In manufacturing and production environments, real-time location systems provide asset tracking and positioning capabilities that enable facilities to identify the presence, precise location and status of equipment and goods. Whether it’s machinery, inventory, tools, vehicles or people, there are multiple use cases where companies benefit greatly from the ability to monitor and identify the location of assets.
The manufacturing space faces its own unique challenges that make real-time location awareness important. For example, in many facilities, significant customization of production workflow must happen on-the-fly. This is a challenge in a production environment wherein production processes must be completed manually without error. Workflow and asset tracking are required for workers to know the correct operation and tool calibration required for each sub-assembly. There are a variety of pain points that RTLS solutions have the power to address, but first we must address what a RTLS is and how it works in this context.
What is a RTLS?
A RTLS is a system that detects the current geolocation of an asset, based on signals received from that asset, whether it’s a smart phone, a tag or a badge. Modern RTLS solutions are based on wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, BLE, UWB, Chirp, and Active RFID, and essentially work by determining a device’s presence (is it physically in the building?), it’s proximity (what is it near within the building?) or position (what is the asset’s current and constant location within the building?). RTLS usually excludes GPS, because it is generally not available indoors, and its latency means it is not truly real-time.
How does a RTLS work?
A RTLS application consists of a transponder (RTLS tags/badges), a receiver (RTLS anchors), and location engine (RTLS software) to interpret the data from each tagged asset. Location data is sent wirelessly by transponders (e.g., the tag, which is the mobile part of the RTLS) to devices attached to the ceilings/walls (e.g., Anchors, the fixed infrastructure of the RTLS). The data is sent wirelessly (or via ethernet cable) from the Anchors to a Server, with the location engine software calculating the position. The location data can then be visualized on an indoor map and accessed in a variety of ways including via cloud-based APIs, mobile apps, or integrated software.
Inpixon offers RTLS tags, anchors, and a location engine to get organizations set up with an RTLS solution. In addition, there is a location engine which filters the positions to improve accuracy, can help present tags on a map, has search and location history functionality, and geofences can be implemented. Inpixon is unique in offering 2 types of radio: UWB for higher accuracy, and our proprietary 2.4 GHz Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) for much longer range than UWB.
How manufacturing organizations use RTLS
There are many different pain points that organizations are currently dealing with. Some of these issues include wasted time searching for tools and equipment, incorrect staging of tools and equipment in production work zones, tools and equipment not being returned to approved storage locations, and the inability to tie maintenance and calibration schedules to actual utilization. According to a report by Research and Markets, COVID-19 has increased the need (and awareness) for tracking of industrial assets.
Asset tracking is undoubtedly the biggest benefit of using RTLS for production facilities. It can be used on the shop floor, for maintenance, and in storage rooms. On the factory shop floor, organizations can track forklifts or pallets. For maintenance, you can use RTLS to locate tools for calibration and repairs. Knowing the time and location of the calibration may be important for compliance (company or legal requirements). Additionally, in storage rooms, organizations can use RTLS to make warehouses full of racking easily navigable. The productivity cost of time spent looking for components or tools can be an immense drain on a company.
Some of the different scenarios where RTLS can improve operations inside warehouses include:
- Personnel safety/security (collision detection/prevention, especially relating to forklifts)
- Equipment and inventory tracking (automating inventory and reducing search time)
- Material flow (WIP tracking, product line optimizations, shorten throughput times)
- Throughput/process monitoring
- Bottleneck/inefficiency identification
- Compliance (financial, safety, environmental, and other regulations)
- Preventing theft (easily identify assets that have been lost or stolen)
By providing real-time tracking for tools and other critical parts and equipment, every step of the manufacturing process will benefit greatly. RTLS solutions lead to increased productivity through better coordination of tools and equipment, a reduction in time wasted searching for products, and reduced operational costs through more efficient calibration and preventative maintenance.
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