IoT and the future of asset location
First published in Global Trade Magazine
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here and everyone’s talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) – smart technology, disruptive innovation and machine learning. The impact of all this on logistics and manufacturing will be dramatic.
Advances in connectivity are central to all this, with tremendous potential benefits to the way businesses are run. When it comes to logistics and manufacturing some of the most exciting possibilities relate to asset management. Specifically, how to create efficiencies and provide insight into the whole production chain.
Using tech for asset tracking is nothing new, as the need, particularly on a basic level (i.e. individual asset location) has always been there. That said, older, passive systems using RFID and barcodes only have limited capabilities. And some new additions to them, for example GPS, are limited in themselves (i.e. only work outdoors).
New Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) such as Pathfindr, represent a move from passive to active technologies, utilising new capabilities, such as Bluetooth. Combine this new tech with existing tech, such as GPS, and full visibility across the whole supply chain becomes possible.
Current applications for the technology, and why they’re worth doing
RTLS means you can locate any asset, immediately, regardless of its location. This means less time taken to find parts, fixtures and tooling, improving manufacturing efficiency. It also means goods can be delivered faster as processing and storing times drop.
Asset Intelligence provides next generation insight. For example, embedding a range of sensors in tracking and monitoring hardware enables you to collect data on any environmental measure – from temperature to humidity, air quality to acidity.
Applications for this insight differs, depending on where you are in the supply chain. The optimisation and smoothing of asset utilisation, ensuring you have the correct number of any duplicate assets and tools and they are receiving equal usage, is one application. Providing predictive maintenance alerts, enabling correct servicing before any failure and loss of efficiency, is another.
Predictive Asset Supply is now possible. Advanced Asset Intelligence can use an upcoming MES schedule to ensure all assets and resources are assembled in the relevant location required for a certain task ahead of time. Key when you’re dealing with items spread out across multiple units and stored off site.
Health and safety can also benefit from effective Asset Intelligence. The same trackers used for location and environmental data could be attached to containers of chemicals and programmed to ensure potentially volatile materials don’t come within a minimum distance of each other. Trackers can also monitor personal safety equipment to ensure it is being used correctly and thus minimising workplace accidents.
What’s next, and what you need to consider
It’s not enough to simply gather data. You need to be able to use it to inform real-time decisions. This is the classic ‘Big Data’ criticism, for data to have value you must be able to use it in a meaningful and timely manner. Effective integrations, alerts and communications between devices, systems and humans is key. Asset Intelligence used to support fully automated real-time optimisation of processes is the ultimate goal, and reaching it is not far off.
When considering implementing new systems it’s always worth pausing to think about exactly what insight you need to inform decisions and bring efficiencies, what frequency you need to monitor, and which alerts and actions apply to each scenario. What systems need to be integrated inside and outside of your company? Remember for any tracking data associated with the location and movement of humans, you must ensure that all relevant privacy conditions are met and communicated to the workforce.
Other things to think about:
Infrastructure. New networking to support Asset Intelligence can be costly, disruptive and make the system unviable. Choose systems that require minimal to zero infrastructure to work. These are easiest to retrofit.
Security. Ensure suppliers have been penetration-tested and adhere to your internal data security policies.
Futureproofing. Choose a system that is scalable and can monitor a broad range of environmental, location and usage information. Ensure it has open integrations and will work well with your existing systems and partner network. Ask the supplier what features and functionalities are on their product roadmap and when they will be available.
Return on investment. How will you measure the impact of the system and know if it is having a demonstrably positive effect?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution might be here, but most manufacturing and logistics companies have barely scratched the surface. These changes are fast-paced and will continue to accelerate, with more disruptive innovation and smart technology still to come. Staying on top of these advances will allow you to take advantage of the amazing opportunities they provide.
First published in Global Trade Magazine