First aid boxes, fire extinguishers, life belts or defibrillators – having the right emergency equipment can save lives or lessen the more serious effects of accidents or medical emergencies, for example. It is important to always have the appropriate emergency equipment available, particularly in working environments, at fairly large gatherings of people or at places that are used by many individuals such as government agencies, universities, trade fairs or sporting and cultural venues. This creates challenges for many companies and public institutions. In the past, the first-aid equipment usually had to be checked manually regulary to ensure that it was complete and to keep an eye on the shelf life of medical dressings, for example. There is also a risk that the emergency equipment will be stolen or misused, particularly at public sites, and this is not always noticed until it is too late.
When Jonas von Frieling, the Head of the Innovation Hub at the last-mile specialists Rhenus Home Delivery and Rhenus High Tech, and his team started work on developing smart first aid equipment, they first scrutinised the systems in their own companies. Emergency equipment is necessary not only necessary in logistics buildings and office complexes in the world of logistics, but also in all the delivery vehicles. The emergency equipment for a truck, for instance, includes a warning light, a warning triangle, high visibility vests, a torch, face masks and a first aid set. “There’s no special storage area in a truck for all this. Our first task therefore involved creating a possibility for storing all the emergency items at a central point in the vehicle so that the driver doesn’t first have to laboriously search for everything if an emergency occurs,” the Project Manager, Julia Jörling, reports.
The team designed what was still an analogue safety board that could be attached to a vehicle’s airline rails as their first solution. Once they had received positive user feedback, the team developed a large red safety box, which included IoT technology, during the next stage. During further optimisation stages, the Innovation Hub reduced the size of the emergency kit for trucks and finally also developed a stationary version for the first aid materials that are required within a logistics company. The colours and the name changed over time. The latest version of the emergency kit has a red design and is sold under the brand name “resc.io”.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The first prototype was available within two weeks.
“We asked ourselves during the product development phase why we shouldn’t immediately design a digital solution with real-time controls, which would not only help eliminate the time-consuming checks.” Jörling adds. Because even if employers exceed the prescribed inspection and servicing intervals stipulated by the law, analogue checks can never perform as well as real-time assessment. A digital solution therefore not only creates cost-saving advantages, but huge safety benefits, too. After all, safety at the workplace is the responsibility of the employer, who must ensure that the safety-related standards are managed, checked and followed.
Before developing the IoT emergency kit, inspectors checked each individual box in the large warehouses weekly to see whether they were still sealed and, if not, which item had been removed. This was a time-consuming process. Things are now much easier with the resc.io products, which also save a lot of time. The transmitter that is an integral part of the box immediately notifies the person who is responsible for checking it if somebody has opened an emergency kit. It is therefore only necessary to check whether everything is complete if somebody has actually opened a box.
IoT is the abbreviation for “Internet of Things”. The IoT represents the global infrastructure that makes it possible to network devices, machines or objects with each other. Sensors, software and technologies make it is possible to exchange data between the devices and objects. The Internet of Things is one of the key technologies in the process of digital transformation and it offers many possible fields of application. Companies can use it to improve their processes and continue developing their products, to tap economic potential and minimise costs.
As soon as an emergency kit is opened, the integrated sensor is activated and automatically sends an e-mail or text message to all the users who have been registered in the cloud. “We’ve introduced three stages at our business sites: firstly, the information reaches a person who is responsible for conducting checks in the warehouse. Somebody then needs to check the box within 24 hours and cancel the alarm. If this doesn’t happen, the branch manager and finally the regional manager receive a message.”
When developing the product, the major focus was on having a system that is simple to install. It was also supposed to work regardless of whether there were any Wi-Fi facilities or electrical outlets available, because these are not found everywhere. This was the reason why the Innovation Hub used a sensor based on NB-IoT. NB stands for narrowband, which is a radio standard specially developed for the Internet of Things. Users can transfer data packages along it. The NB-IoT technology is able to penetrate most buildings and requires very little energy. It is also available anywhere in Europe.
However, the emergency kits for vehicles, offices and warehouses did not mark the end of the journey for the Innovation Hub. The idea of combining other emergency equipment with NB-IoT – for example, life belts or fire extinguishers – quickly developed. The team has now developed a fire extinguisher with two functions: firstly, a motion detector has been inserted which is triggered if the fire extinguisher is moved. This ensures that the fire extinguisher cannot be damaged or manipulated if it is not removed from its bracket. Secondly, the fire extinguisher is connected to the wall with a magnetic mechanism, which triggers a message if the fire extinguisher is removed. Similar features are available for life belts. “We’re equipping a complete port site with this system in the Ruhr region in the near future,” Jonas von Frieling reports.
Those interested in connecting NB-IoT technology to first aid equipment does not necessarily have to buy something completely new. The Innovation Hub will also be offering cheaper retrofit solutions to upgrade emergency kits that companies are already using. The NB-IoT sensor, whoch includes a suitable bracket, can then be installed simply without any need for special technical knowledge.
“It’s also our goal to expand the platform’s scope of functions,” says Jonas von Frieling, expressing his hopes for the future. The ‘best before dates’ for individual products such as medical dressings or eye rinse solutions could be entered in the master data in future as well because of the high level of demand. The system would then send a reminder to the employees responsible in good time before the ‘best before dates’ have passed.
The team is also planning to integrate modules that make it possible to place orders for more consumables fully automatically as well as provide analyses about the time and place where emergency incidents have taken place. The latter provides a valuable information base for developing measures to prevent accidents.
The Innovation Hub is also working on tools that make it possible to determine whether the area in front of the first aid equipment is freely accessible without crates or pallets blocking the way. If there are any obstacles, an alarm could be triggered. In addition, the team is examining a solution that indicates how many plasters are still left in the digitalised plaster dispenser. The health & safety officer can then use this information to top up the first aid equipment again specifically and sustainably. However, even without the planned further developments, the interest in the IoT emergency equipment developed by the Innovation Hub is already enormous. 250 boxes are currently in use in its own company alone and several other firms have expressed their interest in the solution. The German Employers’ Liability Insurance Association for the Retail and Logistics Sectors even presented the “Golden Hand” Prevention Prize to the Innovation Hub for its first aid kit with integrated NB-IoT technology in November 2022. Interested parties can find out more about the current products and how to order them on a website. The current price for an emergency kit with an NB-IoT sensor varies according to how many are ordered and their type – and starts at EUR 100. This is an investment that pays off – firstly, because of the savings in the costs of having to check the boxes and, secondly, because of the benefits of real-time monitoring.
The Innovation Hub operated by Rhenus Home Delivery and Rhenus Tech is the place to go if there is a need to analyse processes within a company, try out improved procedures and develop innovative products and business models. Led by Jonas von Frieling and Ermin Cahajic, the team is developing innovative solutions for different fields of application in the world of logistics.
Image sources: BGHW / FINGADO GmbH; Innovation Hub
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