Most consumers buy their beer in cans or bottles, but for a commercial brewery, the critical unit of measure is the keg. Managing a fleet of kegs, however, isn’t all beer and skittles. The metal casks often get lost as they travel through the supply chain, triggering the need for expensive replacements.
In 2019, the New South Wales, Australia-based startup Konvoy Kegs was founded to solve that problem by providing a keg-rental option for the beverage industry. Konvoy grew fast, and today the firm serves well-known regional brands like the craft breweries Moon Dog, Fixation, Parrot Dog, and Hawkers.
As Konvoy grew, company leaders quickly realized that they needed better visibility into the location of every keg in their fleet. They had been tracking these assets with technologies like radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, bar codes, and quick response (QR) codes, but scans were often missed, leading to incomplete tracking data and, ultimately, lost kegs.
So the firm looked for a solution in internet of things (IoT) technology, with a goal of making it easier to manage the keg supply chain and differentiating themselves in the sector. After evaluating its options, Konvoy decided to develop a custom tracking and monitoring solution with the IoT telecommunications firm Thinxtra, the customized IoT solution provider UnaBiz, and the cloud-based IoT network provider Sigfox.
“When we first [started discussions with the tech providers], we already had a precise idea of what we were looking for,” Adam Trippe-Smith, founder and managing director at Konvoy Group, Konvoy Kegs’ parent company, said in a release. “The solution needed to be robust, be low-cost, and last a minimum of five years. More than anything, we wanted to offer real-time information and high visibility to producers and keg rental companies on their keg fleet and enable them to not only reduce loss but also optimize keg use.”
The solution the partners developed is called the “Kegfox” beacon, a battery-powered passive tracking device that’s programmed to send location data to Konvoy via Thinxtra’s Sigfox network at regular intervals or upon specific events. Thanks to the low power consumption of Sigfox’s network, the beacons can last up to seven years, transmitting location and temperature information without needing frequent maintenance, Konvoy says.
That temperature-tracking capability turned out to be a big plus for the startup, according to the partners. “While we focused initially on tracking, this solution has given us the opportunity to also monitor the kegs’ temperature,” Trippe-Smith said. “Because most of the producers have unpasteurized beverages, leaving a keg at too high a temperature actually spoils the product. Being able to send an alert to our customer saying their keg has been transported at the right temperature is an important benefit for them.”
Konvoy announced in November that it had tagged 20,000 of its kegs with the beacons and expected to outfit 95% of its fleet in Australia and New Zealand—some 70,000 kegs in total—by the end of 2020. The beacon technology now allows Konvoy and its customers to reduce keg losses, while maximizing the use of their keg fleets and enabling them to use the kegs more times per year. In fact, it has been so successful that Konvoy Group in 2021 is launching a new business division, Katch Asset Tracking, to offer asset-tracking solutions to other keg owners globally.