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Trackunit Moves Closer to Amazon Sidewalk-Like Network with Hilti Partnership

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As telematics and GPS-enabled fleet management become widely used on heavy construction equipment, a partnership between power-actuated tool vendor Hilti and software-as-a-service (SaaS) fleet management vendor Trackunit drives connected construction into some of the smallest devices used on construction sites and in field service scenarios. Ultimately, these devices could communicate across a mesh network similar to the one used by Ring doorbells and other consumer devices, taking asset tracking, device management and interoperability to new heights in the construction industry.

Trackunit--headquartered  in Aalborg, Denmark and with a United States presence in Chicago--and Schaan, Liechtenstein-based Hilti with its North American headquarters in Plano, Texas have integrated their respective asset tracking applications, making them interoperable and extending each other’s reach in the market.

In a phone interview with ForConstructionPros the morning after the announcement, Trackunit CEO Soeren Brogaard described how the partnership combines the Bluetooth 5.2 standard, asset tags on Hilti equipment and the companies’ two asset tracking software networks to provide visibility into power tool location and, with accelerometers that interpret vibration data as active equipment usage, actual run time. That run time data can be shared by the contractor, the OEM manufacturer of the equipment—in this case Hilti—enabling intelligent decisions about asset management.

“What we are providing contractors with is a digital twin for these asset classes like you are accustomed to for your machines,” Brogaard said. “For the first time for these asset classes, we can tell you the actual run time, when do we need to provide service, when do we need to consider upselling or replacing equipment.”

HiltiHilti

Hilti currently offers its On!Track tool management software application that combines Bluetooth tracking devices on its tools to a cloud application that captures data from the tagged tools every two minutes. The On!Track application monitors tool usage, location and usage to support a spectrum of business functions including maintenance, decommissioning of equipment, certification management for various tools and, for rented equipment, rental return dates.

The partnership extends the market presence and capabilities of both Hilti and Trackunit.  Applicability of Hilti’s ON!Track solution expands beyond light equipment to the heavy machinery covered by Trackunit’s leading construction equipment asset management application. Trackunit gains access to an expanded global network of devices and connectivity. The partnership also results in a net new and innovative solution for van inventory management for all customer categories in the construction industry.

Creating a Global Construction Asset Network

Trackunit will, according to Brogaard, seek to repeat this partnership approach, resulting in a broad ecosystem of Bluetooth-connected devices.

“We do have some ambitions to first and foremost broaden the network,” Brogaard said. “The prerequisite is to have a wide Bluetooth network, similar to what Amazon Web Services did with Sidewalk.”

Amazon Sidewalk is a low-bandwidth long-range wireless communication protocol that uses Bluetooth Low Energy for short distance communications with an enabled device and 900 MHz LoRa (long range) or to communicate over long distances. It is the shared network that encompasses Amazon Echo, Ring security cameras and other devices deliver value to end users. This mesh network leverages a flood network principal, with devices on the network relaying messages from one to another, eventually handing it off to the device that needs to consume it.

The On!Track solution currently enables users to leverage machines that are telematic equipped through service vans or antennas on job sites and field service or equipment depots. The combined solution will be able to access Trackunit’s proprietary mesh network—the construction industry’s largest network of trackable devices. Hilti extends that network’s reach and also gives Trackunit even deeper hooks into the North American construction sector thanks in part to its 2021 acquisition of field productivity software vendor Fieldwire. Trackunit meanwhile acquired the industrial internet of things (IIoT) division of competitor ZTR in 2021, substantially growing its own network of connected devices.

Brogaard described how Trackunit’s Kin functionality combines the company's Kin brand asset tags and global mesh network. While  Trackunit uses full telemetry units on major equipment assets, equipment attachments or smaller tools can now be tagged with a device that uses Bluetooth 5.2 to communicate location information to prevent loss, or to ensure a crew is not leaving a depot without necessary equipment or tools for the task they will be completing. These tags can communicate across the mesh network with an antenna on the telemetry units of larger assets.

The Trackunit Kin Asset TagThe Trackunit Kin Asset TagTrackunit

If Brogaard’s vision is fully realized, and the company creates a broad ecosystemto Amazon Sidewalk, tagged assets could communicate not through a nearby antenna but through other devices on the network. One early partner of Amazon Sidewalk, for instance was Tile Inc. Customers can affix Tile tags to key chains, wallets and other items and later be able to locate them from much further away than standard Bluetooth range. The range of the Bluetooth signal is extended by other devices on the mesh network, so the larger the network gets, the more value it delivers.

This is in keeping with the economic concept appropriate named the Network Effect, where the value and utility of a good or service increases number of people using it. The Ring doorbell may pick up a signal form an asset tag on a lost wallet and relay it to an Echo device next door, eventually returning the signal to the person who lost the wallet.

 “If you have a connected machine close to you—that coverage will increase the usability and allow you to integrate this in workflow management in ways that have not been done before,” Brogaard said. “The biggest evolution in this space—in the asset classes of lighter equipment—will come from the fact that less than 10 percent of these compaction, drilling and other tools are connected. So there is a potential upside of hundreds of millions of devices. Capturing, persisting, harmonizing, making data available to the ecosystem, OEM, rental or contractor—that is a daunting task. But if we have a consistent data pool, if our APIs structured well, access to developers can make extendable and make the ecosystem really excited.”

Connected Construction with Bluetooth

Hilti-connected tools can network either with a Trackunit telemetry unit or an antenna in depot, at a construction site or in a field service van.

“It is easy to integrate this into field service management workflows,” Brogaard said. “We extend the data through our open application program interfaces (APIs). Hilti does have service management capabilities in On!Track.”

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