Order and material traceability are important in any kind of industrial space. In the past, tracking focused on packages being shipped to a customer, but internal tracking is just as important. Improving traceability helps your business in many ways. Traditional systems involve a lot of paperwork and checklists and can be an extremely time-consuming part of a worker's day. End-to-end traceability is a goal of many companies but has historically proved hard to fulfill. Today, however, new ways to improve traceability are beginning to emerge in the business world.
New technology is starting to fill this gap with automated systems that use RFID or Bluetooth chips to trace parts and supplies as well as warehouse equipment. Bluetooth chips have the advantage of a longer range.
Click here to download our ‘What Lean Manufacturing Means in the Age of IoT’ white paper >
There are a number of benefits of these new automated systems that can help improve traceability:
Knowing how to improve traceability allows companies to improve putting-away and picking processes and greatly enhances the recall process. However, the biggest advantage is the large amount of data generated that allows a company to know exactly how well their processes are working and where improvements can be made. This does require a lot of data processing, but technology has now reached the point where AI can handle this easily.
Over the past few years, the use of RFID tagging has expanded beyond the automotive industry and across a variety of use cases. It became popular early in the healthcare and aerospace industries. High-frequency RFID was most commonly used, but UHF tagging is starting to come into use because those chips tend to be smaller and cheaper.
Bluetooth has a high advantage for certain applications in that it has a longer range. Bluetooth is used for active tagging, although the expense of the beacons means it's generally used on assets. However, newer beacon and tag systems are now cheaper than active RFID tagging.
Essentially, Bluetooth beacons are used to create a grid and tags track the position of assets and objects within the grid. Bluetooth Low Energy tags are cheaper and can be used to track parts and orders. For example, each pallet in the warehouse can be tagged and the system will record what was put on the pallet and where that pallet needs to go. The order can then be tracked onto the truck, and GPS tracking used to track the vehicle all the way to delivery. Some companies still prefer to use RFID tags for orders because those tags are so cheap there is no need to worry about tag retrieval. For most purposes, though, the higher cost of the Bluetooth tags is overcome by the much lower cost of readers (in many cases employees can simply use their phones).
The biggest advantage of BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) technology is an increased range. Reading an RFID tag requires that you bring a scanner close to the tag, which is time-consuming. This makes it a much better system for real-time tracking, as the gridded beacons can read the tags automatically and constantly without any input from employees. Tags can be used to track the movement of assets (including employees) through the warehouse constantly, and the higher range means they can also be used outside in loading areas and parking lots. However, real-time tracking systems also require AI support.
Thus, these systems are linked to AI software designed to analyze real-time data and, for example, highlight bottlenecks where a production or shipping process is causing the entire system to slow down. AI support eliminates the time spent analyzing data and reduces that managers have to spend studying trends so they can work out how to improve the process and give employees better support and knowledge.
Simon is one such AI tool and it offers the following features (among others):
AI systems can learn the patterns of your workplace and alert you when something is out of place. Simon can integrate with third-party applications including ERP and human resource systems to provide data to everyone in the company who needs it. Alerts can be sent via email or an employee's phone. Bear in mind that although ERP and MRP systems are amazing, they still require manual inputs and some systems still involve physical paperwork. With Simon, everything is automated and all data is generated through sensor and location data. MRP systems are not inherently granular, automatic, or real-time, but they can be integrated with the data provided by Simon for a complete solution.
If you are looking for a real-time tracking system to improve traceability, reduce time wasted by employees, and offer better monitoring of processes, then contact us to schedule a demo of our Simon AI. With Simon and Bluetooth Low Energy tagging you can build a system that will help you meet the standards of order and material traceability your company and your customers expect.
Real-time location systems (RTLS) have become the foundation for applications that boost efficiency, productivity and safety in every industry you can think of. The ability to accurately locate and track assets and people allows processes to be optimized and helps employees to focus on activities that bring more value to the organization. This insight into how physical objects move, viewed through a digital prism, has made RTLS crucial to achieving next-level operational efficiencies.
