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BASF, Thielmann and NXTGN recently signed a Joint Development Agreement (JDA), laying the foundation for a strategic partnership in the field of intermediate bulk container (IBC) tracking. In the coming months, the industry partners will further develop the solution for level measurement and location analysis of IBCs, developed by BASF’s Coatings division. The product, named ‘Tracingo’, will be integrated into NXTGN’s platform ‘ibc.digital’. PPCJ spoke to Victor Kaupe, Manager Transport, Goods Receipt & Projects at BASF, about the project.
Q. How did this partnership come about in terms of collaboration between the three companies? How did you all hear of each other’s projects and realise you could work together?
A. Thielmann and NXTGN have already been working together for several years in the field of container tracking using Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Thielmann and BASF Coatings have a customer relationship with the containers used in BASF Coatings logistics.
When BASF Coatings started its own IoT development process, we got in touch with Thielmann to ask if they would be interested in the solution. At the end of 2022, we re-activated this contact and asked if Thielmann could imagine a collaboration, too.
All three partners bring invaluable experiences in their field, so the collaboration is seen as a win-win-win-situation for everyone: Thielmann, the world’s leading manufacturer of stainless-steel containers, will contribute its know-how on IBCs and customer requirements and act as a sales partner; as a consultant for digitalisation in medium-sized companies and an expert in the field of IoT, NXTGN will lead further product development; as the initiator and user of the technical solution, BASF Coatings remains an important innovation driver in the project.
Eycke-Christian Dörre, Managing Director Services at Thielmann; Harald Borgholte, Divisional Digital Officer at BASF’s Coatings division; and Patrick Franke, Managing Director NXTGN, sign the Joint Development Agreement
Q. It was initially developed by BASF Coatings – is the product a coating or a sensor?
A. The solution is a patented technology based on the evaluation of acoustic signals and the connection of sensors on the IBC to the Internet of Things. It was invented by BASF Coatings and a local start-up and then further developed with yet another external partner over several years, resulting from the interest in having such a solution of our own and the investigation of the market for such a product.
Q. What benefits will Tracingo bring to the logistics process? What problems does it solve?
A. The product named ‘Tracingo’ will be integrated into NXTGN’s platform “ibc.digital”. Forwarding companies and manufacturers of all types of liquids can use “ibc.digital” to track and document the location of their containers, their fill level and conditions in real time. This transparency enables optimised resource planning, customised maintenance and complete traceability, as well as the opportunity to actively steer the handling of containers and to react to changing conditions. We are also preparing the sensors for ATEX certification to enable their use in hazardous areas and to meet the highest safety requirements.
Q. Digitalisation seems to be moving at a very fast-changing pace. What changes have you seen in this industry over the last few years and how do you think digitalisation will affect the industry in the coming decade?
A. Digitalisation is booming and especially within logistics, it’s one of the big impacts now and in future. Within the last few years, we at BASF Coatings learned how important logistics and supply chain management are for a global trade community. We learned how fragile and volatile the value chains can be and how important transparency and flexible management are to both.
Transparency combined with real-time data and the ability to react to changing conditions will become key in future. Successful companies need to understand patterns and must be able to react fast to them, to save time and resources.
Sustainability, circular economy, competition, general constraints in assets, international confrontations and higher energy costs add complexity to the business environment as well.
One enabler to handle all of this will be a smart usage of data and knowledge created out of data. To gather this, IoT can be a solution and especially within the hazardous environment of the Chemical industry, ATEX certified equipment is needed.
Q. Legislation is another key topic that is raised when talking about shipping and logistics. Will Tracingo have to comply with any regulations, or overcome any issues in this arena?
A. Generally, ibc.digital will cover all relevant legal aspects that come along with a digital device and a digital service. These can relate to safety certificates, data and product security and other needs that are important to operate in an industrial and chemical environment.
As we are still in the beginning of the partnership to bring the product to the market, we are evaluating these topics as part of the preparation for commercialisation. Our various experiences and backgrounds support us in that.
Q. What sustainability benefits will Tracingo bring to your customers?
A. The product named Tracingo will be integrated into NXTGN’s platform ibc.digital. The solution will help customers to increase their engagement in circular economy and reduce CO2.
Empty IBCs are not waste. They can be reused after professional cleaning and maintenance. This significantly reduces the CO2 balance. Tracking makes this process easier because fill-level-conditions can be seen in real-time and optimised logistics route calculated.
Q. What are the main challenges involved with bringing a product like this to market?
A. When you work on an IoT sensor combined with a digital service, there are different dimensions of investigation: Hardware, software, dashboards, algorithms and so forth. Everything needs to be linked to each other and needs its own development. Therefore, the team needs to collaborate very closely. Additionally, there are specific requirements in the chemical industry that need to be considered.
When do you anticipate the product being ready for market?
A. Now the main onboarding process has taken place, we can raise the pace regarding the development. We want to speed up the process because we gained a lot of experience within the last years.
Our JDA runs for two years. Within this time, our aim is to plan further field tests and work with full speed on a market launch.
Do you have any ideas about how you could use this technology in other applications or industries?
We have a lot of ideas! We have different use cases in mind, different materials and aggregate conditions, as well as different industries. We believe that one of ibc.digital’s USPs is its flexibility and ability to scale up its opportunities.