Asset tracking is a vital element of any manufacturing system. When assets are lost, searching for them consumes time and resources while delaying production schedules. Plus, assets compose a sizable portion of a facility’s investment, so it makes financial sense to keep close track of them. Asset tracking involves monitoring the entry and exit of assets, recording the current or last position of tooling, managing spare parts inventory, and scheduling assets for predictive maintenance and repairs.
Modern asset-tracking systems enable efficient processes — particularly when they’re integrated into a comprehensive smart manufacturing platform. The overall performance of a factory improves when an asset-tracking system is integrated with the current enterprise assets management (EAM) platform or computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).
No single asset-tracking system fits a facility’s needs perfectly. Depending on the size of operations and the range of equipment in a facility, a particular tracking system might be more appropriate for a specific set of assets. To decide what option is best for your operations:
- Make a list of priorities, including accuracy, capital investment, compatibility and eligible assets.
- Look for the most suitable and practical system, not necessarily a perfect one.
- Try mixing multiple systems to reduce costs and meet specific needs.
- Get help from EAM and CMMS experts to avoid compatibility issues and ensure that you can maximize the potential of tracking systems.
In addition, asset-tracking systems come with different applications and technology. They all attach a unique identifier to every physical component. That identifier can be read by another instrument to track the asset. The difference lies in the interaction among devices and the features for presenting the information.
There are four popular asset-tracking systems to consider. Each has pros and cons.
1. Bar code systems appear in many different kinds of applications for asset tracking. With these systems, a scanner reads the bar code that corresponds to a specific piece of equipment to obtain and track information about the asset. The technology is simple, inexpensive and highly scalable. However, it’s short range and requires manual scanning. Real-time locating is not possible with this method.
2. Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems use signal-emitting tags and band frequencies to achieve broader-range asset tracking. Short- and medium-range tracking is possible, which yields faster response times. RFID tags are small and offer various signal frequency and range options. But readers are expensive, system installation is fairly complex, and real-time location tracking still is not possible.
3. Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) systems use Bluetooth signals to convey the location of an asset to the receiver. This technology is capable of pinpointing a real-time location up to a certain degree of precision. However, this requires a high number of transmitters. BLE technology is widely accepted and standardized. Real-time location accuracy is possible up to several feet away. Yet there are some shortcomings: More transmitters are needed to achieve accuracy. And this system has a higher risk of interference and, therefore, security breaches.
4. Ultra-wideband (UWB) systems have been gaining popularity in recent years. They use a broad spectrum to transmit large amounts of data with relatively low-power technology. The use of very short pulses over a larger bandwidth improves the technology’s propagation compared with other alternatives. UWB systems cause less interference, improve penetration through various materials and allow for more compact receiver designs. Advantages include the ability to transfer data through multiple walls, achieve accuracy within inches, identify real-time locations and minimize interference issues. Yet, there currently is limited market adoption and no standardization.
Asset tracking is essential to workflow efficiency and machine reliability. It can also help a supply chain organization minimize costs, eliminate waste and reduce operational disruptions. And less downtime easily offsets the cost of upgrading to a modern asset-tracking system. Accurate asset tracking is critical at all stages of the manufacturing process, whether an asset is undergoing material transport, a manufacturing operation, storage or shipping. When this process is optimized, workflow improvements will be identified, worker safety enhanced, and the customer experience will reach all new levels.