What is Industrial Asset Tracking?
Asset tracking is a category of technology that can be used to give information about objects. Usually, the asset tracking system consists of a tag and a reader or scanner. When integrated into other areas of the control system, MES (manufacturing execution system), or ERP (enterprise resource planning), data collected through asset tracking can be used in nearly infinite ways.
Asset Tracking Technology
Any type of technology that attaches information to an object could be considered asset tracking. We often find barcodes, RFID, or RTLS to be the best solutions. However, bluetooth and other technologies also fit into this category.
What are Barcodes?
Barcodes are machine-readable images that identify a product. Barcodes are used to have a scannable representation of predetermined data.
Traditional vs 2D
Traditional (1D) barcodes are a series of vertical lines while the matrix (2D) barcodes represent data in 2 directions.
While traditional barcodes are used frequency, especially for item identification like UPC codes, a 2D barcode allows the user to store more data in a smaller area.
When to Use Barcodes
Barcodes work really well when you want to keep data with the object and when that data is predetermined and unchanging. Some examples of this type of data include:
- Julian Date
- Part Number
- Serial Number
Because barcodes are inexpensive to print and scanning equipment is affordable, this technology fits tight budgets.
Benefits of Barcodes in Industrial Applications
Since they are typically printed onto a label, barcodes are a great way to highlight information about an object or a container.
Barcodes scan easily using portable handheld scanners or with stationary cameras.
Barcode printers are easily programmable and can allow multiple barcodes and 2D matrices on a single label.
There are free apps that can be downloaded onto a smartphone to read barcodes during debugging.
Barcode Case Studies and Use Cases
What is RFID?
RFID or radio frequency identification works in a similar manner to barcodes. Rather than scanning a visual symbol, specialized scanners read the frequency that is emitted by small tags. There are two main types of RFID, classified by the ranges of the frequency:
- HF RFID (high frequency RFID)
- UHF RFID (ultra-high frequency RFID)
When to Use RFID
Like barcodes, use RFID tags to keep data with the object. RFID tags are able to hold a lot of data and have read/write capabilities, so the data can change. This technology is used well when the data tracked with an object needs to be updated.
When it comes to cost consideration, RFID becomes more economical when there are many items to track. That is because the upfront cost of the readers is more expensive than barcode readers, but the cost of the tags themselves is very inexpensive.
A word of caution: RFID is not suitable for all applications. In some cases, things like liquids, metal, or static, can interfere with the signals. For more UHF RFID coverage tips, check out our UHF RFID Antenna Coverage whitepaper.
Benefits of RFID in Industrial Applications
The ability to read and write data to the tag means that tags can be used for multiple purposes or used over and over again.
Greater range of scanning distance – up to several feet – means that the scanners can be kept out of messy areas.
RFID Case Studies and Use Cases
- Manufacturing Assembly: Track and verify which tasks have been completed upstream for additional assembly, testing, rework and disassembly.
- Inventory applications by updating what is located in the container/cart.
- Line balancing and error reduction at assembly line stations
What is RTLS?
Real Time Locating System (RTLS) from Siemens tracks the location of an item. Where the other technologies track the “what” of an object, RTLS tracks the “where” of an object. The technology works similar to GPS. It requires creating a field using gateways and anchors. These gateways read tags, usually attached to an object, relative to the distance from those gateways. A tag with paperwhite technology can also display information according to its location.
When to Use RTLS
RTLS is the best industrial technology when you need to know where the object is in a given region. The region should be contained, although the area can be quite large, like a warehouse or campus.
Benefits of RTLS in Industrial Applications
Versatility: RTLS can track people, machinery, equipment, tools, parts, etc.
Distance: Depending on the application accuracy can be from a few inches to several yards.
RTLS Case Studies and Use Cases
- Tool Searching: If your team spends countless minutes (hours?) wandering around a die field looking for the right stamp, RTLS could make your facility substantially more efficient. By tagging each stamp, an operator could look up its location, no matter where the previous user had left it.
- Utilization: To get better data on employee utilization, tags could be worn by employees. The paths that the operators take to get from station to station, time spent in particular areas, or wait time could all be calculated using the data from the employees’ location.
- Field goal distance tracking at Manufacturing in America at Ford Field
How do I choose which asset tracking technology best fits my application?
One way to weigh the criteria is to use our asset tracking decision tree, which will walk you through the main factors to consider.