Networked product and service innovation for semi-trailers

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5 minutes Reading time
5 minutes Reading time

Transport companies and dispatchers are constantly placing new demands on goods transport and the manufacturers of the commercial vehicles and trailers used. In addition to the unconditional preservation of freshness and quality of the goods, strict hygiene and environmental regulations pose a particular logistical challenge. With the increasing digitalization of the logistics industry, many facilitations have already been created. New challenges are now emerging from the growing demands of transportation service providers’ customers, who are noticing success stories of new (IoT) technologies from other industries.

As a leading manufacturer of semi-trailers, box bodies and trailers for refrigerated freight – and in order to defend and expand this position – Schmitz Cargobull AG has therefore been increasingly including digital services in its portfolio of offerings since 2018 and has made Microsoft Azure a strong partner. The research and development that goes into the highly innovative semi-trailers means that there is a lot of potential for the end customer to save costs.

The challenge: Transport companies and dispatchers need permanent availability

Transportation company customers want to know exactly where their goods are and condition data and indications of problems during transport. The need for permanent localization of the tractor-trailer combination makes digital solutions indispensable in logistics. Since customers sometimes transport extraordinarily sensitive and expensive goods with the semi-trailers, permanent availability is a major issue. To date, many transport companies still lack a standardized view of data such as the maintenance status of trailers, goods information or vehicle workshop visits. The predictions and reasons for possible failures are also unknown (keyword: predictive maintenance).

The challenge is also to bring together disconnected data to derive the desired benefits from it. Internally, too, data silos (heterogeneous, local data storage) prevent the emergence of synergy effects between departments for the development of cross-departmental offers and services for customers. Digital services are often based on individual programming with corresponding initial and maintenance costs and are associated with a longer time to market (product launch, market maturity). The increasing volume of data in the databases also presented Schmitz Cargobull with a challenge: the infrastructure operated on site is limited and can only be expanded at enormous financial expense.

The solution: Simple portal for transport companies and a stable cloud solution for the future

The customer’s request for detailed localization of goods is implemented by telematics systems that link the fields of telecommunications and information technology. The sister company Cargobull Telematics has already been active in this field for over 15 years. Refrigerated trailers leaving the factory have a telematics unit and the possibility of digital monitoring – now every trailer has such a unit. The first customer portal was no longer able to cope with the rapid market growth and requirements for new functionalities. Therefore, a new portal with new software was built. For Schmitz Cargobull, telematics is one of the most important topics of the future.

Here’s how it works: An intelligent telematics module in the trailer plus a SIM card delivers the necessary encrypted data to the cloud. The data is received, processed, securely stored and prepared for the end customer. Important: The data belong to the end customer, the transport company! The individual software with its own partner management is developed in-house by Schmitz Cargobull. In this way, all the customer’s requirements from the specialist departments can be received and specifically implemented.

Cloud-first strategy: Schmitz Cargobull has opted for the cloud solution from Microsoft Azure and against internal on-site hosting. The guaranteed system availability and the turnkey services, such as the IoT Hub or Stream Analytics, support this decision. Important data can thus flow reliably and seamlessly into the customers’ ERP systems.

A unified view of data is ensured by channeling separate data into a data lake (big data store of raw data) in the cloud. This is supported by the portal operated on Azure, which customers can use to query relevant KPIs.

Internal data silos and increasing data volumes are also contained by the Microsoft-operated data center. A so-called Azure Managed Service automatically moves data that is rarely retrieved from the database to the less expensive cold storage after 180 days – the number may differ somewhat depending on the number of trailers and clusters used. The same happens in reverse with data that is used very frequently. Another added value of the outsourced operation: Schmitz Cargobull can simply add the Azure-based backup solutions, proxy servers, load balancers and firewalls without having to purchase and operate the solutions themselves.

The result: Cost savings for dispatchers and over 55,000 trailers with telematics feature

The cloud-based external infrastructure benefits from its scalability compared to the internal on-premises approach (software on site). The cloud does not limit the amount of data to be analyzed or the number of simultaneous queries. Programming efforts (for new services) are reduced to a minimum and Schmitz Cargobull can focus more on developing ideas and designing new digital services. The time to market is also shortened enormously, as there is no longer any need to invest in necessary hardware or individual programming and turnkey modules can be used.

Customers of the manufacturer can access all relevant data, localize their goods and optimize business processes via the Microsoft Cloud platform Azure. By maintaining the necessary availability with widespread use of telematics offerings, Schmitz Cargobull can deliver on a high performance promise to its customers.

Microsoft as a partner for the future: With 35,000 partners, the Azure platform offers an ecosystem with which all requirements are manageable.

“We expect the number of connected trailers to continue to rise steadily over the next years. So this is a real growth market that requires corresponding services and infrastructure,” says Schmitz Cargobull.

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