Smart Warehouse as a Service

The story of a successful collaboration between SGS, Swisscom and Microsoft

Background

According to the Food  and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, cereals (including rice) contribute 55-70 percent of the total calories in the diets of developing countries, and corn and wheat alone make up close to two-thirds of the world’s food energy intake (source). However, around 14% of the world’s food is lost after harvesting and before reaching the retail level (source). One of the main reasons for this are poor storage conditions due to poor temperature management and lack of control of relative humidity, thus leading to shriveling, wilting, and deterioration of perishable foods. Another reason lies in the mode of transportation.

SGS, as the world leader for inspection, testing, verification and certification, aims to provide monitoring and operation grain stores worldwide as well as grain transport on cargo vessels.

Business Challenge

Temperature and moisture are determining factors in accelerating or delaying the biochemical transformation that are the origin of degradation of grain in storage. They have a direct influence on the speed of development of insects and micro-organisms – molds, yeasts and bacteria – and on the premature or unseasonal grain germination. The temperature depends not only on climatic conditions, but also on the biochemical changes that are produced inside a grain mass, provoking undesirable natural heating of the stored products. ​

Moisture content of the stored grain depends on the Relative Air Humidity (RAH). During storage, moisture within the product reaches an equilibrium with the air within and between the product particles and produces a relative humidity level that may be suitable for the growth and development of deteriorative organisms. ​

If the affected area is not treated and immediately isolated, the grains will be affected. The longer it takes to act, the greater the degradation of quality and losses will be. ​

SGS developed independent services to help reduce these risks and operate grain warehouses in a more sustainable manner. Initially, an SGS employee would travel to a location, test the grain and fill out documentation. Due to limited resources, this only happened every other day in selected warehouses. It is not easy to consolidate these documentations in a central location, get insights in near real-time, and share that information with end customers.

In order solve this problem, several questions must be addressed, including:

  • What needs to be measured and how?
  • How are the collected data from the warehouses in remote locations transmitted to a central location? And how do you get insights from the collected data?
  • What are the costs of the project to the benefits of monitoring a low margin product?

Successful partnership as key factor

 

 

The above shown figure is the new IoT solution SGS has developed based on Smart Sensing Devices in collaboration with Swisscom and Microsoft. The SGS story for smart warehouse solution you can see here.

Based on this foundation, SGS will start Smart Warehouse as a service as a first project to detect fluctuations in temperature and moisture of the cargo inside the stockpile at different levels and control the storage conditions by monitoring the relative humidity, temperature and carbon dioxide levels. ​

Microsoft Azure, a strong and trusted cloud platform, and Swisscom’s reliable connectivity platform and End-to-end Azure cloud service were chosen to master these challenges. The project was first launched in Hungary in 2019.

 

Smart Warehouse as a Service – the success story

With the need of SGS, the innovation power of Microsoft Azure, and the expertise and connectivity capabilities of Swisscom, we translated the business case into connected and innovated hardware. Here’s how:

 

 

1. The grain warehouses were equipped with different sensors to monitor both grain and air. The attached cable with multiple sensors along its way is inserted into the piles of grain. Running on a battery, the sensors measure humidity, temperature and CO2 values in the warehouse as well as moisture and temperature values of the grain on top, middle and bottom areas of the pile.

 

 

2. Every six hours, two historical and one current measurement are transmitted over Swisscom global LoRaWan. A low-power wide-area network which spans the warehouses in the area, is highly stable, inexpensive and uses very little electricity.

 

 

3. Considering that the warehouses are in areas with limited connectivity, the devices in the warehouses send their data first to a Swisscom Managed Lora Edge Gateway, which then sends the data to Microsoft Azure.

 

 

4. Azure IoT Hub represents the heart of an IoT solution in Azure. It is used for reliable and secure communication between devices and cloud. To integrate it in our lifecycle management and business process, Swisscom has developed a custom-made additional device provisioning service. Currently mobile integrations with on-site device provisioning in implementation and service will be available in Q4, 2020.

