| Written by Mark Buzinkay
In a rapidly evolving manufacturing landscape, Asset Tracking with RFID technology stands as a pivotal innovation. Our comprehensive article delves into how this technology, integral to Industry 4.0, revolutionizes asset management across varied sectors, enhancing efficiency and accuracy. We invite you to explore the transformative power of Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) and discover how they redefine the future of manufacturing. Join us in uncovering the strategic advantages and practical applications of this groundbreaking technology.
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In the manufacturing sector, the production of tangible goods encompasses a vast array of industries, including metallurgy, electronics, chemicals, food, petroleum, plastics, and textiles. This sector, a vital component of the global economy, is amid an evolution driven by international competition, which demands heightened efficiency, flexibility, and innovation. Companies that embrace new technological advancements gain a substantial edge in this competitive landscape. To remain relevant, these companies must continually adapt and integrate digital technologies into their production management strategies, aiming to boost efficiency, quality, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness while being responsive to customer needs.
"Industry 4.0," a term first coined at the 2011 Hannover fair in Germany, has become synonymous with a new era of industrialization. This era is marked by a fusion of automation, digitization, connectivity, and programming, leading to a complete overhaul of the industry's technological and cultural paradigms. The result is a faster production timeline, enhanced product quality, reduced error margins, and innovative business methods.
At the heart of Industry 4.0 lies Asset Tracking, a critical component of the technological revolution. Enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT), Asset Tracking brings previously inanimate objects into the digital realm, allowing them to communicate vital information such as their location, temperature, or humidity levels. Asset Tracking is an intelligent, automated system that not only pinpoints but also monitors the real-time movements and usage status of a company's assets. This system is a synergy of hardware technologies like Bluetooth® LE beacons and antennas and software that uniquely identifies assets and captures their locations in real-time, forming what is known as a Real-Time Locating System (RTLS).
With RTLS, it becomes possible to track a variety of goods - from vehicles and forklifts to raw materials, semi-finished products, and pallets. In certain scenarios, particularly for safety purposes, the system can also track personnel using wearable tags like bracelets or badge holders. The implementation of Asset Tracking and RTLS in manufacturing enables the management and monitoring of the movement and usage of equipment, machines, and tools. Furthermore, RTLS facilitates the development of Digital Twins, which are virtual models of physical objects or systems. These models are invaluable for simulating and understanding the behaviour of the monitored systems. By analyzing data on the position, movement, and status of assets or personnel, Digital Twins can enhance various processes, such as reducing movement times, optimizing routes, improving worker safety, gaining insights into internal processes, and increasing operational efficiency and transparency in customer service.
Therefore, with Asset Tracking, RTLS, and Digital Twins, manufacturing operators gain a digital overview of the factory, providing complete visibility and control over the production process. This technology ensures that workers can effortlessly locate resources and raw materials, stay updated on production status, and align their operations with the planned orders and schedules.
The role of Asset Tracking in manufacturing cannot be overstated, especially given the complexity of the sector, characterized by lengthy production cycles and the movement of countless materials and components. In such intricate settings, the benefits of digitization are particularly pronounced. Without proper tracking, assets can be misplaced or lost, leading to significant production delays, wasted manpower in asset searches, and scheduling discrepancies. These issues are costly in terms of finances, time, and lost opportunities, especially in an era where high-tech equipment costs are escalating due to the energy crisis, and the scarcity of components necessitates greater asset control. Furthermore, the surge in e-commerce demands quick deliveries, thereby amplifying the need for efficient asset tracking.
Consequently, the adoption of asset-tracking systems in the manufacturing sector is becoming increasingly vital. The installation of a single RTLS platform can prevent the aforementioned issues and significantly streamline various processes. An effective Asset Tracking system allows for:
These capabilities lead to substantial benefits, including reduced time spent searching for assets, fewer errors and material losses, shorter inventory periods, and overall optimization of resource utilization. The growing significance of Asset Tracking is also reflected in market trends. According to a study by Expert Market Research, the global Asset Tracking market is expected to expand at an average annual growth rate of 13.7% from now until 2027, rising from $16.9 billion in 2021 to an estimated $36.51 billion over the next five years.
In the realm of manufacturing, a variety of assets, including moulds, tools, and stationary machinery, are crucial for the production process. It is essential not only to be aware of the location of these assets but also to facilitate their easy maintenance and upkeep. RFID technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing the visibility of asset positioning and offers a reliable means to track their preventive maintenance and repair needs.
Learn more about this technology in this article: Leverage RFID for smarter asset tracking
It's important to recognize that asset tracking and inventory tracking, while sometimes used synonymously, serve distinct operational purposes. Asset tracking is a system designed to:
Contrastingly, inventory tracking focuses on monitoring the quantities of parts available for sale or use in product manufacturing. Essentially, assets are the resources required to operate a business, such as vehicles, tools, or equipment, whereas inventory comprises raw materials and finished products stored for future use. Both systems are crucial for a business, yet they contribute differently to the company's operational efficiency and effectiveness.
