Asset tracking enables the capture of real-time data about the location, movement, and status of assets. This information can provide valuable insights into processes and workflows, increasing productivity and efficiency.
However, choosing the right asset-tracking technology can be daunting.
With options ranging from UWB to GPS to the ubiquitous RFID, how do you know which one is right for your business? Asset tracking technologies overlap in capabilities, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Furthermore, sometimes two complementary technologies are needed to track an asset.
Issues like real-world performance, accuracy, reliability, compliance and integration with existing infrastructure add to the complexity of selecting the right asset-tracking technology.
The journey of selecting the right technology starts with understanding your business requirements. While every business is different, there are some key questions all businesses should answer to help identify the right technology.
1. What Types of Asset are you Tracking?
Modern asset-tracking technologies can track all kinds of assets. Work in Progress (WIP), inventory, machines, tools, and even processes – everything is trackable.
So how do you decide what to track?
Expensive assets are worth tracking. High-accuracy tracking technologies like GPS and UWB are used to track commercial vehicles & machinery to prevent theft, yard management, and other location challenges.
However, the cost of an asset is merely one aspect to consider when selecting the type of asset to track.
Operationally critical assets are also excellent candidates for tracking. These are assets that may not be expensive but are essential to the operation of your business. Tools are a good example. Tools are relatively inexpensive. However, misplaced or incorrectly calibrated tools can cause production delays and faulty outputs.
Modern asset-tracking technologies do not stop at tracking assets. They can also track processes and the interaction between assets. Tracking interaction between assets can be used for enforcing policies, compliance, provisioning equipment, virtual fencing, supply chain management, and more.
It would help if you thought big when choosing what to track.
2. What is your Tracking Environment?
Tracking tags communicate with the tracking system via radio signals. Unfortunately, radio signals are prone to interference and attenuation. Therefore, you should choose the tracking technology as per the tracking environment.
The tracking environment can be broadly divided into indoor and outdoor environments.
Indoor tracking environments like a factory floor have machines, racks, walls, chemicals, water, and people. A typical indoor environment can;
- Absorb the radio signal from the tracking tags, thus making it difficult for the receiver to receive location data.
- Bounce the radio signal from the tracking tags. This creates “radio echoes” (multipath interference) and may cause the sensor to record the incorrect location data.
Indoor environments probably also have other radio transmitters. External radio frequency interference (RFI) from devices like two-way radios, remote controls, motors, relays, motion sensors, and other tags can interfere with location tag transmitters and sensors.
Outdoor environments also have their challenges. The radio signal from the tracking tags can be scattered and absorbed by buildings, trees, haze, fog, and rain.
Outdoor asset tracking systems may also encounter extreme weather conditions and a wide range of temperatures.
Outdoor asset tracking hardware must be rugged and weatherproof to withstand the elements. They should also be able to operate at extreme temperatures and over a wide range of temperature variations.
Tracking processes that move between indoor and outdoor environments presents an additional challenge. Ubisense’s dual-mode devices, like UWB + GPS, come in handy when tags move between indoor and outdoor environments.
Dual-mode devices can seamlessly switch between indoor and outdoor tracking modes without user intervention. The device automatically uses the most appropriate technology for the tracking environment.
A Note on Real-World Performance
Just like the advertised mileage of a car, the performance of an asset-tracking system in the real world may be lower than what was measured in a lab under ideal conditions.
The real world is a dynamic environment. It is full of metallic objects, moving people & equipment, and interference. The tracking system should be able to handle all of these challenges and still provide accurate location data.
With Ubisense, you can locate with confidence. Using Time Distance of Arrival and Angle of Arrival with advanced filtering algorithms, Ubisense gives you more reliable and accurate location data.
Accuracy is not the only performance metric where real-world performance may be lower than promised. Some other points to keep in mind when selecting asset-tracking technology are.
- Flexibility and Scalability
- The density of tracked assets
- Battery life
3. What level of accuracy do you require?
Asset tracking technologies can be very accurate. For example, Ubisense’s ultra-wideband (UWB) tags have an accuracy of 30cm. You need this level for accuracy if you need to track assets for, say, collision avoidance.
