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.
How important is technology to visibility and efficient warehouse operations? Here's how beacons and RTLS are changing manufacturing for the better.
Manufacturers everywhere suffer from a fragmented supply chain, yet, with the introduction of more and more technology, expectations about speed and efficiency are higher than ever. Properly managed warehouse operations are vital to optimized processes and fast results. But how can businesses achieve the results they need? Do they need technology to step in and help deliver a new level of performance?
RTLS has existed in manufacturing for years, and it’s becoming more important than ever. With the ability to express and visualize warehouse operations in easy-to-understand real-time data, RTLS is transforming manufacturing in no less than 3 big ways.
Where are your workers wasting time? Where are your most valuable assets being used inefficiently? Automatization has led to more and more tasks being handled by machines. This shift has offered great possibilities as well as risks. An effective asset tracking system could help machine operators better navigate the factory by determining the most urgent tasks and the shortest paths. Furthermore, tracking the movement of machinery and workers in a factory will help create a safer work environment, minimizing accidents and maintenance costs.
Proximity tracking with BLE beacons also has applications directly within production. In less automated factories, where goods spend a longer time at each station, managers can benefit from the monitoring of assets as they move through the production process. One crucial example case includes industries that emphasize craftsmanship and each product has a high degree of customization. These production units are usually smaller than a highly automated production line, but the low cost and simplicity of BLE makes advanced RTLS possible even for smaller manufacturers.
This laboratory uses beacons to track assets and increase warehouse operations efficiency
When dental laboratory and prosthesis maker Flemming Dental was looking to better track products moving through their laboratory, they turned to technology. Using beacons, they were able to better estimate delivery times and achieve higher quality results.
“The typical industrial solutions are currently focused on narrow areas - within a machine or on a production belt or something similar. If you want to track things within an entire factory, warehouse, or hall, then the current solutions would be too expensive, and therefore it is not done. In use cases where you would benefit from this, then beacons are the only technology option. The relationship between cost and the value is very good.”
Masanori Fujita, director for the Solution Center at Zühlke Group
The flexibility and low cost of beacons means firms can extend RTLS systems beyond just direct production Inventory not reaching the assembly line in time can prove a substantial dilemma and even disrupt the entire production process. By improving logistics systems with RTLS, firms can support logistics workers by guiding them to deliver the most practical or urgent requests first. Improved information here can overall logistic chain visibility.
Want to learn more about how beacons are transforming asset tracking? Our White Paper on RTLS offers our findings in depth including the role of big data and seven straight-forward steps to implementing a successful RTLS system.
No time? No worries! We carefully organized our paper to help busy managers learn about new possibilities in their particular sector, fast. Download the white paper here.
BLE and RFID RTLS continues to be a growing topic, and it’s incredibly difficult to fit it everything you need to know in one post. That’s why we've compiled a 32-page RTLS whitepaper. We went in depth on the capabilities of BLE for a real-time location system, compared costs, broke down types of use cases, and examined required hardware. Find the whitepaper here.
Active RFID companies (like Zebra Systems or CenTrak) have been helping businesses track assets for years, and the technology is still going strong. From patient safety solutions to asset tracking in manufacturing, RFID has been monumentally important. The question, now, is: how valuable will it be in the future?
RFID will never be completely replaced in the real time location systems market as it has some very strong use cases. But is RFID RTLS right for everyone or every use case?
RTLS is a technology solution used to automatically identify or track assets in an area in real time. Whether it’s people, packages, or large machinery, a real time locating system can tell managers the location of tagged pieces. This generally works by attaching a tag to an item. While these move, the tag sends transmissions to fixed receivers in the space. Together, receivers and transmissions data illuminate the physical location of the tag and corresponding item at that moment.
The digital and real-time version of the location and all associated assets lives in an RTLS software. It's the software (platform) that makes the location data meaningful, translating it into interactive maps, locating tools, heat maps, dashboards, reports, and other features, depending on a solution provider.
Click here to download RTLS guide.
From tracking medical devices in hospitals to charting workers in exposed environments, RTLS offers massive opportunities to almost every sector. By knowing where assets are located, processes can be streamlined, generating valuable data and letting employees focus on activities that actively bring value to the organization.