Any operation that involves moving parts or assets needs a way to monitor and locate them.
RTLS provides the tools needed to do exactly that while making it possible to leverage that information into business intelligence. Manufacturing, warehousing, healthcare and logistics & transport, among others, provide a long list of RTLS-based applications that provide visibility into processes and flows that makes money-saving and safety-enhancing optimization possible.
In keeping with this month’s celebration of Kontakt.io’s sixth year, today we’re looking at the six steps needed to create a successful RTLS project.
The mission of any RTLS deployment has to be aligned with the needs and objectives of the organization. Typically, that means applying RTLS capabilities to address areas already identified as problems in need of solutions or optimizing processes too complex to be analyzed through manual observation.
This will mean different things in different environments and verticals. In some contexts, it could be tracking assets and cutting search times. In others, it may be identifying bottlenecks in workflows or reassigning people or assets during downtimes. Other situations might call for more accurate time clock management for a large workforce or setting up geofencing protection for sensitive or dangerous areas.
Whatever the primary role of the RTLS, it’s important that a clear picture of how it should support the organization be established before proceeding to selecting technologies and hardware. If you don’t know exactly how an RTLS deployment is supposed to help you be more efficient or productive or safer, how can later measure how successful the deployment is?
How do you know there’s room for improvement in an area where RTLS can help?
You need information, feedback and data to better understand the problems you’re trying to address with an RTLS solution. This can come in the form of raw numbers and analytics, feedback from employees on the front lines of production, comparisons with industry benchmarks and other sources. The more information you have, the more precisely you can focus the tracking and data-gathering capabilities of an RTLS deployment and ensure an acceptable ROI.
This kind of analysis of the processes involved will not only help to shape the mission of the RTLS deployment, but its scope as well. You’ll get a clearer picture of what areas of your facility need to be covered in order to include all the relevant points in the movement of an asset. Maybe you need a localized deployment, maybe it has be facility-wide. One use case may require an end-to-end deployment while another calls for more limited and focused coverage. These different possibilities obviously come with different costs of ownership and ongoing management, which is also important to understand well before you get to advanced stages in the deployment process.
RTLS solutions can be powered by different technological standards, with the three most common being Active RFID, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE). In terms of accuracy and reliability, there’s very little difference between them but Bluetooth LE has emerged as the communication standard for IoT, and as the best choice for RTLS, for several compelling reasons.
The first is cost. Bluetooth LE-based deployments are typically much less expensive than other technologies, with first-year costs for a 1,000-unit deployment at around a quarter of the cost of a similar Active RFID project. The widespread adoption of BLE as a standard has made it not only cheaper, but much more ready to integrate into other systems and devices. BLE-based deployments can be adapted to almost any industry, improving operations, safety, and inventory management, or any number of other use cases.
This network effect is particularly evident as a result of the universal adoption of Bluetooth technology in smartphones. For use cases where smartphones can be used as part of the RTLS, Bluetooth greatly simplifies every step of the process.
Power efficiency is another metric that clearly sets BLE apart—something that should come as no surprise, since “low energy” is part of its name. This not only has obvious consequences for direct operating costs, but also lowers overall costs of ownership as devices and batteries need to be replaced less often. The larger the deployment, the greater the savings.
Turning from software to hardware, there are a number of things to consider when choosing the right type of equipment for an RTLS deployment. RTLS systems based on any technology use tags or beacons to send out signals to a device that detects and processes that signal. Those tags and beacons can take a number of form factors, with some designed especially for certain use cases and environments.
For example, for personnel tracking, you can’t expect employees to somehow carry around the same type of device that you would mount on a wall as part of a wayfinding application. That’s what smaller, thinner tags in the form of cards or wristbands are for. Tags have to do their job without interfering in the performance of the people and assets they help track. This isn’t an issue when they’re passively broadcasting a signal from a ceiling as things move around them, but when they’re on the thing that moves, using the right hardware is essential.