As businesses aim to achieve their operational objectives, RFID asset tracking technology stands out as a key tool for boosting efficiency. Here's a look at how different sectors are benefiting from this technology:
Enhanced Forklift Operations in Warehousing and Logistics
In the warehousing and logistics sector, RFID labels are revolutionizing forklift operations. They enable rapid location tracking of forklifts, facilitating real-time detection at critical junctures such as zone transitions or when items are being scanned, picked, or delivered. This capability significantly improves the management of pick-up and drop-off points, allows for the calculation of more efficient routes, and ensures accurate route logging.
Streamlined Cargo Verification in Distribution Centers
Distribution centres are leveraging RFID labels and readers to automate cargo verification processes. RFID technology is capable of comparing each package against the inventory listed in the central enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This process efficiently identifies incorrect or missing components and confirms the completeness of shipments.
Accelerated Installation for Machine Builders
Machine builders are using custom RFID labels to speed up the installation of large devices. These labels, connected to digital installation manuals, guide installers precisely to the required package, ensuring that each component is accessed only when needed. The use of proximity alerts further aids in locating even the smallest packages necessary for the swift and effective assembly of large machinery.
Preventive Maintenance in Rail Transportation
Rail transportation companies, both passenger and freight, are improving the uptime of locomotives and wagons through RFID labels. Each railcar is tagged with an RFID label, linking it to asset management software. This setup allows for the addition of intervention data to the maintenance history of each wagon, streamlining the process of scheduling preventive maintenance.
Automated Inventory Management for ICT Companies
A global information, communication, and technology (ICT) company has adopted RFID technology for tracking and managing the location of servers and other high-value IT assets. Using custom, passive RFID labels in combination with fixed readers at data centre exits, the company ensures accurate, real-time asset tracking. Centralized print-and-program printers enable instant labelling of new assets, maintaining a comprehensive overview of all resources.
Secure Identification in ICT Infrastructure
ICT infrastructure providers are enhancing security with double-layered, encrypted near-field communication (NFC) labels. These on-metal NFC labels contain a dual-layer system: an informational layer for general use and a secure layer for administrative access. RFID pens linked to user setups grant maintenance professionals access to pertinent label data, ensuring secure and controlled interventions.
Expedited Safety Inspections in Aviation
A major airline operating over 100 destinations is reaping the benefits of RFID technology for conducting safety inspections. RFID labels and readers enable aircraft maintenance crews to perform routine checks up to ten times faster by quickly scanning against an inventory list for essential safety items like life vests, oxygen generators, and masks. This method eliminates the need for visual confirmation of each item, significantly accelerating the inspection process and freeing up valuable time for personnel.
What is Asset Tracking in Manufacturing and How Does It Work?
Asset Tracking in manufacturing involves using technology to monitor and manage the location and status of various assets within a manufacturing setting. It's a critical part of the Industry 4.0 revolution, enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT). This system uses a combination of hardware (like Bluetooth® LE beacons and antennas) and software to create Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS). These systems track everything from small tools to large machinery, including raw materials, semi-finished products, and even personnel for safety purposes. By providing real-time data on the position, movement, and status of assets, Asset Tracking helps streamline manufacturing processes, improve safety, and enhance operational efficiency.
What are the Key Benefits of Implementing RFID in Asset Tracking?
RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) technology significantly enhances Asset Tracking in manufacturing by offering increased visibility and control over assets. The key benefits include:
How Does RFID Asset Tracking Differ From Traditional Inventory Tracking?
While often confused, RFID Asset Tracking and traditional inventory tracking serve different purposes. RFID Asset Tracking is focused on locating and monitoring the status of assets within a business, such as machinery, tools, or vehicles. It ensures assets are correctly placed and functioning, impacting how operations are executed based on the assets' movement, proximity, or absence. On the other hand, traditional inventory tracking is about counting and managing sellable products or raw materials. It's concerned with quantities of items stored for future production or sale. Both systems are vital but contribute differently to a company’s operational success.
In the dynamic world of manufacturing, the integration of Asset Tracking systems, particularly those utilizing RFID technology, has emerged as a crucial element for boosting efficiency and innovation. These systems, foundational to the Industry 4.0 initiative, transform how tangible goods, from raw materials to finished products, are managed across a diverse range of industries. The adoption of Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) through RFID technology marks a significant step towards achieving unparalleled operational efficiency. It enables manufacturers to track and manage various assets precisely, ranging from small tools to large machinery, in real-time.
The advantages of implementing RFID in asset tracking are multifaceted, enhancing not only the accuracy and efficiency of locating assets but also improving maintenance, repair operations, and inventory management. This technology differentiates itself from traditional inventory tracking by offering real-time monitoring and management of assets, ensuring they are appropriately placed and functioning optimally.
As the manufacturing sector continues to evolve in response to global competition and the push for technological advancement, the role of RFID in Asset Tracking cannot be overstated. It's a strategic tool that addresses the complexities of lengthy production cycles and the movement of innumerable materials and components.
For businesses seeking to navigate the intricacies of modern manufacturing and stay ahead in a competitive market, understanding and implementing RTLS can be a game-changer. We encourage those interested in exploring the full potential of RTLS and how it can revolutionize their operations to delve deeper into this technology (more: 14 Things to consider when implementing Real Time Location). The journey towards a more efficient, innovative, and productive manufacturing process begins with a comprehensive understanding of RTLS and its capabilities in Asset Tracking.
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