| Written by Christian Aadal
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The era of automation finally arrived. Still, most factories are older than 25 years. Brownfield operations using process automation are the most popular way to enjoy new technologies like RTLS. It is no longer a luxury to engage in formal data analysis; on the contrary, it is essential to embrace progress to improve operational efficiency and productivity.
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A real-time location system (RTLS) is an indoor/outdoor positioning system gaining popularity in industries to improve efficiency, productivity, and safety. Using RTLS enables accurately tracking and locating assets and people inside industrial premises. Depending on the surrounding materials, RTLS is capable of performing centimetre-level accuracy.
RTLS can be realized with many technologies such as Wi-Fi, UWB, GPS, ZigBee, Bluetooth, and active RFID. All have their advantages and strengths and can be compared in different aspects like accuracy, anti-interference performance, power usage, data rate, coverage, battery life and cost. For instance, due to the inability of GPS signals to penetrate through construction materials, conventional GPS systems won't provide accurate location information inside industrial premises. GPS devices are also much more costly, complex, and consume more power than active RFID technology.
With so many RTLS options available, different locating technologies provide different levels of accuracy, which impacts the effectiveness of the data.
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Upon fully implementing RTLS, industries will benefit in the following ways:
Business intelligence (BI) refers to the processes and technical infrastructure that collects and analyzes a company's data. BI includes data mining and process analysis but also performance benchmarking. This enables factories to achieve robust and flexible production process visibility and helps to alter the organization's performance based on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
RTLS feeds Business intelligence with accurate and live data and allows a thorough, continuous process analysis. "With the inclusion of an RTLS solution in the finished vehicle logistics, we can monitor status and delays of every single vehicle out of the production line. Reliability and being-on time is the key ingredient to ensure the best customer experience possible," said Michael Imrock, Department Manager for the finished vehicles department at Volkswagen Wolfsburg. "Combined with our own BI solution at Volkswagen, we improve operational processes and supply our digital vehicle data records with essential data for quality assurance."
Live monitoring of all assets and personnel
Real-time asset monitoring is nothing else than a real-time asset tracking system. A popular method is using barcode scanners at stations to transfer data in a feed. Today in typical RTLS implementations, wireless tags attached to physical assets or worn by humans transmit wireless signals to fixed reference points (reader) to determine their locations and sometimes other data. Then, all data is sent to a monitoring software, feeding ERP or manufacturing management software. In this scenario, RTLS applications provide insights into the current location of assets and process improvements (e.g. pathway optimization).
Effective use of assets
Effective use of assets by identifying and using the nearest one available is another benefit of using an RTLS solution. Imagine a hospital with hundreds of rooms and gangways and as many as expensive, but single, mobile equipment. It can be hard to locate the next free device for an examination! An RTLS solution makes it easy for hospital teams to conduct inventory checks in pharmacies and supply rooms where items need to be frequently counted, inspected and rotated to avoid waste. Significantly, RTLS is also used for specimen identification, tracking and management to ensure a complete chain of custody for specimens during collection, transport to the lab, testing and results reporting.
Intelligent access control
To increase safety and prevent unauthorized transpassing, it is necessary to restrict access to a factory or area and know the current number of people present. In addition, it is essential to identify them individually at any given time. Considering the sometimes vast areas of a site, with buildings, open spaces, tunnels, and other structures, it is also necessary to know precisely the position of vehicles and people to facilitate emergency assistance when needed.
Other benefits include:
Concluding, an RTLS solution will help locate, track, and monitor all critical resources to improve processes and optimize workflows to backtrack and compare data in BI software quickly.
Further reading: RTLS basic components and set-up
An RTLS solution can be beneficial in all industries. Applied in the right scenario, it can reduce operating costs, profit increases, safety improvement, higher employee productivity, streamlined compliance with regulation and valuable insights. There is a myriad of applications to use an RTLS solution:
An RTLS solution promises to identify and eliminate bottlenecks with real-time and accurate data, effectively manage labour and asset utilization. Furthermore, it provides total visibility of all assets to improve availability and save the cost of maintaining equipment. Finally, it controls every part of the production process for efficiency, quality and traceability.
Continue reading the complete overview: Real time location systems in manufacturing and indoor logistics