How do we use RTLS?
While the industries in which assets are often tracked vary, the principals behind them remain largely the same. Here are some common use cases:
As you can imagine, these use cases can also be practical in any given vertical or field. Aerospace, museums, conferences—they all have a number of possibilities when it comes to a tracking system.
The RFID RTLS market (and the RTLS market as a whole) has grown significantly in recent years and is expected to continue growing at a CAGR of nearly 43% until 2021. Still, there is an amount of confusion around the concept.
RTLS describes the actual Real Time Location System, a solution that can tell users where a tagged asset is located. There are several technologies used to accomplish this. Some systems use WiFi, some ZigBee, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), or active RFID. RFID simply means Radio Frequency Identification and refers to a small electronic device that consist of a chip and antenna. However, note that not every RFID solution relates to real time locating systems.
Trouble choosing between WiFi, ZigBee, and BLE? Download our RTLS technology guide.
RFID appeared in the 1940s and quickly grew to passively track objects. These passive RFID tags continue to be incredibly affordable, costing as little as 10 cents. They are also easy to produce and dispose of.
While passive RFID is ultra cheap, it's active RFID that offers extensive capabilities in asset tracking. These use small battery-powered tags to broadcast their signal. They provide a much farther reach than passive tags. In short, passive tags must wait for external energy to power them while active RFID is able to broadcast on its own. This means their optimal use cases are almost entirely different. For most modern companies looking into a real time location system, they'll be turning to something active.
Furthermore, passive RFID cannot offer overarching real-time information. It only functions when brought in extremely close proximity to a reader. For example, passive RFID employee access cards typically function at some 125 khz, having a read range of 1-10cm.
Client-based solutions like passive RFID can tell you if or when a tagged asset passed through a certain area--but what if you want real time location data? Managers in a warehouse or a health care system can find immense benefit in active data. For people tracking, such as that used in patient safety solutions, passive data can only go so far, and in emergency situations professionals will want to know where a patient is actively located—not where they passed through thirty minutes earlier. Active RFID and Bluetooth, on the other hand, can be integrated into an app or leveraged to pass data onto a server and provide the required information.
There are several levels to active RFID as well. Ultra-Wideband, ZigBee, and Bluetooth all use similar practices and frequencies. Still, Bluetooth is generally viewed as different from other active solutions as it uses different technology and offers different results.
If you want to drive real business outcomes with a location solution, you need more than just RTLS. Discover how Simon, our next-generation IoT platform combines RTLS, IoT, and workflows to help you understand, digitize, and optimize physical workflows.
When used in RTLS, BLE utilizes so-called Bluetooth Low Energy tags, small devices that work by sending out a signal that can be picked up by other Bluetooth devices and indicate distance between a tag and a reader. These systems can achieve up to 3m accuracy. More importantly, due to the widespread adaptation of the Bluetooth standard, BLE solutions are cheaper and easier to integrate into other systems and everyday devices than alternative solutions. In fact, nearly all phones are already equipped with the technology. The first major difference between BLE and RFID RTLS becomes obvious:
For use cases where smartphones and devices can be used as part of the real-time location system, Bluetooth greatly simplifies every step of the process.
The RTLS market is filled with different kinds of standards and each has its own unique hardware. While the promise behind these real-time location systems is almost the same, the hardware is drastically different—as well as the associated price tags.
Both BLE and Active RFID systems use tags to send out a signal to readers every few seconds. These signals can be analyzed to determine the (more or less) exact location of the tags. Both systems also operate at room level, meaning they are optimal for Zonal Tracking. However, while passive RFID tags are notoriously cheap, active RFID tags and readers are—quite simply—not.
The popular Fx9500 Fixed RFID Reader from Zebra costs some $1,500. And it’s not even close to the most expensive reader on the market. While Active RFID readers commonly cost between $1,000 and $5,000, the corresponding Bluetooth gateway can cost less than $100.
It’s estimated that the total first-year costs for a 1000-unit active RFID real time location system, including software and hardware, can easily reach up to $39,100. The cost of implementing that same system with Bluetooth beacons hovers around $10,890.