The form factor for devices can also be important in environments where things like temperature, motion or moisture have to be considered. There are use cases that demand higher degrees of toughness and resistance to environmental pressures and failing to make the right choice can fatally compromise the effectiveness of the RTLS. Outdoor asset tracking can involve a combination of multiple factors that will influence the hardware choices available.
Be very aware that hardware is not a one-size-fits-all situation and getting this part of an RTLS deployment wrong can ruin all the other planning you do.
You don’t have to try to solve all of your problems or apply an RTLS to everything right away. Start small, with parameters that are easier to track and manage. Use a limited rollout as a simpler way to understand how everything works and how to act on the information you get.
Focusing on one problem, issue or area at a time will let you learn how to manage the system starting at a manageable scale. Also, it’s easier to experiment, learn from your mistakes, identify what you could be doing differently and reconfigure settings before expanding to the full-scale deployment. As with any technical deployment, there are likely to be issues and problems that will require your time and attention to straighten out. Better to deal with those problems in their limited version before scaling your RTLS to full activation.
Starting with a limited rollout, easing into the management the RTLS and learning how to fix problems on a small scale help to create a smooth transition from the planning stages to going live. They also give you another chance to be sure that the focus, design and physical deployment are all aligned with your needs.
The level of investment required for RTLS solutions means you need to be sure that it will be capable of delivering value for some time going forward. We’ve already made the case for why Bluetooth Low Energy is the best option for the technology that drives RTLS solutions, but this final step in the process highlights another advantage it has.
The use of Bluetooth LE comes with a kind of technological insurance policy in the form of future-proofing. With the introduction of Bluetooth 5.1, the protocol has solidified its position as the dominant industry standard and the backbone of wireless communication across verticals and industries. By deploying a Bluetooth LE-based RTLS ecosystem, you’re setting up a physical and digital infrastructure that leaves the door open to future integrations with devices and applications that you haven’t even thought of yet. As for the here and now, there are billions of Bluetooth-enabled devices already and billions more on the way. That means leveraging the common language shared among them is that much easier if the need arises.
If you’re considering beacons as part of your Bluetooth LE-based RTLS solution, click here to schedule a call with us.
Click here to download the Complete Beacon Industry Report.
There were 1 billion connected Things back in the 90’s. That doubled quickly thanks to smartphones. And with each passing year even more Things are entering the space. People are getting so excited it’s easy to see it all as hype and overexcitement. But that’s not true; the IoT is still growing and evolving.
That’s why we believe in the importance of Bluetooth, and that’s why we were honored to have Martin Woolley, Bluetooth SIG technical program manager, at our recent Beacon Business Industry Development evening in Berlin.
In a talk about Bluetooth 5.0 and its business impact on beacon tech, Woolley walked us through the standard's new specs, what they really mean, how they came about, and he gave us a very very small peak into what’s next, the details of which remain very hush-hush.
Woolley gave us plenty of numbers to ponder including a rather popular one: 48 billion. By 2021, there will be some 48 billion devices connected to the internet. But, at this point, it won't plateau. It will continue to grow faster and faster as everything becomes readily connectable to the internet. It's easy to think IoT and the whole "IoT revolution" is just hype, but the numbers tell another story.
The numbers say 'this is happening,' and we have to respond appropriately. In order for the IoT to work in the long run, we’ll need seamless communication between devices, and we’ll need at least one powerful standard to connect many of our favorite devices. As we’ve discussed probably too many times to count, this is why Bluetooth is increasingly important in nearly every market. Then we’ll also need devices to support this Bluetooth ecosystem. For us, this is the Bluetooth tag or 'beacon.'
The reality is, without a device like the beacon, an infrastructure will have limited proximity information and that means limited functionality. As the network of connected things grows and we close in on dreams of a hyper-connected future, proximity information will be central to automating a number of daily processes.
Bluetooth 4 and BLE powered the first generation of devices, where items could say one thing about themselves. Bluetooth 5, with all its added strength, is now (finally!) enabling items to say all kinds of things about themselves.
