The modern business landscape is awash with ‘smart companies’ where asset management technology is used to monitor operational processes and communicate, in real-time, with both humans and other devices. The valuable data that is amassed through this process provides the detailed analytics that underpins decision making and helps companies drive future development.
For those looking to this type of technology for their businesses, here are three asset management trends that businesses are benefiting from.
The growth of RFID
RFID is a wireless technology that enables large numbers of items to be connected and their data collected and processed. It improves asset management because each connected item can be located, identified and interacted with.
RFID uses readers to collect data from tagged items, providing companies with audits of inventory, equipment, manufacturing parts and other items that can be analysed to improve efficiency and lower costs. For example, if there is an error with a batch of products, the RFID readers can identify its location, enabling it to be quickly and easily removed so that it isn’t shipped to customers. One of the biggest advantages of RFID is that the tags, such as those available from Universal Smart Cards, are inexpensive, making it affordable to attach them to every item.
Recently, RFID has begun to be adopted in large-scale industrial, manufacturing, retail and distribution companies. By installing a range of readers in and around an operational environment and using UHF (Ultrahigh Frequency) tags that can be read over longer distances, it is able to track the real-time location and movement of items throughout an area, removing the need to force them through a monitoring bottleneck. As a result, employees can have instant access to live stock reports and data generated can be analysed to improve workflows.
Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons
Like RFID, Bluetooth is another technology that is opening the door to improved asset tracking. One area of particular growth is the use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons. BLE beacons and tags enable companies to continuously track their assets, providing highly accurate information about their location and movement.
Unlike RFID tags, BLE beacons have their own battery, which enables them to act as signal transmitters without needing to be activated by a reader. This makes them ideal proximity detection devices which are able to transmit signals to a wide range of readers, including smartphones, computers and room scanners.
Another advantage is that BLE beacon systems are easily and quickly deployed. Tags can be coded using a smartphone app before attaching them to an item. They are also the ideal solution for tracking valuable assets and for locating items that can be moved across a site. In hospitals, for example, they are used for finding equipment and beds that may have been taken to different wards when patients were transferred. In domestic use, many people use them to find their misplaced car keys.
Whilst there have been some security issues with BLE beacons, this has often been the result of poor security configuration. Encrypted passwords can be enabled on BLE tags and beacons and this makes sure that data cannot be intercepted.
Hybrid asset tracking systems
RFID and BLE technologies both have their advantages, but some companies are finding that using them together to create a unified tracking solution is the ideal option. In such a system, each type of tag can fulfil the function that it is best suited to. BLE tags, for example, can be used to track larger or more important equipment, like machinery, that is used across the entire premises, whereas RFID tags can track manufacturing parts and inventory. As data from both types of tag can be analysed using the same applications, it means that operators get an overarching view of everything – and in real-time.
The tracking software is the key to making a hybrid system work. It will collect the data from the separate technologies and unify it using a single interface. This will enable the creation of customised reports and let operators configure rule-based alerts. It can also be integrated with a variety of other software, such as warehouse management apps, for instance.
A final advantage of using a hybrid system is that, as both technologies can be operated using the same application, there are savings to be made in system costs. Separate applications would, obviously, be more expensive; however, a company that currently uses RFID and wanted to begin adding BLE to its systems could do so very cheaply.
RFID and BLE provide the ideal solutions for asset tracking. They are inexpensive systems to implement, they can track a wide range of items accurately and in real-time, and they provide highly informative analytics that can help make things more efficient and reduce costs. What’s more, they work well, in tandem, to provide a truly panoramic system.