Manufacturing has changed over the last few years. More demanding delivery schedules, more personalized products, “just in time” manufacturing processes, and a global pandemic have made their mark, and many manufacturers are struggling to remain competitive. The need to maintain oversight of increasingly complex operations has led facility managers to look for innovative solutions. Thy need to tracking raw materials and parts, seeing them through non-linear production lines and busy transit yards, and work to a tight schedule. Luckily for them, manufacturing is undergoing a “smart” revolution.
Smart Manufacturing Logistics
Smart Logistics or “Logistics 4.0” is concerned with speeding up all logistics processes through the use of smart tools and technologies. This will involve inventory management, demand forecasting, and production line optimization, and can include aspects such as worker schedule management and vehicle parking and dispatch management. Due to the increasing availability of autonomous management systems, many of these tasks can now be completed through the use of specialized software and IoT devices designed to track vital assets in a manufacturing environment.
What are IPS and RTLS?
Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS) and Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) are becoming core components of this smart logistics movement. While often confused, IPS usually refers to location-based services on mobile phones where GPS doesn’t work. While RTLS refers to the tracking of vital assets at a distance through the use of sensors and tags. While many manufacturing environments can make use of existing mobile devices carried by workers, and legacy wi-fi systems, it is RTLS which is proving to be the most useful system for tracking assets within industrial environments. And there are many different RTLS technologies.
How does tracking assets help in manufacturing logistics?
On its most basic level, tracking vital assets, whether they be raw materials, vehicles, machinery, tools, or people, can demystify the manufacturing process. By knowing where vital assets are at all times, one can build up a digital twin of a process, which can allow for greater oversight of the processes, predictive analytics, and consequence-free experimentation.
Most manufacturing and warehousing environments will have some sort of tracking system, usually involving RFID tags which are manually scanned. And while these can be used to sign products or inventory or personnel in and out of certain locations, they do not help with any deeper insights or automation tasks. By installing a modern RTLS system, one can quickly solve many of the problems in modern manufacturing environments such as missing tools and equipment, production line bottlenecks, and complex warehousing tasks.
UWB RTLS in manufacturing logistics: Why is it better?
As mentioned above, there are many different types of RTLS system, and some are better suited to complex manufacturing environments than others. The problem with building an RTLS system that needs to cover a whole manufacturing facility is the variety and scale of the environment.
For example, Bluetooth technology has existed for a long time now, and it has been deployed for tracking purposes in many manufacturing environments, but it can often be problematic. Bluetooth signals often struggle with interference from machinery and other radio signals, and they lack the accuracy required for precision-based automation and tracking tasks. It can also prove less useful when switching from indoor to large outdoor environments, such as transit yards and separate warehousing facilities.
UWB is becoming more popular for a reason. Using specialized radio signals, UWB (Ultra-wideband) can send interference free data between tagged assets and sensors with a far greater accuracy than other competing systems. Often achieving centimeter-level accuracy, UWB is often what is required in cluttered, complex environments, and it is currently being used by some of the most well-known companies in the word to improve their manufacturing logistics.
What are the core benefits of a UWB Smart Logistics System?
By tagging vital assets in a manufacturing environment with UWB tags and feeding the data into a specialized data visualization tool like SmartSpace®, many potential benefits will become apparent. These include:
A specialized deliveries panel can show you when delivery tasks are complete, in real time, as well as which tasks are currently assigned and in progress. Assign tasks to operators and choose the equipment to be utilized for the delivery. Track the location of any assigned equipment and watch the progress of the tasks on a digital map.
Using maps built from current facility plans and scans of the facility, you can keep track of all tasks. Using filters and searches you can check the availability and location of equipment and operators and assign them to tasks or communicate directly with them. The ability to check back through the history of delivery tasks in this visual setting can help highlight problem areas and bottlenecks in delivery processes.
One of the advantages of a real-time system is the ability to offer instructions to operators via digital displays. The operators can then feedback by confirming pickup or drop off of deliveries, while receiving visual or audio prompts if items are delivered to the wrong space.
See how much each piece of equipment is being used and identify issues such as forklifts spending too long in transit. By identifying anomalies in usage, facilities can better optimize their operations, increasing output and worker efficiency.
Transit Yard Coverage
Transit yards are usually large outdoor spaces requiring careful management for both the loading and unloading of vehicles. With an UWB-based RTLS system, one can automatically prioritize important vehicles and assign workers to them, based on the needs of the production line. If the transit yard is especially large, Ubisense can deploy specialized sensors making use of RTK GPS technology, allowing for accurate positioning and parking of vehicles far away from indoor facilities.
Many products now leave manufacturing sites containing specialized tags, to be used across the product’s lifetime. Many vehicles now contain tags linked to each vehicle’s digital twin, so if the vehicle requires maintenance in future, it’s entire production and usage history will be available to the maintenance team. From a logistics standpoint, this can help streamline maintenance operations for all kinds of products with unique and complex histories. If products require new parts and materials, these can be ordered into the maintenance facility in advance or sent out directly to the customer.
The use cases for RTLS in manufacturing logistics are constantly growing, and the technology will continue to help manufacturers create lower cost, more efficient processes in these uncertain times. If you are interested in RTLS and what it could do for your facility, please reach out to Ubisense here.