Bluetooth 5 has been a very exciting upgrade for everyone in the beacon and Bluetooth tag industry. With all the increased functionalities, it will power existing and new use cases especially in asset tracking. This was no accident.
“Bluetooth was already much faster than other low power wireless communications technologies, so why did we bother making it even faster? It’s about use cases. At the end of the day we will see use cases where even faster data transmission would be useful. Sometimes this is just for user experience, but that’s very important. If users don’t like the speed, they won’t use it, and you’ve already failed.”
Real world use cases and needs are what's driving changes to Bluetooth, and we like to say the same about our Bluetooth tags (hence why we're always sending you surveys and crunching data about use cases and pain points).
From error correction to packet chaining, Bluetooth 5 is powering the second generation of tags. This next generation of tools and tech will push us into that great number, 48 billion connected devices. But we’re still not done.
The next chapter in Bluetooth and tags is coming soon. How “soon?” We’re also curious.
“The next big thing for us is Bluetooth mesh networking. This has been a work in process for the past 2 and a half years or so, I believe, and now you’ve got people asking 'well, when are you gonna release? We’re sick of you saying its coming soon.’ Now, it’s coming really soon, really really soon. In the near-ish future. Is that vague enough? I can’t tell you when, but it’s kind of imminent.”
Our beacon development evening has only continued to provide proof that the world is moving towards Bluetooth tags and beacons. After months of research, an official US tour, and years of networking, we continue to be surprised at how the demand for beacons continues to grow. They may not know the exact metrics, but companies and consumers alike are feeling this growth in IoT and they want to be ready for the newest capabilities.
Take a deeper look at what you should consider before investing in beacons.
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Beacons are devices that broadcast signals at a certain interval. In other words, Beacons allow applications to understand their location on a hyper-local scale and sends signals to users based on their specific geographic location. It’s kind of like GPS for indoors that powers all kinds of possible uses. These uses of beacons in the real world are extremely diverse and endless. They essentially bridge the online and offline world while gathering invaluable data. The results? A lot of possibilities.
Bluetooth LE beacons are, as the name suggests, beacons that use Bluetooth Low Energy technology. Just how much of an impact does this have?
Cost: the technology enables 60-80% cheaper cost of operation than competing standards
Power Consumption: 50-99% less power used means the average beacon can last up to 2 years (or even 5 years with our beacons)
Application: Bluetooth LE technology is perfect for beacons since applications only require minimal periodic transfers of data. As Bluetooth LE can be found almost everywhere, beacons, too, can function...well, almost everywhere!
Let’s hold up a second. Before we go any further, I'll provide a simple explanation of what Eddystone and iBeacon are:
Eddystone and iBeacon are communication protocols. As mentioned earlier, beacons send out a Bluetooth signals at certain intervals, and the communication protocols describe the format that makes up the signal.
iBeacon transmits a UUID, a Major, and a Minor value (16, 4 and 4 digits respectively). One quick reminder: beacons do not do the tracking. iBeacon requires an app to receive, process and/or track the beacon. Works with iOS and Android, but native to iOS (works better with iOS).
Eddystone can send 3 different frame-types: Eddystone-UID, Eddystone-URL, or Eddystone-TLM.
Cross-platform, meaning it works well with not only iOS and Android, but any processor that supports Bluetooth beacons.
Powers Physical Web applications (learn more about that here)
Too many technical terms? Don’t worry. If none of that makes sense or is of interest to you, I will simply sum it up:
iBeacon is simple to implement, has more documentation, but less features.
Let’s face it, hearing about beacon specifications can be a bit dry sometimes; you want to see some real world examples and how you can benefit as well. We’ll go through specific use cases in retail, events, tourism, and manufacturing.
Many people like to divide beacon use cases into two categories: the traditional and the new. It can be strange to imagine a technology like beacons, which is only a few years old, to have “traditional uses,” but these are all the verticals the general public know and love. Beacons started in retail and moved to events, museums, tourism. These use cases are all about helping a customer maneuver a space or engage with a company. It’s about facilitating communication.