How can BLE be so much cheaper?
One reason is that BLE has a far longer reach. RFID has a very short range, meaning, in order to cover a big area with RFID, you have to have a lot of hardware. Bluetooth can reach 50 to 70 meters and RFID about 2.
What level of accuracy does your real time location system require?
The level of accuracy a real-time location system provides is generally related directly to the technology chosen. Both BLE and RFID RTLS are ideal for zonal or room-level tracking. This means they can tell a manager “this asset is in this room.”
More precise solutions can tell a manager on which shelf or in which corner an asset is located, but these are another price range altogether. For most scenarios, room-level tracking is sufficient.
WiFi tags, BLE beacons, and readers all describe largely the hardware aspect of a location system. However, the hardware and the data transmitted from a tag to a reader is nothing without the software.
Software translates this data into readable, actionable information. Depending on the provider and solution, these programs can create heat maps, visualizations, or other kinds of interactive data. These user-friendly interfaces often leverage floorplans to display and relate information. Here, users can look for specific tags or assets, group assets by type, run diagnostics, generate reports, or analyze data. In some scenarios, users can also set up workflows, triggered by actions that should occur when a specific parameter is met.
In conclusion, the idea of passive RFID or NFC being completely replaced by Bluetooth Low Energy is rather presumptuous, completely missing the differing benefits offered by the two systems. Bluetooth won't be erasing its competitors. For companies who need absolutely extreme granularity, UWB may continue to be a necessity. The reality, however, is that BLE RTLS is becoming increasingly common, competitive, and BLE is very nearly becoming synonymous within real-time location systems.
However, with the introduction of Bluetooth 5, and the growing popularity of beacon technology, leaders of the beacon and IoT space alike now expect Bluetooth to begin playing a larger role in the real-time location system market. Having conducted several interviews on what 2017 will mean for beacon technology, we found the single most common thread is the fact BLE will become increasingly common and central in asset tracking solutions. From ABI Research to Bluetooth SIG, movers are agreeing that 2017 means big wins for beacons in RTLS.
Patrick Connolly, Principal Analyst at ABI Research
"The area of most excitement is industrial where low-cost, high accuracy beacons can be a fraction of the cost of other RTLS/asset tracking solutions. 2017 will be the year of proving that these technologies can scale."
Chuck Sabin, Director of Business Strategy at Bluetooth SIG
"In 2017, we’ll start to see the beginning of the beacon revolution, which will eventually change the way we live our everyday lives. Corporate/Industrial and personal/asset tracking are set to lead the way in beacon technology."
Stephen Statler, Author of Beacon Technologies
"Asset Tracking has been one of the hottest markets for beacons and will get hotter still in 2017."
Hospital assets are expensive. In fact, the cost per bed has risen 90% in the past 15 years to $3,144, and keeping track of this equipment is a big job. Hospitals are big, have a huge amount of equipment, and often a lot of employees. It's very easy for expensive tools to end up misplaced or left in disuse. Hospitals will even purchase between 10 and 20% more equipment than necessary just so staff will be more likely to find it. Establishing a proper RTLS in healthcare settings is crucial to making sure patients get the treatment they need and that assets are properly tracked and utilized.
RFID has become increasingly common for RTLS in healthcare; however, the Bluetooth real-time location system is undoubtedly on the rise. The increasing number of solutions and rapid development of new healthcare-specific tag form factors indicates that BLE could turn existing RTLS in healthcare into something more automated and futuristic. As major US hospitals begin moving forward with POCs, will more be joining later this year?
Associating: A method of describing a tag’s location using the tag’s proximity to other tags.
Antenna: Passive and high-frequency tags use an antenna to send and receive data. Due to the lack of battery in passive tags, an antenna is required to power the device.
Bluetooth Low Energy: A highly energy efficient protocol first introduced in 2010. It allows devices to run for several years on tiny coin-cell operated batteries. Due largely to the simplicity of the technology, Bluetooth-based beacons can be created quickly and for a lower cost than competitors.
Chip: A rice-sized RFID unit that can be implanted into assets or even animals.
