We talk a lot about the hardware and software involved in gathering and applying location data but in this post we’re going to take a step back to look at the big picture behind Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS). The whole point of using the tools that make RTLS work is to collect data about location, movement and processes but how is that information used to achieve better business results?
The location data collected by RTLS a means to an end. The end, obviously, is the ability to identify useful business insights with the help of that data. Pairing location information with gaps in business performance creates the foundation for new approaches that reduce inefficiencies and improve business outcomes.
Different verticals have found a number of innovative and beneficial ways to leverage location data gathered via RTLS. Digitized processes have enabled managers and strategists to gain unprecedented insights into how people, objects and materials move in physical spaces and identify opportunities for optimization.
Given its complex nature, it should come as no surprise that industry and manufacturing has been the setting for a very long list of location data applications. From the moment raw materials come in one door to finished goods being shipped from another and everything in between, the industrial space can benefit in many ways from the streamlining made possible through the visibility provided by location data.
Here are just some of the applications of locations data in industry and manufacturing:
Manufacturing and industrial facilities need to register and track materials at different stages of the process. Hand-held scanners, requiring manual scanning and extra manpower, have traditionally filled this role but now real-time location data is helping to automate the process. RTLS is now a key part of supply-chain management right from the very start of the manufacturing process.
Location data helps to save time and reduce staff levels by processing the intake of new materials and automatically adding them to inventory. Other processes and activities can proceed without having to wait for slower manual methods to catch up. Also, material inputs can be more quickly moved to warehouse shelves or the production line instead of gathering in one area and perhaps interfering with other work going on. Also, when onward movement is accelerated, downtime for associated equipment like forklifts and pallets is reduced.
The proper allocation of factory inputs is a component of material handling. In complex spaces with so many moving parts and potential issues that can slow down production, it’s important that materials be accessible when and where they’re needed. With location data gained from passive monitoring, materials can be more easily assigned to workstations and assembly points, keeping them better supplied, avoiding downtime and facilitating resupplies when needed.
Probably the application most often associated with location data, being able to instantly locate assets has obvious business benefits. Avoiding or reducing downtime is the first one on the list, with less need for staff to spend time locating tools and equipment needed for a particular job. Also, expensive equipment can be protected from theft by using geofencing to ensure that it is kept within virtual boundaries that you set. If tagged tools or equipment are taken beyond those lines, an automatic alert can be sent to the appropriate manager.
Asset tracking also has value at inventory time (or at any time you want to take inventory). With the touch of a button, you can count the number of all assets or a particular tool or piece of equipment.
Here we mean the useful aspects of being able to digitally tracking employee locations. This visibility is commonly used in several ways in industrial and manufacturing environments.
We can start where the staff starts their time in the facility—at the time clock. RTLS has become a new kind of digital timeclock for millions of employees around the world, precisely documenting their arrival and departure times. Apart from creating a reliable a searchable database of information (which can be used to document employee presence and absences as needed) it also eliminates human error in the clock-in, clock-out process. No more forgetting about time cards when all employees have to do is walk past a sensor with a beacon card or tag on them.
Tracking staff locations also has applications for safety and security issues. Access to potentially hazardous areas in work environments can be regulated through granting or restricting it as appropriate. Staff movements can also be archived for documentation purposes in the event of an accident or other issue requiring visibility into who was where and when.
The same principle can be applied to security concerns in industrial facilities with stored valuables, expensive machinery or other similarly sensitive assets that are not generally accessible to all. RTLS can be used to control access to these areas in order to ensure that only authorized personnel can gain entrance.
The worldwide network of cargo ships, trucks, rail cars and freight airliners is the backbone of global commerce. An industry that handles 80% of all consumer goods and 90% of global trade by weight is certainly large enough to create any number of opportunities of location data to create new efficiencies and savings.