However, 2017 is seeing a shift. New beacon technology is powering new use cases, namely asset tracking and RTLS. These are much less customer-obsessed and focus instead on data generation or tracking equipment around a space. It’s about illuminating processes to optimize a supply chain or movements around a space (like a warehouse or hospital). These new use cases are set to make up a huge percentage of beacon usage overall even if the average consumer never knows it.
Retail is probably one of the most mature and fastest growing industries that are using beacons today. Business Insider predicts that beacons will directly result in over $40 billion in US retail sales in 2016. Beacon technology is a great opportunity for retailers to see what items customers are most interested in and plan their store layout accordingly, heck they're even on some coolers now.
We’ve seen beacons used by ELLE, Carrefour, and Volkswagen. Here are some ways you could use Bluetooth beacons in retail:
Beacons power events internationally, and their use ranges from small meetups to large conferences and expos. We’ve seen beacons at everything from Mobile World Congress to football stadiums (so many football stadiums!).
Here’s a list of some uses, because people seem to love lists:
Proximity helps create an interactive environment in places like museums, completely revolutionizing how they guide, educate, and tell stories. Most importantly, beacon technology is often affordable enough that it won't break the bank.
Here are some neat ways to use beacons in tourism:
Unlike all the above use cases, asset tracking or “RTLS” is not exactly made to drive sales or help users maneuver a venue (unless it helps optimize performance). Really, this is all about optimization instead of enhancing visitor experience. A lot of people get very confused when they hear the term “asset tracking,” but it’s actually a highly valuable, long-running tool in many industries. In fact, thought leaders expect the growth of Industrial IoT to really rely on beacon technology.
How can you use beacons in asset tracking? Here’s the basis:
If you’ve read/skimmed this far, you must be interested. So what else should you consider before going into the proof of concept stage?
If you’re deploying a large amount of beacons, you must have the right set of tools and communication. There are things you absolutely must understand and some decisions you absolutely must make beforehand:
How are the beacons configured? How are they labeled for deployment? Are they continuously updated as the business purposes for the beacon changes? If you’re in need of some expert tips, feel free to check these out.
It seems a little unnecessary, but management will need to be considered during deployment. If you don’t understand how your fleet with function into the future, you’re probably going to get burned. One must routinely check on: missing/stolen beacons, the indicators regarding battery life, and categorization of the beacons.
The coverage or range of beacons vary largely depending on the environment. Fixtures, walls or even other signals may disrupt the coverage. It’s hard to estimate what the spread in beacons are, but we’d love to try.
Beacons are now emerging as a gateway to complicated financial interactions, so now there are incentives for someone to gain access to your beacons. The Eddystone communication protocol is already secure, but iBeacon is vulnerable to piggybacking, cloning, hijacking and cracking.
Lucky for our users, all our beacons have Kontakt.io Secure, worlds only suite that protects you against all the security threats.
Of course, just because your beacons are secure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about understanding how it works. I highly recommend reading up on how beacons work and why security matters. Beacon hardware is incredibly simple. That’s why security is of the utmost importance.
Alright, so now you’re thinking, ‘beacons are interesting, and I’d love to juggle the idea of a proof of concept.’ We got you. We’re excited for you too.
As a quick disclaimer: we don’t provide solutions, we just manufacture the beacons. We do love playing the match maker, we know the industry better than you, so just shoot us a message.
Here are some things you need to look for in a solution provider:
Thanks for bearing with us throughout this article, we know it’s a bit wordy, but we were aiming to provide a complete introduction to Bluetooth Low Energy beacons.
Let us know what you think below, and once again (sorry), let us know if you have any questions.
Need more use case ideas? Inspiration? Just plain bored?
Check out the rest of our blog for everything you need to know about beacons. We love our blog. It’s our baby.
We know you’ll find more answers (whether it’s technical, ideological, or metaphysical) somewhere in its pages.