However, not all use cases need this level of accuracy. The accuracy of asset tracking technology ranges from “centimeter-level accuracy” to “room-level accuracy.”
Room-level accuracy (2-5 meters) may be sufficient for tracking a forklift. However, tracking a tool may require shelf-level accuracy. If shelf-level accuracy is required, 3D coordinates are typically needed necessitating the use of UWB technology.
While tag technology defines the upper limit of accuracy, sensors and software also have a role to play.
Ubisense’s DIMENSION4™ UWB Real-Time Location System (RTLS) sensors measure Time-Difference-of-Arrival (TDoA) and 2-axis Angle-of-Arrival (AoA) of UWB signals at the same time to provide accurate 3D tracking.
DIMENSION4™ also uses advanced filtering algorithms. The algorithm selects the most reliable measurements, thus improving precision by rejecting obstructed and reflected signals.
4. Are you restricted by cost?
The cost of the asset tracking technology is also an important consideration. While both BLE and UHF Passive RFID have similar accuracies, BLE tags are 100x more expensive than RFID tags. Therefore, a cost vs. benefit analysis should be performed when selecting an asset-tracking technology.
5. What Form Factor do you require?
The form factor of the tracking tag is also an important consideration. The size and shape of the tag become important for smaller objects and tools. For example, BLE tags are bigger than RFID tags and, therefore, unsuitable for tagging small objects.
Ubisense offers a variety of tag designs, from hard-wearing and robust industrial tags suitable for heavy machinery or products to lightweight tags that can be attached to safety equipment or clothing.
Ubisense also offers modular tags. These tags can be easily integrated into third-party equipment. Modular tags draw power from the host and are pre-certified to minimize additional RF testing.
6. Will you require Integration?
State-of-the-art asset tracking technology goes beyond tracking the spatial location of assets by integrating them with other systems and processes.
Digital twins, IIoT, automatic digital audit, and integration with ERP are some features to look for in an asset-tracking technology stack.
Ubisense has taken asset tracking to millimeter-level accuracy by integrating UWB tags with a camera-based vision system. This asset-tracking technology can precisely locate assembly tools to within millimeters and distinguish between adjacent fasteners. This “bolt-level” accuracy is state-of-the-art in asset tracking.
7. Can you afford weaker battery life?
While passive technologies like passive RFID don’t require a battery, active technologies such as BLE and UWB do. As a result, the battery life of the tags is an essential consideration for active tags.
Ubisense UHF active RFID tags have a battery life of fewer than three years, while batteries on our UWB tags can last more than ten years. Ubisense industrial tags have a deep-sleep mode to preserve the battery. Replacing batteries on inferior tracking technologies can be a costly process.
8. Is Dual Mode Operation beneficial to your operation?
Another critical feature to consider is dual-mode operation. Dual-mode asset tracking tags can simultaneously use one or more location tracking technology. Dual mode capability is vital if you need to track assets in different environments or at different accuracy levels along the process.
Ubisense provides asset tracking technologies in various dual-mode combinations – like the UWB + BLE dual-mode tag. This tag leverages the strengths of both technologies.
The Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) part of the tag is a low-power consumption system. One of the many use cases of BLE is the passive identification of other devices within range. The Ultra Wideband (UWB) localization feature uses wideband ranging to detect even small changes in location and movement direction with precision. Dual mode tags are used for creating smart, situationally aware assets.
9. Have you considered the Tracking Frequency?
The tracking frequency is the number of times per second that the asset tracking system updates the location of an asset. The higher the tracking frequency, the more accurate the system will be.
Ubisense’s predictive Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) have a tracking frequency of hundreds of hertz.
When selecting the right asset-tracking technology for your business, it is essential to consider multiple factors.
The operating environment, cost of the technology, battery life, form factor, and tracking frequency are all important considerations.
Ubisense has a wide range of experience designing and deploying state-of-the-art asset-tracking solutions. We can advise you on the best technology or combination of technologies to suit your requirements. Contact us today to learn more.