News & Analysis

Safe distancing solution protects Digi-Key employees

13th April 2021
Mick Elliott

Digi-Key Electronics has deployed a safe distancing solution in its Thief River Falls product distribution centre (PDC) with more than 2,500 active employee badges online in the first two weeks of the solution deployment.

The Safe Distancing solution works through a badge 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 improve the accuracy and efficiency of necessary quarantine procedures.

By deploying Option's Bluetooth badge sensors to employees potentially working in close contact with others, Digi-Key has been able to more accurately perform contact tracing procedures and significantly 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 the most employee privacy out of any solution available on the market, the Safe Distancing solution was also the quickest option to integrate, and Digi-Key did not have to make any significant investment in the infrastructure.

The battery life on the badge is also 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 technology in the future as part of their 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 (low-power wide-area 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 company’s "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 they were 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 4, and another scenario went from 19 down to 3.

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 6 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 badges only need to be charged about once per week. 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 roll-out of the Option Safe Distancing Solution for the Workplace," said Brian Taney, CEO of GetWireless. "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 well-being of their great team."

"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," said Alain Van den Broeck, CEO of Option.

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