Bluetooth badges enable safe distancing for workers

Friday, 23 April, 2021 | Supplied by: Digi-Key Electronics

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, with unexpected spikes and surges in different regions at different times, electronic components distributor Digi-Key Electronics remains committed to maintaining a safe and clean work environment. The company has thus deployed a robust safe distancing solution for all employees in its product distribution centre (PDC), with more than 2500 active employee badges online in the first two weeks of the deployment.

The Safe Distancing Solution from Option works through a Bluetooth badge sensor that each individual employee is issued. The badges interact wirelessly with one another and feed to a cloud platform, which can maintain contact tracing information and should improve the accuracy and efficiency of necessary quarantine procedures. By deploying the badge sensors to employees potentially working in close contact with others, Digi-Key has been able to better perform contact tracing procedures and reduce the number of employees that need to quarantine when an employee does test positive.

“We selected the badge option with Option because it really offered the best in employee privacy,” said Shane Zutz, Vice President of Human Resources for Digi-Key. “It provides the contact tracing needed to mitigate disruptions due to health concerns, without an infringement of privacy, and does not trace anyone beyond our corporate campus.”

Beyond offering employee privacy, the Safe Distancing solution was also quick to integrate, and Digi-Key did not have to make any significant investment in the infrastructure. The battery life on the badges is long enough that it won’t be seen as too intrusive to ask employees to charge them once a week. Digi-Key also already had plans to implement LoRa (low-power wide-area) technology in the future as part of its ‘smart warehouse’ initiative, and this option was one of the few that was based on a LoRa network.

The solution works on a LoRa network that is active within the walls of the Digi-Key campus. The newly built-out LoRa network wirelessly transmits the information to a cloud platform that securely maintains contact records in the event that a contact tracing report needs to be created. The LoRa network also opens up other options for future applications critical to the smart warehouse initiative such as building access, area access, asset tracking and more.

When considering deploying a solution, Digi-Key ran several test cases and realised it was able to significantly cut down on the number of employees quarantining due to a potential COVID-19 exposure based on CDC guidelines. One scenario reduced the number of people from 23 to four, and another scenario went from 19 down to three. Since the solution is based on contact events between badges, rather than more invasive means like employee interviews, the solution can more accurately report when employees are within six feet of one another for an extended period of time.

Digi-Key worked with value-added distributor and integration partner GetWireless on the deployment and support of the badge devices and gateways. The company is already using visitor-specific badges for the minimal visitors allowed in the building at this time.

“The GetWireless Team is proud to have worked closely with Digi-Key during their trial and rollout of the Option Safe Distancing Solution for the workplace,” said GetWireless CEO Brian Taney. “It is exciting to see a large, innovative organisation like Digi-Key leveraging IoT solutions to address real-world issues and, in turn, to gain greater visibility into the wellbeing of their great team.”

Option CEO Alain Van den Broeck added, “Digi-Key recognised the strength and flexibility of Option’s solution, which rests on two pillars — WMW’s cloud-based platform with apps and data registrars and Option’s CloudGate IoT gateway with superior wireless LoRaWAN performance — both core building blocks for successful digital transformations in Digi-Key.”

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