Far-field communication: Refers to when an RFID tag is one full wavelength outside of the related reader. These systems imply a long read range (in comparison to near-field communication-based systems). Here, the tag receives the energy transmitted.
Gateway: A device that receives data from Bluetooth Low Energy tags (like beacons) and sends it to the cloud for analysis or integration into another system.
High frequency RFID (HF): These tags operate between 3 MHz and 30 MHz. The frequency relates directly to, and in a way describes, the read range. High-frequency systems imply longer read ranges, working at a distance between 10 cm and 1 meter.
iBeacon: One protocol for beacon technology. This is the language commonly used by apps to facilitate communication between beacons and other technology.
Infrared RTLS: A tag emits a unique Infrared ID picked up by an Infrared reader. These highly reliable systems are also expensive to install.
Low frequency RFID (LF): These tags operate between 30 MHz and 300 MHz. The frequency relates directly to, and in a way describes, the read range. Low-frequency systems imply shorter read ranges, working in a distance less than 10 cm.
Near-field communication: Refers to when a tag is within full wavelength of the related reader. These systems imply a short read range (in comparison to far-field communication-based systems). Here, the reader antennae emit radio waves to the tag.
Read range: The distance (or range) from which a tag can be read by a reader.
Reader: A (generally) stationary connected device that can send power, data, and commands to related tags. This is a kind of access point that transfers data from RFID-equipped assets to the business’s database.
Tag: The device attached to assets that either broadcasts otherwise transfers its location data.
Trigger: A pre-defined response that should occur when a particular asset moves in a particular way. For example, when the Kontakt.io Gateway detects or loses sight of a particular beacon, it will send the event back to the Location Engine, triggering a given action.
Ultra-high frequency RFID (UHF): These tags operate between 300 MHz and 3 GHz. The frequency relates directly to, and in a way describes, the read range. High-frequency systems imply longer read ranges, working up to 12 meters.
Ultra wide-band RTLS (UWB): UWB systems leverage a very low energy level to power short-range, high-bandwidth communications. These can carry large amounts of data long distances and through several kinds of blockers.
WiFi RTLS: System using WiFi networks to leverage signal strength readings or triangulation to determine asset locations. WiFi tags are able to, in part, leverage existing WiFi ecosystems, making them very popular in industries like healthcare. They act almost the same as Bluetooth beacons with one big difference: energy usage. WiFi was designed to be highly efficient and therefore uses a large amount of bandwidth. The result is more energy usage and higher associated costs.
ZigBee: A wireless communication standard using low-power digital radio signals for personal area networks. Has many applications largely in smart home systems.
Zonal Tracking: A level of tracking that is neither ultra-granular nor incredibly vague. This is much like “room-” or “area-level” as opposed to exact position on a particular shelf in a particular space.
Real-Time Location Systems enable businesses to understand and use their assets efficiently, making daily operations more transparent and aiding in process optimization. RTLS can be implemented in different industries such as manufacturing, logistics, hospitals, and workplace.
Check our infographic below to dive deeper into RTLS use cases, technology comparison, Location Engine, and more! Feel free to share with anyone you think can use this explainer.
And if you want to test Location Engine, take advantage of our New Year's limited edition and get a Location Engine Starter Kit. It's the easiest and cheapest way to prototype your BLE-based RTLS.
Start building your asset positioning solution with the Location Engine Starter Kit
Latest Bluetooth beacons bring new level of automation, transparency, and ease of use to heatmapper technology.
Heatmapping is a common tool for retailers, but it also offers huge possibilities for companies in other verticals. Heatmaps can help managers visualize all the valuable data they’ve collected and turn it into actionable information. Manufacturers, transportation operators, and nearly every other field can benefit from proper data visualization techniques--and our latest technology was developed to help you achieve that.
The factory floor can be a crowded place. With so many layers, assets, and movements, it can be nearly impossible to determine what kind of inefficiencies are occurring. Pinpointing exactly how to change and optimize processes includes a lot of guesswork, and analyzing success can also be difficult.
