Jumpstart Advanced Tracking with Mobility

Ryan Spurr

When it comes to location solutions, most often fixate on larger-scale fixed infrastructure and complex use cases. In the case of RFID, we think of choke points or dock doors with fixed readers and antennas. For Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), we think of next-generation wireless access points with embedded BLE antennas. Whatever the use case and infrastructure, these depend upon a significant investment into equipment that must be budgeted, planned, installed, and tuned. For many organizations, this leap to larger installations may be harder to sell to leadership and financial officers or fraught with many challenges and lessons learned along the way.

What if there was another way to jump-start your location and tracking initiatives? What if you could start down this path without all the fixed infrastructure, making it easier to vet the technology, gain buy-in, and prove the value to leaders?

To learn more about Bluetooth Low Energy or Passive RFID technologies in more detail, check out those past blogs.

The good news is that there is an alternative to launching location solutions without significant investments into infrastructure. It’s actually where many of our partners recommend that you start your journey. Why? Because location solutions are more than just the antennas used to read them. Most manufacturers have complex environments full of RF interference, complex use cases, and various assets or products to be tracked. Starting with bounded use cases and less complex hardware makes it easier to address early decision points and gain familiarity with the technology, without the full-up installation and hardware acquisitions.

Start Simple Approach

  1. Understand the Use Cases: What problems does the business have with people, processes, and tools? Where is waste, human error, or opportunities to automate needless tasks? What is the cost of not acting? How will automation improve KPIs or business outcomes? Taking stock of why you might apply enabling technologies to make the business better is always the first step. It will aid partners like Connection, peers, and business stakeholders to understand how to help you, what technologies to apply, where you’re seeking to start or scale to—and most importantly—assist your team in justifying any investment.

  2. Identify What Needs to Be Tracked: Different location technologies have various pros and cons. These technologies are applied differently depending on what you want to track. What are the objects you plan to locate? How do you track them today? How often must you update their location (seconds, minutes, hours, or days)? What systems track these objects (ERP, WMS, MES, CMMS, or SCADA)? What is the environment like (hot, cold, indoors, outdoors, rugged, clean areas, or any specific regulations)? What is the nature of the objects? This last question is fundamental, since it will dictate what technologies might support tracking. It will impact how location tags are affixed, how they perform, and what kind of tag might be required. Understanding the objects in your use cases may be the most complex aspect of location solutions. This is why teams spend so much time upfront understanding how things are managed within operations to select the best fitting tag technologies to maximize the use case.

  3. Start Simple with Mobility: You can start with fixed infrastructure, but many use cases can begin with a mobility-first proof of concept. In fact, for some organizations utilizing mobile devices with built-in BLE, RFID, and 1D/2D scanning is a great short and long-term solution. Today’s smart mobile devices can do it all. These devices are much more affordable, allowing an individual or team to acquire a limited number of mobile devices as part of the proof of concept. They can then procure different tags to validate which tag or technology type will work best with the object being tracked and its environment. And perhaps equally important, they can validate the location software on the devices and business integrations to ensure automation is feasible and meets business outcomes.

Starting Use Cases for Location via Mobility

Material or Finished Goods Tracking: Many of our customers seek to track materials or finished goods. This can take on different forms, depending on what they produce and how it’s managed (think process vs. discrete-based). Tracking solutions are a great fit if there is something of value or criticality to optimize and ensure that products are traced and delivered on time to customers or that materials are regularly misplaced.

With mobile devices, we can quickly look up what we’re tracking, where it was last, where it is now, and if we need to get more granular—we can use the mobile device to narrow into exactly where that thing is. We can also use these devices to scan barcodes, RFID, or BLE tags and integrate that data into business systems as we do with traditional barcode-only scanners. This means the same device can scan legacy tracking and modern solutions from the same device.

Manufacturing Tools and Production Equipment: Let’s face it, things go missing! Whether items are misplaced, buried around or near other objects, or hoarded by an engineer unwilling to part with an in-demand tool—losing equipment and tools can impact how plants get work done. With mobile tracking solutions, employees can quickly locate an item on a map (using active tracking like BLE) or Geiger Location (using passive RFID) to home into that missing thing.

IT Hardware, Machines, Fixtures, and More: One of the most pervasive and scalable solutions, for smart mobile devices with location capability, is tracking things in support of production. These could be IT assets, fixtures, production equipment, facilities equipment, or anything that requires locating, validating its identity, and collecting data against. With mobility tracking, engineers, facilities, or support teams can quickly find equipment anywhere. And because the mobile devices are smart, you can leverage these devices to perform other job duties like paperless forms, working with business systems or maintenance applications—and even collaborating with peers.

Keep the Manufacturing Process Moving

Smart mobile devices with location solution technology are a great way to evaluate or jumpstart automation location use cases. Mobility is an affordable and practical technology alternative vs. fixed infrastructure. With easy-to-deploy hardware and software, it’s an excellent start to automate wasteful activities, deliver cost-effective solutions, and improve business processes and customer experience. If your business is looking to explore location technologies or automate various business processes, don’t hesitate to engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and how its many use cases can benefit your organization.

Ryan Spurr is the Director of Manufacturing Strategy at Connection with 20+ years of experience in manufacturing, information technology, and portfolio leadership. He leads the Connection Manufacturing Practice, go-to-market strategy, client engagement, and advisory services focusing on operational technology (OT) and information technology that make manufacturers more digitally excellent.