Katch invested heavily in making a solution of low powered location tracking beacons with their own proprietary location database and geo-locating techniques. James explains “We want the kegs to tell the asset owner where they are, so the asset owner can coordinate collection with minimal human intervention. Traditionally, you would have clerical staff contacting all the potential venues looking to locate the kegs, In the case of Konvoy Kegs, there are over 390 customers and more than 4,000 venues so there is no way someone can go through 4,000 venues on a daily basis. As an advancement, the team Katch has created a smart IoT solution. With the system of beacons, for a given asset the company now achieves at least 15% usage from the kegs and the keg loss rate has been reduced to less than 1%. The company is also now in a position to be able to provide value-adding data insights to their customers. James explains one key insight “Katch can provide various KPIs to producers, including cycle time by producer and venue, temperature profile by product and batch, detection of non-productive activities and more performance metrics are being made available using our in-house data science and machine learning platform.”
The beacons are secured onto the kegs and the devices cannot be tampered with. There is enterprise-level encryption on the hardware. Katch uses the Sigfox network for the transport layer. The battery life of the beacons can sustain more than 7 years of operation with 5-6 messages being responded to per day. At the back end, a secure channel is used from Sigfox to AWS cloud, and all instances and services are encrypted. Sigfox manages the worldwide network infrastructure and each beacon is a standalone device. The beacons are designed to be low powered devices which utilise event triggers. James adds at this stage in the Australian market, “We do not need to add computing burden complexity, however, the next-generation beacon is already in the work, it will retain all the above benefits at a much more competitive unit cost, and we plan to implement more advanced features through AI and Machine Learning ”
Expansion plans for Europe and the US
Katch has expanded into Europe, with a Germany based, New Business Director – Heiko Wiebel joined in March 2021. At the time of this publication, Katch has already begun discussion with some of the largest asset owners with upwards of 100k assets or more, sharing their successful roadmap for effective management of low value pool assets.”
The competitors for Katch are often the keg owners themselves. However, they often lack the experience and technical expertise. Team Katch has gone through the evolution in IoT enabled keg pooling from scanning barcodes and RFID to using fully autonomous beacons. “With years of experience among Katch’s founders and engineers, we have accumulated extensive subject matter expertise and bespoke technologies
OTA software updates would be considered in the design phase of future products as current generation lacks the required bandwidth for OTA updates. The current generation of Kegfox beacons is a breakthrough product with initial 65,000 produced and further 85,000 to be completed by September 2021. Meanwhile, Katch is currently undertaking an ambitious challenge to bring to market the 2nd generation of their successful Kegfox Beacon, which will have big improvement on global Sigfox network coverage and, taking into consideration the requirements and overage in other major markets, a much better price point. James concludes “We need an alternative architecture and we are looking at the options and the preliminary selections of the technology at this stage.”
We wish James and Team Katch well on their journey to optimising keg pooling globally.