A heatmapper can help:
For example, a bicycle manufacturer suspects there is inefficiency in their factory. They install beacons to track the movements of assets and employees. The collected data is then turned into a handy heatmap, showing the less popular areas as well as areas with exorbitant dwell times.
Heat mapper technology shows that the first two stations have low to average dwell times with assets spending only a few minutes at each station. However, they spent markedly high amounts of time at the third station. The manager realizes it is likely that this station is simply too crowded andbusy. They choose to divide tasks at the station into two areas. That means evening out the production process and assessing resource and employee allocation. Without analysis, they may not have recognized the imbalance.
A heatmap takes data and turns it into a visualization, using color to denote how long a person or object is present in a certain area. This can provide insights into common routes as well as which areas are more or less commonly occupied. To create a heatmap, all you need is the right data and wireless survey tools.
Heatmaps can be generated using a number of different heatmapping software. Some of the most popular wireless survey tools include:
Looking for the best WiFi mapper? There’s new technology that can do more and costs less.
WiFi mapping does seem very attractive at first. WiFi penetration rates are incredibly high, and users are already accustomed to using and activating WiFi. However, WiFi mapping also suffers from a large price tag. WiFi survey systems are popular but not easy or cheap to maintain. Funding installation, routers, providers, and electricity quickly leads to a much larger pricetag than anticipated.
WiFi solutions require expensive hardware and even more expensive software. Beacon hardware is not only more affordable, but built-in capabilities like those provided by Kontakt.io make the digital conversion of data to heatmap automated and cost-effective. Popular Wifi-based heatmapping solutions can come with an estimated $120,000 hardware costs with an added $36,000 fee for software. A similar system powered by Kontakt.io beacons cut that by nearly 70%. That's an estimated $25,900 hardware cost with $12,000 for similar software.
Unlike other wireless survey tools and Wifi survey systems, Bluetooth benefits from similarly large penetration rates and a comparably small pricetag. They are small, cost effective, and require little further investment. Bluetooth is also incredibly energy efficient, meaning a Bluetooth-based system can run longer on less energy.
Wireless site survey software can provide valuable results but also require extensive resources. Using battery-powered tags allows assets and people to move while still being tracked. These tags, however, often have extremely short battery lives. If used continuously, they will likely require recharging on a daily basis. This strategy can be built into the daily employee schedule, but there are also methods that require less work on a daily basis. Bluetooth beacons, for example, can last anywhere from 6 months to 6 years or more.
It’s time to upgrade your old WiFi heat mapper technology.
Bluetooth beacons, alone, cannot create a heatmap. They’re just small connectors sending radio waves to passing smart devices. All those interactions, however, can be leveraged to generate rich and thorough data. More importantly, some beacon hardware is made specifically to turn those interactions into visualizations and heatmaps--no further heat mapping software or expensive WiFi coverage needed.
Beacons can be attached to walls and create a grid similar to maps generated by WiFi site survey software, or they can be attached to assets or passers-by to create a more active map. In this second scenario, technology like the Kontakt.io Card Beacon is particularly useful. These beacons are crafted to be small and mobile. (Read more about beacons!)
The most important step is the data creation. Data has traditionally been collected through a smart device equipped with an app designed to collect data. While valuable, this technology does not always create accurate visualizations. By requiring the usage of a smart device, the system can lead to holes and missing or skewed data. That’s why beacons are shifting to a new method. Here, a beacon acts as a gateway, directly funneling data from ordinary beacons to the cloud. This transfers data automatically without the interaction of a smart device to the cloud where it can be stored and used.
There is no one way to generate a heat map. A firm must consider costs and returns in order to find the best solution. The cutting edge gateway technology, however, does represent the most automated and affordable system for heat map creation. The hardware itself is very simple, relaying information about beacon location to the relevant system in the cloud.
The Kontakt.io Gateway works with the Location Engine, a software that can turn raw data into visualizations. Here, users will find the option to generate and view heat maps. This software is of huge importance to the gateway technology. Offering a user-friendly interface, it enables managers, executives, and non-techies the ability to utilize heat map technology quickly, easily, and digitally. Moreover, this technology is easily implemented into other apps, allowing solution providers the chance to quickly and effectively add heat mapping software and other beacon capabilities to their offerings. This should increase the overall number of beacon solutions for end customers as well as future heat map software capabilities, strengthening the beacon market while also lessening the headache and work.
