| Written by Christian Aadal
Implementing RTLS into your manufacturing process can be highly complex and needs to be thoroughly researched. Simplifying the decision making process will lead to a successful implementation.
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Automotive manufacturers seem to be at the forefront of implementing Industry 4.0 and 'Industrial Internet of Things’-initiatives. The aim is to track and measure goods throughout the whole manufacturing process, from goods inwards to final dispatch (read more about asset tracking RFID software). This makes the complete production process more visible, efficient, and ultimately more profitable. In many manufacturing plants, the development of making the workflow more visible is already implemented or in progress.
Extended reading: RTLS and RFID integration
There are, however, some areas in the process, where assets, materials and even finished vehicles are not visible in the digital world. This applies especially to the production process of vehicles, where assets do not follow a predetermined path. For example, once a vehicle leaves the manufacturing line and enters the finishing area, it can be moved freely around the production site. The challenge is to know the location of each vehicle at any given time and subsequently avoid production delays. To meet these challenges, Real Time Locating Systems can help you make unguided processes highly visible and integrate them into the digital landscape. The system enables your company to monitor, track, and localise assets more effectively, such as vehicles, and helps improve processes your organisation is currently struggling with.
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Integrating an RTLS into your manufacturing landscape can be highly complex, and investment in this area should be thoroughly researched. Like any other investment in your company, the implementation of an RTLS system must be justified. To make a reasonable decision, your company must be clear on the benefits and the technology behind the system. This awareness creates the foundation for a successful implementation of hardware and software. We have provided a list of questions for you to simplify the decision-making process when wanting to employ an RTLS:
1] What is our manufacturing process, and what am I trying to improve?
This question seeks a comprehensive understanding of the product journey, from the initial raw materials to the final output. This includes an overview of the various stages of the production line, the technology and equipment utilised, the workforce involved, and the quality control measures in place. Essentially, it's an exploration of the entire manufacturing lifecycle of the product. Second, the question aims to pinpoint specific areas where the customer perceives potential for improvement or is encountering challenges. This could range from tackling inefficiencies that cause delays and increased costs to addressing quality issues or integrating more sustainable practices and advanced technologies. By gathering insights on both the structure of the manufacturing process and the desired areas of enhancement, the approach is to develop targeted, effective strategies. These strategies are designed not just as temporary fixes but as transformative changes that drive lasting improvements and align with the long-term goals of the business.
2] Is RTLS enough, or do we need to combine the system with active RFID?
This question is inviting you to assess the adequacy of your current tracking and management systems. RTLS is great for real-time tracking of assets or personnel within a defined area, offering precise location data. However, its effectiveness can be limited by factors like range, accuracy under certain conditions, and the type of data it provides. Active RFID, on the other hand, offers wider coverage and can transmit additional data like temperature or status updates. This question essentially probes whether your current RTLS setup meets all your operational requirements. Are there gaps in the data you're collecting or challenges in asset tracking that RTLS alone cannot address? By considering the integration of active RFID, you might enhance your system's capabilities, such as extending the range of tracking, improving data accuracy, or adding new types of data to better inform your decision-making processes. The goal here is to determine if a combined system could optimise your operations, streamline processes, and ultimately deliver greater value to your business.
3] What does my shop floor environment look like?
The intention here is to gain a thorough understanding of the physical and operational characteristics of the production area. This inquiry delves into various facets of the shop floor, such as the layout of machinery and equipment, the flow of materials and workers, the presence of any specialised zones (like assembly or packing areas), and how these elements interact to create the overall production environment. Understanding the shop floor environment in detail is crucial because it directly impacts productivity, quality of output, worker safety, and overall operational efficiency. This knowledge helps identify potential areas for improvement, whether it's reorganising the layout for better workflow, enhancing safety measures, or implementing new technologies to streamline processes.
4] What kind of software is provided, and how does it interface with my current IT infrastructure?
This aspect aims to delve into the specifics of the software solutions currently used or considered and how they fit into their existing technological framework. This question is crucial for understanding the compatibility and integration capabilities of the new software with the customer's existing IT systems. It's about assessing whether the software can seamlessly communicate with the current databases, applications, and hardware or if there will be a need for adjustments or upgrades. The inquiry also touches on the type of functionalities the software offers, its scalability, user-friendliness, and how it can enhance or streamline the customer's business processes. Furthermore, it explores the implications for data management, security, and compliance with industry standards.
5] Can the system operate indoors and outdoors?
The objective is to ascertain the operational versatility and environmental adaptability of the system in question. This inquiry is important for understanding whether the system is designed to function effectively in both indoor and outdoor settings. Different environments present unique challenges: indoors, a system might need to navigate obstacles like walls and machinery and deal with potential interference from other electronic devices. Outdoors it must be robust enough to withstand varying weather conditions, temperature fluctuations, and potentially a wider area of coverage. The question also probes the system's ability to maintain consistent performance and reliability across these diverse settings. For businesses that require seamless operation in both environments, such as logistics or construction companies, the ability of a system to function effectively in both contexts is crucial.
6] How long will the transponder battery last, and can it be replaced?