With the advances in hardware battery life and the development of tags and beacons able to withstand more demanding environments, RTLS-based location data is now as mobile as those ships, planes, trucks and trains. Automated processes similar to those found in other verticals are now streamlining processes in supply chains and reducing administration costs (which can constitute 20% of the overall costs of shipping).
Real-time location data informs computer applications that schedule loading and unloading operations, accelerating distribution at ports and cutting overall downtime. This contributes greatly to the reduction and sometimes elimination of manual tracking and human-error while boosting productivity and efficiency.
When it comes to tracking cargo, location data can go far beyond simply placing it on a map. Real-time updates can trigger alerts when shipments are behind schedule, which can in turn trigger automated updates sent to distributors, customers and other stakeholders, allowing them to plan accordingly and reallocate their assets in the meantime if possible. From a customer service perspective, this is a valuable tool not only for preserving relationships but for avoiding costly returns and claims.
Sensor-enabled tags can collect information about environmental conditions during shipment, including temperature, vibration and moisture/humidity, documenting when and if goods were damaged en route. This is important for chain of custody issues, cold chains and any number of sensitive goods. The documentation this data provides can help to settle customer disputes and protect stakeholders in the event of losses during shipment. RTLS provides opportunities to create event-triggered alerts and the tracking of environmental metrics that help to guarantee that goods in motion reach their destination in the proper condition and, when they don’t, to identify the link in the chain where the problem occurred.
When certain goods can’t get wet, too warm or cold, or have to be handled with care, sensor-enabled location data systems can provide the information you need to learn where things went wrong.
End-to-end solutions based on location data and bringing higher container ROI, easy and reliable goods documentation reducing port times in an industry where that can easily save $100,000 an hour.
With large facilities full of expensive equipment, sensitive areas and many people in need of assistance, the Healthcare industry is tailor-made for the many applications of location data.
Given the size of many healthcare facilities and the sometimes remote areas when staff sometimes find themselves alone with patients, the ability to remotely call for assistance has obvious appeal. Unfortunately, the threat of injury, whether accidental in the line of job duties or as a result of aggressive patient behavior, is a real concern in this field. Whether in hospitals, nursing homes or residential facilities, having to deal with volatile situations alone is a serious professional hazzard. When these situations occur, a tech solution is needed to call help fast.
RTLS can address this need with button-enabled tags and sensors that let staff easily send such an alert. Whether it’s a dangerous situation with a patient or other emergency circumstances that require additional help, assistance is literally a button push away. There’s no need to waste valuable time returning through long hallways or face some threat alone when staff can be equipped with this “panic button” at all times. Peace of mind has real value for medical staff when they know they don’t have to face these threats alone.
Like their counterparts in manufacturing, doctors, nurses and other specialists in healthcare use sophisticated machinery that often moves away from where it’s needed. That equipment can be quickly and easily found in the maze of hospital halls and rooms when it’s tagged as part of an RTLS deployment. This reduces time wasted searching for it—in an environment where every second often counts—and increases the quality of patient care. Due to its value, such equipment can also be geofenced into a defined area, triggering an automated alert when it is taken beyond those boundaries and safeguarding
Location data in schools? Absolutely! In fact, educational settings often take advantage of all the applications listed above, just slightly adapted to their unique needs.
Schools and universities have valuable assets too and location data lets them find, manage and inventory them just like a factory, transit company or hospital would. Schools obviously have plenty of students, too, and their attendance can be accurately recorded in the same way as the workers in a manufacturing facility. There may be circumstances where an academic institution wants to restrict student access to a particular area or grant it only to members of a certain age or grade. This too can be done, just as it is in different industrial or other contexts. In very large areas of schools that are used intermittently, they may want to control heating or energy costs by monitoring which rooms are used and ensuring that heating and lighting are managed accordingly. Again, just as in shipping and transport, sensor-enabled tags and beacons can record environmental conditions and generate data that can be leveraged into better ways of organizing schedules and people flows to optimize the use of resources.
If even schools can get so many uses out of location data, then surely there must be something in your own business that can benefit from RTLS!