Location Engine Heatmap can show which Gateway beacon scanned the most devices in a particular time period for a given time interval, which can be set to 1 minute, 15 minutes, or 1 hour, for the selected time period.
Our Location Engine API was designed to help you create better products for your customers. The heatmap data generated here can be easily integrated into your products so you can add the value your customers need. Our simple heatmapper was made to be built upon, ensuring that the result is the best, most appropriate interface possible.
Due to the technology’s simplicity and ease of use, it is relatively painless to perform and evaluate a POC for your particular project. In fact, before deciding on any one heatmapper infrastructure, it is crucial to test the most viable options. Get in touch to build a POC or test out heat mapping with Kontakt.io.
The asset tracking industry is changing. The average active RFID readers will cost between $1,000 and $5,000. Why are BLE tags so much more affordable?
Though exciting, managers must fully understand upcoming localization technologies if they hope to make the right investment. A handful of existing asset tracking tools--like RFID tags, barcodes, and GPS--already exist. Unfortunately, if you are tracking assets indoors, GPS is rendered nearly useless and, if you need to track items across a larger space, ultra short-range solutions are vastly ineffective. So much for “modern” technology!
One major hurdle when establishing a Real-Time Location System (RTLS) has always been the ecosystem. They can be costly to set up and maintain. On the other hand, one technology has only gotten better with time: Bluetooth. Bluetooth tags leverage the growing, widespread adoption of Bluetooth Low Energy to support an affordable and adaptable infrastructure.
Though nearly impossible a short while ago, beacon-based asset tracking systems are now a scaleable, cost-effective, and genuinely exciting solution to old problems.
What are common use cases for BLE asset tracking across verticals? See the chart below for answers.
Modern asset tracking usually occurs in the form of active RFID, passive RFID, barcodes, NFC, GPS, WiFi, or Bluetooth. All of these are useful in certain circumstances. For example, barcodes are great for registering a large number of assets or assets that will be leaving a factory and taking their tracking mechanism with them. As nearly any smartphone owner will tell you, GPS is great for tracking assets outside or across huge distances. Conversely, WiFi and Bluetooth offer a level tracking that is in between. As assets travel around a factory but need to be recorded with minimal interaction and maximum efficiency, these standards are ideal.
Barcodes: Perhaps the cheapest way to track. These are so simple they can be printed, scanned, and even shipped with the product.
Bluetooth: The most affordable of the more active tracking methods. Doesn't require interactions or active scanning but can still deliver information based on real time data. Importantly, a BLE infrastructure is capable of serving several use cases simultaneously.
GPS: Ideal for global, outdoor tracking. Doesn’t always require specialized scanners, like active RFID. It isn’t, however, ideal for tracking smaller movements like, for example, following assets as they make their final movements within a warehouse.
NFC: Near Field Communication enables the communication between a tag and electronic device when held close together, most popularly by “tapping.” Can be used with smart devices but is not practical for operations requiring real time information or automated tracking.
Passive RFID: These tags only work at very close range. While they do broadcast their location information, it only travels a very short range. For this reason, a scanner must be brought incredibly close to the tag in order to register and record presence.
QR Codes: A very specific kind of matrix barcode. Like other barcodes, they are cheap to manufacture, easy to dispose of, and ideal for tracking that doesn’t require real time information or automated tracking.
WiFi: These tags are able to, in part, leverage existing WiFi ecosystems, making them very popular in industries like healthcare. They act almost the same as Bluetooth tags with one big difference: energy usage. WiFi was designed to be highly efficient and therefore uses a large amount of bandwidth. The result is more energy usage and higher associated costs.
Perhaps one of the largest and most pervasive misconceptions about Bluetooth asset tracking is that is may be more expensive compared to similar types of systems. However, this is only true when comparing Bluetooth to passive systems like those based on NFC, QR, or passive RFID.
