Tracking for Success
Asset tracking is a mature industry with many well established players, but technology is rapidly changing the ways in which assets can be tracked, expanding the use cases beyond merely knowing where an asset is located, and bringing down costs. So it is no longer limited to high value items or indeed, larger companies.
Barcode scanning has given way to the use of tags which broadcast their location. GPRS has been superseded as a communications bearer by 3G, 4G and, more recently, LPWAN (low-power wide area network) so that assets can be effectively tracked in discrete areas.
While RFID will continue to be used in many tracking scenarios, a new technology has emerged that will allow much more precise tracking of objects.
RTLS (real-time location/locating systems) enables assets to be tracked in real time. Machine learning is ushering in dynamic analysis of tracked items, and data gathered from the items can be integrated into wider systems such as enterprise or machine resource planning (ERP or MRP).
For Stephen Drewett, founder of Surrey-based start-up TRAK365, LPWAN is a game changer in IoT asset tracking. He cites an installation for a farmer who previously had no mobile coverage but is now able to track his equipment and animals to help prevent against theft. It’s no stretch to imagine that the sensors could ultimately be used to feedback information about the health of the cattle or when a tractor part might need replacing. “When you tell people what can be achieved in that 10 mile [LPWAN] radius and the low cost of devices, they start exploding with ideas that were never possible with cellular,” says Drewett.
There are multiple use cases for IoT asset tracking in industrial settings. For example, Cambridge-based Ubisense leverages RTLS in its Smart Factory solution, which has been specifically designed for vehicle manufacturers. It includes hardware tags and sensors that connect via radio signals to pinpoint the exact location and identity of assets in the factory. This data is then combined with information from existing plant systems and devices to help optimise manufacturing processes and improve flexibility.
In fact, asset tracking is no longer being limited to physical objects and is increasingly being used to track people. In Rotherham, Real Time Location has, as its name implies, developed a RTLS which it claims is 100% accurate to room level and which can be used to track people as well as portable assets when they are in or close to buildings. It has developed various products, including the Roll Call Solution which logs the presence of all staff and visitors at individual assembly points, as well as the last known location of each person, in the event of an emergency or drill. The information is delivered to incident managers via a smart device to help speed up emergency response times and reduce the number of injuries (or even deaths) in the event of an incident.
One thing all these companies have in common is that they have developed solutions for specific use cases, and this is probably the best way an SME can differentiate itself from the more established vendors in the space. Rather than focusing on asset tracking in general, SMEs entering the market should hone in on a specific use case or cases.
Opportunities abound in virtually every industry vertical, from healthcare and education to retail and manufacturing, and SMEs can further target niches within industries or particular use cases that cross industry sectors. It’s also clear that asset tracking is no longer limited to large firms with deep pockets.
SMEs should also think outside the ‘asset tracking’ box when it comes to developing and marketing their product. For example, defining a product as a ‘theft reduction system’ or a ‘device that increases asset utilisation’ delivers a powerful message to potential customers and helps the SME focus on developing and configuring the product to support the specific aims.
There are huge opportunities for UK SMEs to take a stake in the burgeoning IoT asset tracking market, and focusing on a specific solution that resolves a tangible problem in a quantifiable manner will greatly improve the chances of success.