Types of asset tracking technologies | Industry 4.0 | Deloitte Netherlands


Types of asset tracking technologies

Asset Intelligence Series

From exploring the seas with a basic magnetic compass to pinpointing an object with an accuracy of a few centimeters, we have come a long way in navigation and tracking. In fact, next to movements of assets, we can monitor asset’s health and performance. Our previous article addressed how asset tracking adds value to your business. This article walks you through different asset tracking technologies and how to select the right asset tracking technology for your business.

State of the art in asset tracking

The technology of asset tracking and its applications in business have rapidly evolved in the past two decades. For outdoor tracking and navigation of assets, GPS is a relevant and reliable technology. However, if you are looking to find a specific object in a huge warehouse or supermarket, GPS won’t help you. To serve your complex business needs, indoor positioning technologies have been developed. Relatively new technologies like RFiD, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) can set up a robust and precise indoor tracking system. Some of these technologies can track location of your assets with an accuracy of few centimeters. 

Reports on market demand suggest that the market for asset tracking and inventory management solutions is anticipated to reach a total market size of $40 billion by 2027. This evolution of technologies caused a significant drop in prices of tracking infrastructure, making it more affordable for you and your business. 

Nowadays asset tracking is not a mere location tracking tool. Asset tracking technologies layered with disruptive technologies like cloud, 5G, NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT), big data, advanced analytics and AI can enable your business to unlock unrealized value. Your business can leverage on big data and advanced analytics extracting valuable insights to optimize operational efficiencies. The feasibility of deploying the asset tracking solutions through cloud has lowered the infrastructure costs and increased the ease of deployment. With the rise of 5G technology, the reliability and performance of asset tracking technologies are enhanced. These various factors make asset tracking solutions highly accessible and desirable.

Overview of asset tracking technologies

A wide range of tracking technologies are available to cater your business needs. Choosing the right technology for your business use case depends on what you are aiming for, what the business challenges are, and in which environment you wish to deploy the solution, it is not one size fits all. Asset tracking solutions can be categorized as “Long / Wide range” versus “Short range”, with range being one of the key factors in technology selection for your use case. A comparative study of the technologies is outlined in the table below. 

Overview of technologies | Industry 4.0 & asset tracking | Deloitte Netherlands
Overview of asset tracking technologies - click on image to enlarge

Determine the right technology

Now that you have an overview on the functionality of various asset tracking technologies, let’s have a look at how to determine the right asset tracking technologies for your use case. You can select the type of technology you need based on these three main factors: 

Asset mobility: Asset mobility signifies the extent of movement of your assets that need to be tracked. If the movement is restricted to a certain premise like a facility, a building, or a room, then short range asset tracking technologies are the right fit. If your assets are moved across different locations, then long / wide range asset tracking solutions like GPS serve the purpose.

Location accuracy: Ultra-wide band (UWB) can determine the location of assets with a high accuracy of a few centimeters, whereas some technologies can track them on zonal level or with a few meters’ accuracy. Hence it is important to assess accuracy needs of the use case to determine the right tracking technology. 

Tracking frequency: Not every use case needs real time tracking of assets. For instance, to find out if your asset is in a warehouse, scanning it at the entry and exit points is enough. In this case, passive RFID tags and a reader at the entry/exit point serves the purpose. But if you want to track the location of your assets every minute or hour, real time tracking technologies like BLE, Wi-Fi or GPS serve the purpose.

In addition to these three major factors, there are other factors that you need to consider when designing tracking solutions in line with the needs of business, namely:

  • Costs
  • Line of sight
  • Location constraints
  • Current infrastructure
  • Interoperability
  • Ease of deployment

It is important that you make the right tradeoff across the listed aspects to design the solution which fits all your business needs. For instance, the accuracy of tracking could be improved if you invest in the infrastructure i.e., by increasing the number of tags and readers and by strategically positioning them. Hence in this case it’s a tradeoff between costs and accuracy. To illustrate how you can do this assessment, let’s take an example which is very relevant to the current scenario across the world at the time of writing, i.e. hospitals in COVID-19 crisis (or any other health crisis). 

Assessment of use case to determine the right technology

With the COVID-19 crisis, hospitals across the world are no less than high pace shop floors running at full capacity round the clock. In such kind of environments, resources are key. This could for example be the time of medical staff, or the necessary medical equipment and supplies. Hospitals cannot afford to lose or misplace key medical equipment like ventilators or frequently used beds, since this leads to the loss of valuable time while medical staff searches for these assets, time they could have spent saving lives. Hence visibility and traceability of the critical assets in hospitals is key during the crisis. 

Let’s take an example of hospital beds during this crisis scenario. Beds are critical assets when hospitals are flooded with patients. As they are used to move patients within the hospital premises, keeping track on the location of beds frees up time of medical staff. By assessing some key factors for this use case, you can determine the right asset tracking technology for this use case, like illustrated below:

Assessment use case| Industry 4.0 & asset tracking | Deloitte Netherlands

Based on the above assessment, the right asset tracking technology for tracking beds in the hospital is a short range, active tracking technology with a medium accuracy need. Hence BLE or Wi-Fi are the right technologies which meet the abovementioned criteria.

Approach for building a robust asset tracking solution

Now that you know how to determine the right technology for your use case, you have an overview on the first layer of an asset tracking solution. This is a good foundation to start thinking of a complete asset tracking solution. Apart from the physical layer i.e., asset tracking tags and readers, various other layers like gateways, platforms, data storage etc., formulate a complete asset tracking solution. We will talk about the details of these layers and the architecture of asset tracking solution in our next article. 

Does building a complete asset tracking solution sound simple and straight forward? With various components involved, how do you ensure having a successful solution in place? With a well-thought-out approach in place, a successful asset tracking solution can be built and implemented in your business. We propose a three-step approach for successful development and implementation of asset tracking solution; imagine, deliver and run.

Approach for building solution| Industry 4.0 & asset tracking | Deloitte Netherlands
Approach for building solution

Derive value through asset tracking

With careful assessment of business requirements and with a proven approach, asset tracking solutions can be designed, built and operated successfully. These solutions fulfil complex needs of your business, operating in various sectors ranging from healthcare to manufacturing. The benefits of asset tracking solutions will be reflected in high operational efficiencies and low sunk costs in your business.

More information

We will continue this series with an article on architecture and integration of a complete asset tracking solution. Be on the lookout for this article! In the meantime, if you have questions or would like some help with assessing which asset tracking technology could work best for your use case, please do not hesitate to contact us via the contact details below. 

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