5. Azure Stream Analytics was used for real time message processing, data enrichment, and payload decoding, gaining insights from IoT streaming data and triggering actions.

Azure Data Lake was used for storage and future archiving and data analytics purposes.

Azure Analytics Services was used to serve the data in the models needed.

6. Azure SQL Database is not only used for device, location, customer and project management but also storing the enriched payload data.

 

 

7. PowerBI is used for visualization not only for SGS IoT competency center, but also for the end customers.

 

 

8. Swisscom’s Public Cloud Managed Service team takes care of the smooth operation of the solution and sends alarms to the operators according to the defined criteria. 

 

Additional Microsoft products that were used:

  • Azure Logic App and Azure Functions for automation;
  • Azure Event Hub for streaming data from other sources or third-party vendors;
  • Log Analytics for monitoring and alerting

The whole architecture setup is based on micro service architecture and any additional components can be added later depending on the use case.

 

One year into the project, SGS was able to provide 24/7 real-time dashboard and data-driven monitoring and therefore real-time situation detection for customers. Predictive analytics and maintenance further enable customers to stop fermentation before it occurs, leading to increased quality and minimal loss of grain. In addition, travel time and manual documenting are being saved every day.

 

Thinking ahead – The future story

The solution is now seamlessly integrated with the SGS IoT cloud platform, offering state of the art Data Dashboards and Reports, all while being easily configurable to customer needs.

Smart Warehouse as a Service advanced analytic systems allows fast responses, helping to prevent contamination. In addition to limited food waste, it significantly reduces onsite inspection times and operating costs. The optimized outputs in combination with notable cost reductions of the solution gives SGS a strong competitive edge in the market: it allows for a fast time-to-market, more value to the customer and add-on sales opportunities like 24/7 monitoring, intelligent predictive and subscription-based inspection services, plus increased productivity.

 

 

SGS will extend applications of the solution from static warehouses to cargo ships transporting grain and other commodities. The solution will be expanded

  • for granular goods e.g. cement
  • with other sensors and different types of data processing for other industries and use cases such as Gas Leakage detection in the production process and Good Tracing in the supply chain and
  • in its remote monitoring

as a basis for IoT in general. Any additional back- and frontend components can be added depending on the use cases and business requirements.

Furthermore, a big future opportunity lays in the cross divisional use of the collected grain data. For instance, a high interest in the data can be expected from insurance companies to draft policies. Constant solution development allows us also to investigate new emerging technologies around 5G usage and Azure edge technologies.

 

Security by design

When designing a system, it is important to understand the potential threats to that system and add appropriate defenses accordingly. It is advantageous to incorporate security into the project as early as the design phase. It is essential to design the product with security in mind right from the start. Understanding how an attacker could compromise a system helps to ensure that effective defenses are implemented and do not exceed their cost.

Microsoft, Swisscom and SGS have a long history of working with threat modeling and security. From the very beginning, security was present at all layers including the following:

  • Physical locations;
  • Device with hardware and firmware;
  • connectivity;
  • Cloud services with security-oriented Azure infrastructure, privacy controls and compliance tools.
  • Deployment team with SIEM (Security Information Event Management), threat protection and security management tools.

The concept of shared responsibilities for cloud computing is of great importance in this project. It must be understood and defined clearly at all times who is responsible for which part of the system. The shared responsibility concept makes a decisive contribution in this respect.

Create opportunities with Microsoft Azure – the Swisscom story

The Journey to the cloud with Swisscom accompanies customers from an initial idea to a working prototype all the way to a fully managed Azure cloud and helps the customers to make use of all the opportunities of Microsoft Azure. The Swisscom story brings together traditional telco services such as connectivity and device management with a deep know how of Microsoft Azure, including analytics and predictions.

The standardization achieved with the SGS case now allows us to apply the solution to some cases identified – with many more to come, as our IoT journey continues.

At the moment, Swisscom and SGS are working on another indoor and outdoor air quality monitoring project to serve their customers better with building management services.

Read more on the topic:

https://www.swisscom.ch/de/business/enterprise/angebot/iot/smart-warehouse.html