This is a crucial question that delves into the longevity and maintenance aspects of the transponder's power source. This question seeks to understand the expected lifespan of the transponder's battery under normal operating conditions. Knowing the battery life is vital for planning maintenance schedules, estimating long-term costs, and ensuring uninterrupted operation of the system. It's important to know whether the battery is user-replaceable or requires professional service, which can impact downtime and maintenance costs. The answer to this question is crucial for businesses to evaluate the total cost of ownership and operational efficiency of the transponder system.
7] How can the transponders be attached to the asset?
The focus is on understanding the methods available for securely and effectively attaching the transponders to various assets they wish to track. The inquiry delves into the practical aspects of deployment, like whether the attachment process is simple enough to be done in-house or if it requires specialised tools or technical expertise. Additionally, it's important to consider the impact of the attachment on the asset itself — whether it's invasive or non-invasive, permanent or removable. This is particularly relevant for assets that are sensitive, valuable, or have aesthetic considerations.
8] How can I visually identify individual transponders?
The aim is to explore the methods available for distinguishing one transponder from another in a visible and straightforward manner. This is particularly important in environments where multiple transponders are in use, and quick identification is crucial for efficiency and accuracy in tracking or managing assets. The question delves into whether the transponders have distinct visual markers, such as colour coding, labels, or serial numbers, that can be easily seen and differentiated. It also touches on the importance of these identifiers in various operational contexts, like in fast-paced settings where quick visual recognition can significantly streamline processes. Additionally, the inquiry might encompass understanding if there's a system in place for correlating these visual identifiers with digital records or tracking systems, thus ensuring a seamless integration between physical identification and digital tracking. For businesses, the ability to visually identify individual transponders can be a key factor in the smooth operation of their asset management, inventory tracking, or logistical processes, and this question helps to ascertain the practicality and effectiveness of the transponder system in meeting those needs.
9] Are the transponders equipped with a push-button interface?
This question investigates the interactive capabilities of the transponders. A push button interface suggests that the transponders are not just passive tags but have an element of active user interaction. This feature can be crucial for certain applications. For instance, in a logistics or manufacturing setting, a push button on a transponder could be used to signal specific actions like the completion of a task, the need for maintenance, or to flag an issue. It enhances the functionality of the transponder, making it a tool for communication and not just tracking. The question also probes into the user-friendliness and accessibility of the transponders. Are they designed to be used easily by staff, or do they require training?
10] Is the system scalable?
The intention is to gauge the ability of the system to adapt and grow in response to evolving business needs. Scalability is a critical aspect of any system, as it determines how well it can handle increasing workloads, additional users, or expanded functionalities over time. This question probes whether the system can accommodate growth without requiring a complete overhaul or significant additional investments. For instance, in a manufacturing context, as production volumes increase, can the system manage the higher throughput efficiently? Understanding scalability is vital for long-term planning and investment. It helps in assessing whether the current system is a sustainable solution that can support the customer's future goals and ambitions or if it poses a risk of becoming obsolete or inadequate.
11] Is the system easy to install?
When asking, "Is the system easy to install?" the focus is on understanding the simplicity and practicality of setting up the system in question. This question is crucial because the ease of installation can significantly impact the time, resources, and costs involved in getting the system up and running. It's not just about the technical aspects of installing hardware or software but also about the level of expertise required, the clarity of instructions provided, and whether special tools or professional assistance are needed. This inquiry also touches on the potential for disruption to existing operations during the installation process. Can the system be integrated seamlessly with minimal downtime, or will it require a significant overhaul of current setups?
12] Is the system integrator reputable?
This is an essential question that delves into the credibility and reliability of the service provider responsible for combining various subsystems into a cohesive, functioning system. It is not just about checking for positive reviews or a strong market presence but also about understanding their track record in delivering solutions that align with clients' specific needs. A reputable system integrator should have a history of successful projects, demonstrating their expertise in creating systems that are efficient, reliable, and tailored to the unique requirements of each client. This question also encompasses their ability to provide ongoing support and maintenance, ensuring that the system continues to operate effectively over time.
13] Will the RTLS be a standalone solution or be integrated into your ERP system?
The aim here is to explore the operational strategy behind the deployment of the RTLS within the customer's business framework. This question assesses whether the RTLS will function independently or if it will be synchronised with the existing ERP system. The integration aspect is crucial as it determines the level of data exchange and coordination between the RTLS and other business processes managed through the ERP. For instance, integrating RTLS with ERP could allow for real-time asset tracking information to be directly linked with inventory management, procurement, and logistics planning within the ERP system, enhancing overall operational efficiency and data accuracy. On the other hand, a standalone RTLS might be simpler to implement and could be suitable for more specific, localised tracking needs. The choice between standalone or integrated systems depends on various factors like the scale of operations, the complexity of tracking requirements, and existing IT infrastructure.
14] What are the benefits of introducing RTLS?
The purpose is to consider and articulate the specific advantages that implementing an RTLS could bring to their operations. This question helps identify the tangible improvements and strategic value that RTLS can offer, such as enhanced asset tracking, improved workflow management, or increased operational efficiency. This question also prompts consideration of the broader impacts, like the potential for cost savings due to reduced asset loss or improved utilisation and increased accountability and transparency in operations.
While this list is by no means comprehensive, it will support your decision-making process and point you in the right direction. Learn more about the implementation of RTLS and the answers to the guideline questions.
Extended reading: Real-time locating system and industry 4.0
Note: This article was updated November 27, 2023