What is asset tracking?
Before stating what asset tracking is, let’s clarify what is meant with assets in this context. Assets are (valuable) items or equipment owned by a company. Think of compressors, transfer pumps, trailers, containers, pallets or manufacturing parts. The difference between for example compressors and trailers is that compressors have an onboard engine while trailers do not. Assets like trailers lack an internal battery or power source and are referred to as non-powered assets.
There is one thing these non-powered assets all have in common. There are tons of non-powered assets out there and almost nobody is aware of their exact location and usage. Asset tracking, sometimes also called asset management, is a solution to track the location and usage of different sorts of assets. Both outdoor and indoor asset tracking is possible and can be combined.
To make you more familiar with asset tracking, several methods to track assets are discussed in this article. Some asset tracking methods, like barcode scanning or RFID, already exist for a very long time. Besides this, tracking powered assets was never really challenging because GPS devices can easily be wired to the asset’s power supply. What is a technological breakthrough, is the rise of autonomous trackers that rely on GPS and the Internet of Things to track non-powered assets.
In general, the goal of tracking your (non-powered) assets is to gain valuable business insights, to maximize your operational efficiency and to minimize equipment loss or abuse. Let us have a look at different methods that can help you achieve these goals when it comes to (non-powered) asset tracking.
Which methods are there to track assets?
As mentioned previously, there are different methods to track your assets. Before looking at the different methods, we would like to point out the difference between more traditional and new approaches in asset tracking.
Traditional approaches like asset labeling give a unique digital identity to each piece of your equipment through assigning it a specific code or number. This is achieved by fixing a label to the equipment that bears the number. Besides the labels, you need scanning infrastructure at different locations to scan when your assets are in range. Examples of the traditional approach are RFID, barcodes, and NFC.
New approaches in asset tracking use battery-powered tags, typically with a battery that will last between 3 and 5 years, that can autonomously determine your asset’s location and communicate this to the internet. An example here is GPS tracking.
There is no such thing as a wrong method. Depending on your business, one method will work for you and another will not.
Radio-frequency identification, RFID in short, uses radio waves to wirelessly transmit the identity and other characteristics of an object. This asset tracking method is mainly used for mobility tracking of objects and people. If you put an RFID tag on an object, it will be recognized by the RFID system when it is in a range of less than a meter. This is why RFID is more suitable for selective object identification. Benefits of asset tracking with RFID is that it is cost-effective, easy to maintain and provides both identification and location.
A unique series of parallel lines printed on a product’s package, a barcode as we all know it, is another way to keep track of your assets. Barcodes can easily be printed with ink on most materials. While RFID has issues being read on some types of materials like for example, metal. To track your asset, you simply scan the barcode using a smartphone or a barcode reader. Barcodes are more cost-effective than RFID but don’t offer the possibility of automating your whole process. You need visual alignment between your reader and the barcode which is less reliable over time.
Near-field communication comes close to RFID asset tracking and requires no special RFID equipment. With this method, you can use smartphones to keep track of your assets and inventory. NFC devices are for example used in contactless payment systems. You can thus imagine that the NFC tag needs to be close to the reader, usually within ten centimeters. This means you cannot stand away and read a truckload of items at the same time. Each item needs to be read separately. However, you do not need to focus a reader or scanner on a tag as you do when scanning barcodes, coming near a tag is enough to read and process the assets.
GPS asset tracking
GPS trackers can be used to track assets globally. Whereas the previous methods strongly depend on installed infrastructure, geolocation via GPS asset tracking does not. The tracking device can determine the assets’ location anywhere in the world.
The trackers usually rely on an internal battery for power rather than being dependent on a vehicle’s battery. The advantage of using GPS for tracking your assets is its global availability, its precision and the fact that no local infrastructure is required. GPS trackers work by autonomously providing information on the exact location of the assets they are attached to. The downside of tracking with GPS only is that it requires quite some energy.
Note that GPS is only the technology used by the trackers to determine an asset’s location. The trackers still need to communicate this location to the system. As GPS trackers are typically globally used, they use a sort of public telecommunications network to do this. Traditionally based on well-known telecommunication networks (2G/3G/4G), and now also using so-called IoT LPWAN networks. The latter because they require less energy to communicate and are more cost-effective.
Bluetooth Low Energy
Bluetooth Low Energy can be applied in different ways for asset tracking. First of all, you can place fixed location geo beacons that emit their ID. Moving trackers that are close to the beacon will pick up these signals. Secondly, you can have moving trackers that emit a Bluetooth signal which will be picked up by local Bluetooth gateways. Thirdly, you can have moving trackers that emit a Bluetooth signal which is picked up by mobile devices that are Bluetooth enabled e.g. smartphones.
Advantageous to Bluetooth Low Energy and BLE beacons is the fact that there is no interaction required with existing IT infrastructure for communication. Depending on the infrastructure, this geolocation technology works accurately outdoors and indoors. The more BLE beacons you install indoor, the more accurate the positioning of your asset will be. The main argument to use BLE technology is the fact that the battery lifetime is guaranteed for many years.
What are the key benefits of asset tracking?
Numerous businesses from all over the world have assets they need to keep track of and maintain. If you succeed in implementing the right solution for your business, you’ll experience several benefits, including:
- Automated inventory – Avoid endless calling around to locate an asset & eliminate human error
- Optimized asset usage – Understand the use-rate on your fleet, as well as over-use and non-usage
- Increased operational efficiency – Know in real-time where your assets have been allocated and plan asset allocation accordingly
- Better customer service – Improve your customer service thanks to insights in asset usage and management practices
- Reduced risk – Minimize risk by timely detecting theft and abuse of your assets
- Maintenance savings – Insights into asset usage allow you to anticipate on maintenance and reduce maintenance & replacement costs
When do you use asset tracking?
Locating your assets can be an essential part of your business. Especially if you have many assets and currently don’t know where they are and when they are on the move. Depending on what type of assets you want to track and where they are located, you can combine indoor and outdoor asset tracking or opt for either outdoor or indoor asset tracking.
Let us look at a few different use cases in which asset tracking has proven its value:
- Combine outdoor and indoor asset tracking to track manufacturing components that are constantly on the move and need to arrive at their destination undamaged
- Track Returnable Transport Packaging (RTPs) in real-time as they transit through various warehouses and international departments
- Improve the rotation rate and avoid abuse by tracking your Returnable Transport Packaging
- Monitor supply chain KPIs, improve capacity management and measure subcontractor compliance by tracking your trailers
- Track demo and rental equipment that moves across countries to (potential) customers
What does Sensolus offer?
At Sensolus we have a lot of expertise in-house on asset tracking and IoT. What does this mean for you? It means we research each use case in detail and will decide together with you which configuration of our solution is the right fit for your business. After deciding how you will use our solution, a guided testing and training process is set-up. The guidance we offer in terms of training and configuration is to ensure you get the most out of our tracking solution for your business.
Our solution itself combines software and hardware to make your assets communicate their location and activity. On top of this data, analytics are tailored to your processes to create real value for your business. Interested? Request a demo here.