Passive and active tracking are largely differentiated by distance—namely, the distance the tag can be from the reader in order to be recognized. While we call some RFID and Bluetooth solutions “active,” there is nothing particular active about it. The difference is that they can be read from longer distances. For example, a user passing through a room with an active tag can be recognized by a reader meters away. A user passing through a room with a passive tag will have to get close to the reader, likely scanning or tapping their tag, in order to be registered.
The cost difference
Passive solutions are usually incredibly simple. Barcodes can even be printed, making tags cost almost nothing in comparison to other solutions. Active solutions, however, are not in direct competition with these solutions. Use cases where passive asset tracking is preferred will likely not seek out active solutions unless there is an added value, making active tracking important. Importantly, the cost difference between Bluetooth and other active asset tracking methods can be huge. While active RFID readers will cost between $1,000 and $5,000, Bluetooth readers can cost under $100.
It’s estimated that first-year costs for a 1,000-unit active RFID asset tracking system can easily reach up to $39,100. That same system can be implemented with Bluetooth beacons for around $10,890.
Bluetooth isn’t currently the standard method for asset tracking. However, it’s quickly growing in popularity and usages, signaling that something has changed. We wanted to understand what happened, so we sat down with Łukasz Wierzbicki, Kontakt.io Head of Engineering to find the reason why:
“The basic difference is that Bluetooth is more power efficient. Now you can use a beacon for two years with one battery. That’s not something that was previously possible. Secondly, Bluetooth doesn’t need to be connected. You can broadcast a signal and nothing has to receive it. With previous versions, you also had to have a connection."
He continues, "this non-connection is a big reason for Bluetooth's success. Bluetooth SIG created the newest specifications after deciding it should be more power efficient and work without connectivity. Once companies using Bluetooth had to implement these new protocols, this new kind of more affordable and capable infrastructure became possible."
In short: Power efficiency is the most important feature of Bluetooth. Plus, Bluetooth can do more than just track items. You can do interactions through the smartphone. So that means it’s more power efficient, cost effective, and you can do more with it.
Plus, Bluetooth tags are 3-4 times cheaper than active RFID tags.
Bluetooth tags are often modernly known as beacons, and their popularity has been growing in recent years. The Bluetooth beacon only first appeared with the release of the iBeacon protocol in 2013. Then came Eddystone. The release of these protocols heralded in the age of the beacon. While it was originally known as a marketing tool and push notification powerhouse, the beacon’s success is also pushing it to the forefront of other verticals and use cases. Bluetooth has long been an ingredient in precision tracking and management.
Cost and simplicity
Now, there’s a growing mountain of proof that beacons are a key technology of the future. This is driving businesses to deploy larger, more global asset management systems with Bluetooth. While Bluetooth hasn’t always been seen as the central technology to tracking, its low price point, multiple capabilities, and simple hardware are winning an increasing number of deals each year. Finally, the often simpler installation process—free from drilling and cables—is allowing businesses to make the switch easily.
If you work in manufacturing, it is vital to know where assets are on the production line. Bluetooth tags can provide managers and workers with exact data on how assets are moving through a factory. Improved visibility can decrease errors and even be leveraged to guide employees along the fastest path to an asset. That means resources, and money, are saved with every step.
Common beacon use cases in manufacturing include assembly line logistics, employee and equipment tracking, and precision tracking.
For example, beacons can help with intra-logistics or tracking those assets that haven’t yet reached the assembly line. Should assets or equipment go missing or be moved too late, this can be a huge setback for warehouse operators. Hence, active tracking from beginning to end is used to erase a substantial amount of inefficiency. This means increased visibility and decreased errors overall.
If you have worked in a hospital, you know healthcare administration is particularly complex. Fast access to the right information is paramount in keeping operations running and saving lives. Bluetooth tags have been found to make more equipment used more often. This also ensures that expensive equipment does not get misplaced. They aid in data generation, asset tracking, and can even make sure doctors get patient data instantly.
Common beacon use cases in healthcare include increasing medical device usage, patient tracking, automating medical record access, handling staff allocation or even physical and digital security.
For example, asset tracking can power a completely seamless and optimized patient experience. From the very beginning, where asset tracking and data collection can help optimize check-in, to expedited services in the doctor’s office facilitated by automated patient file collection and sending, and even to an all-around safer experience.
