We’re still celebrating Kontakt.io’s sixth birthday all month long with another “six” post. This time, we’re looking at six reasons why you need more visibility into your factory operations with RTLS.
In manufacturing, there comes a point where you can no longer evaluate production through traditional methods based on simple observation. The size and complexity of modern facilities can quickly grow beyond the limitations of even the best conventional tracking tools. Add the pace of twenty-first century commerce to the mix and the need for better visibility into what’s going on in a factory becomes clear.
Of course, when we say manufacturing visibility, we mean the kind of insights you can’t get with your eyes alone. We’re talking about observing movements, processes and flows that can only be fully revealed when viewed through a digital lens powered technologies based on Bluetooth Low Energy technology. RTLS (Real Time Location Systems) leverage connected infrastructures that track the movements of people, things and devices into business benefits and greater efficiencies. The digital representations of movements in the physical world can be interpreted and applied in any number of ways that make your factory more efficient, productive and safer.
This is one of the main areas where RTLS in manufacturing directly impacts the bottom line of any business. Inventory management isn’t just about tracking quantities of items on hand, although of course that’s crucial information for any facility. Just as important is the ability to locate a particular asset and use historical data to measure how efficiently things like tools, machines and other capital goods are used.
Asset tracking technologies streamline the management and allocation of physical assets through the use of tags that interact with a signal broadcast in the area. Not only can this help to locate, for example, a machine when it’s needed, but the information gathered can reveal bottlenecks in workflows and make it easier to optimize the physical layout of assets in a facility.
On top of that, deeper visibility into asset movement provides information about use rates and down time. This is important when considering planned expenses for new tools and machines. Overcapacity and unnecessary inventory are common problems that arise when purchasing decisions are made without knowledge of how well existing assets are being used. Factory asset tracking means you only need to spend on new equipment when your current inventory is being used to its maximum capacity.
Ongoing facility and asset maintenance is critical to keeping the wheels turning, the machines working and a thousand other processes that support production. While reacting to mechanical failures and other issues, the costs of downtime are often measured in thousands of dollars with every passing minute. Switching to a strategy of preventative maintenance is obviously the way to go, but you need insights into the status and condition of assets first.
That data is provided through the remote digital monitoring of the performance of assets that need to be kept in optimal working condition. Technologies like edge computing, easily integrated with IoT-based solutions, take monitoring down machine-level analytics and alert you to potential issues before they become a problem. When performance is digitized, even subtle variations in machine conditions and output can be easily identified well before the problem advances to the stage where it’s easy to spot but harder and more expensive to fix.
The conventional strategy of regularly scheduled maintenance sounds like a good idea, but does it just generate regularly scheduled costs? Isn’t it better to respond to the early signs of trouble as they occur than to expect machinery to operate according to a calendar? When you can schedule expensive manual examinations of machinery when they’re needed, instead of basing them on arbitrary time periods, you can optimize both the direct costs of the maintenance team and the indirect but significant costs of lost production due to downtime.
Expensive assets can be misplaced through honest mistakes but they can disappear as a result of other motivations too. In a large facility filled with valuable and often portable technology, you have to take steps to protect your investments in these assets.
Loss prevention is strongly supported by RTLS in two ways. First, there’s the obvious ability to track and find missing assets based on the location tag affixed or otherwise attached to them. Not only does this locate the asset itself, but it saves time and money by avoiding the necessity of a manual search. The user interface can show where in the factory the asset is located, with a degree of accuracy within two meters.
Secondly, RTLS manufacturing allows for geofencing, or setting up virtual boundaries beyond which certain assets are not supposed to move. If they do, an alert can automatically be sent to the relevant manager or authority and appropriate measures can be taken. Learning about such issues in real time is a huge advantage in being able to track and locate the asset before it travels beyond the range of the signal broadcast by the RTLS.
No matter what degree of danger is present in the functioning of a given facility, safety is always a primary consideration and fundamental to operational success. RTLS systems can play a key role in enhancing existing safety policies and offering additional functionalities that help to ensure the highest possible level of safety for everyone.
The same geofencing capability mentioned in the third point above can be used as a safety mechanism by sending out alerts when unauthorized personnel, or anyone, enters an area considered to be potentially hazardous. Dangerous temperature extremes and overcrowding can be avoided with the use of environmental sensors.
Still, accidents will sometimes happen and when they do, RTLS can be a vitally important source of help. Tags can be fitted with panic buttons to call for assistance or alert others of an accident. Employees with a tag can be located in emergency situations when every second counts, avoiding the need to put others in danger by searching for them. When an area must be cleared, RTLS can quickly tell you if everyone who needs to be moved out is present at a meeting point. If emergency services arrive, you can immediately tell them how many people are in an area and exactly where they are.
These are all capabilities you hope to never need, but are you really comfortable without knowing that they’re available if the unthinkable happens?
Depending on your industry and the nature of your facility, regulatory compliance can be a major issue in your day-to-day operations. It can so important that dedicated full-time staff are often assigned just to this area. If this is the case in your operation, you can make their job much easier with the insights gained from an RTLS deployment.
Digitization creates opportunities for much better documentation of any number of metrics, particularly those subject to regulatory measures. The data gathered through RTLS also helps to report on and demonstrate compliance. It’s also highly accurate and free from the problems and human error associated with manual reporting.
Also, reports showing compliance with regulatory measures can be generated in minutes, rather than days or weeks, like with conventional reporting methods.
The accumulated benefits of RTLS combine to create more efficient workflows, provide reliable data for purchasing and inventory decisions and protect mechanical and human assets, all while making factory operations more transparent and easily documented. Digital transformation means more precise measurements of every input and output. From there, it’s a small step to optimizing any number of aspects of your operation.
The manufacturing visibility provided by RTLS makes it possible to achieve a level of efficiency that would otherwise be very difficult to reach. With deep insights into a factory’s organization and processes, it can be more productive, use assets more efficiently, better allocate resources and protect workers. The end result is orders filled on time and on budget, which directly translates into increased customer satisfaction. On top of all that, you get better control over spending, avoid waste and duplication and become leaner overall. What’s not to like?
If you would like to learn more about how you can drive a successful RTLS in your business download our whitepaper Next Generation RTLS Transforming Major Verticals on valuable asset tracking insights for manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, and workspaces.