Proper asset tracking makes up a huge part of healthy logistics, and many existing solutions simply do not live up to the needs of modern managers. Bluetooth beacons not only help managers generate and understand data, they also help the overall operations run more efficiently.
Beacons mean packages can be placed wherever there is space without fear of getting lost. Whether in the warehouse or yard storage, containers and items can always be located. More importantly, the existing BLE ecosystem means this system can be easily scaled and upgraded when needed. Finally, it adds a layer of security, alerting you if anything is incorrectly picked up or moved.
Common beacon use cases in logistics and transport include increasing effective storage, powering data analytics, and decreasing shipping mistakes.
For example, the ability to track assets with ease and reliability means increased flexibility in where they can be stored. Instead of worrying about always placing parcels in the exact, specific, previously defined location, they can be placed wherever is the most practical at that moment. They can also be easily found and optimized as more data is collected over time.
Bluetooth tags are now adding a new use case to their asset management repertoire. A report from the US Department of Commerce found that the food industry’s global losses exceed $750 billion every year. The primary culprits are improper facilities and food safety handling procedures. Food, agriculture, and even pharmaceuticals (like important vaccines) rely heavily on cold chain systems. These track temperature and other important data points to ensure the security of sensitive goods in transit. From the beginning to the end of their journey, these goods are carefully monitored. However, they often suffer from problems related to the lack of real-time data. When goods arrive at their destination and are only then found to be at an improper temperature, resources, goods, and time are wasted. Active tracking through Bluetooth will be one of the key use cases to grow in popularity and success in the near future.
In an almost futuristic solution, Bluetooth beacons can now be used to automate several processes and optimize space, resources, and time.
You booked the meeting room for an important business presentation? The beacon system can be used to:
Perhaps more shocking than the fact this is possible is that such systems are increasingly affordable, practical, and scalable.
Late last year, Bluetooth SIG released their latest Bluetooth specifications. If you work in healthcare, manufacturing, or any other industry that has a lot to be earned through asset tracking, this is a big deal. While Bluetooth 5 doesn’t quite reinvent the wheel (or the beacon), it’s extending the technology’s reach far beyond what we’re accustomed to.
In short, Bluetooth 5.0 boasts:
Each of these symbolize more than just a cool number and are highly important for asset tracking.
Four times the reach: you have to buy less hardware to cover more space. This could also lead to less instances of errors or assets moving out of range.
Eight hundred times the messaging capacity: sending more incredible data. Love your temperature sensors and light detectors? Right now, our beacons are functioning at full capacity, delivering sensor and location data. More messaging, quite simply, equals more possibilities for sensors.
Double the speed: faster firmware updates and, therefore, better overall infrastructure manageability.
We know Bluetooth is destined for asset tracking dominance. We hear this each day from those in the industry as well as companies looking for the latest tracking tech. Now, we can rest assured that Bluetooth 5 will make these infrastructures not only better but more popular and affordable.
There are several solution providers working with beacons to bring better asset tracking to business around the globe. Here are just a few of our most recent stories.
Atollogy helped an LED lighting system manufacturer optimize their manufacturing lines leveraging beacons. By pairing Kontakt.io tags with Gateways (the related Bluetooth readers), the manufacturer was able to know the location of assets and even identify whether they were on the right track. This kind of active monitoring grants operators the ability to find and fix anomalies in real time instead of relying solely on historic data for review and operational improvements.
Measuremen helped a global financial institute situated in Amsterdam monitor employees to create a better work environment. Their app gathered numerous kinds of information about employee movements. The system included both questionnaires and self-reporting as well as real tracking information to illuminate problem areas employees themselves may not be aware of. The amalgamated data was able to provide management with several different kinds and levels of insights into their work force. Also, participants each received their own report to help them understand their personal movements better.
Our White Paper on RTLS offers our findings in depth including the role of big data and seven straight-forward steps to implementing a successful RTLS system.
No time? No worries! We carefully organized our paper to help busy managers learn about new possibilities in their particularsector, fast. Download the white paper here.