With the faster adoption of the IoT, organizations worldwide are trying to solve the most critical problems that hamper asset utilization and management. Right from asset theft or misuse to asset downtime , every industry is facing issues with respect to assets and inventories. With improved connectivity and technological advancement, Asset tracking technologies have also evolved. But this itself leaves us with the million-dollar question – How do we select the right technology for tracking asset?
To sum up, the currently available asset tracking technologies can be grouped into two ie. Active and Passive. In the Active group, the BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), Active RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) & GPS help locate the asset in real-time. The Passive group comprises of Barcode, QR code, NFC (Near Field Communication) and Passive RFID largely use to fetch information upon scanning. Each technology has its own pros and cons thus making it a difficult choice while selecting the right one.
Well, we will try and make this simple. In fact, the decision of the technology completely depends upon the organizational requirement and cost-benefit analysis. Of-course, based on the following parameters one can easily zero down on the technology to be used.
1) Assets related parameters
It’s simple, the total number of tracking tags=Total number of assets. Thus one cannot expect to track a large number of assets with expensive tags such as BLE, especially if the worth of the assets or inventory is lower than the tag price. While making this decision take into account, the count of assets , surface material (metal assets can interfere with RFID and BLE), thickness, size, shape (whether tags can be attached or not), Asset grouping (do you want to manage the assets within the groups?), geographic distribution (whether on the move or stationed) and compliance requirement.
2) Target the issue
One needs to understand the paint points. If you just want the count of the inventories at the end of the day, you will just do fine with Active/passive RFID, Barcode or QR code. For the theft of capital-intensive equipment or locating the highly-priced tools or products in the large warehouse, one needs to adapt active technologies like BLE or active RFID. For example, the retail businesses are keen on NFC technology to tackle their biggest issue ever – counterfeiting.
3) Real-time requirement
The entire game of asset tracking is around tracking the location of the assets. It’s up to the organization to determine whether they want real-time location tracking or not. Real-time location becomes critical when the issues in hand are theft and asset misuse. The industries, such as Pharma, which are sensitive to the supply chain have implemented BLE based shipment tracking technologies which help in planning operations.
4) Capture relevant information
Technologies are becoming smarter day-by-day. With simple sensors, the asset tracking technologies can now fetch the other relevant information such as temperature, shock, light, humidity, acceleration and so on. But here is the concern – the passive technologies cannot support the sensors as they are not equipped with the battery or power to run the sensors.
5) Connectivity & Communication
Let’s face it. There is still a connectivity issue in developing countries and remote areas. So if you are going to rely on the technology which needs a sophisticated network to run on, this becomes the critical aspect to think upon. Though the low bandwidth technologies such as LoRa, NB-IoT are gaining prominence, the investment in the network connectivity becomes another point to debate on. What also matters here is whether the organization wants to have a two-way communication with the tag. Based on the alerts generated and business rules one can trigger certain actions that are only possible with technologies like NFC or BLE.
6) Requirement of the tag’s power consumption
The barcode and QR code tags are easy to use and one can stick it easily. But the BLE tags are bit large in size and heavy. One needs to understand whether the tags can be attached to the assets in question without hampering the assets or its performance. The active tags also have the requirement of the power charging and based on the frequency of the alerts the battery tends to drain faster. Check whether there is an easy mechanism available for the charging and take into consideration the associated cost of electricity and manpower employed for this.
7) Use of labour
The passive tags need to be scanned manually to fetch the information. The investment of the manhours can put an additional burden on the cost aspects. Plus, there is always room for errors, misuse and data integrity is questionable.
8) Cost-benefit analysis
Let’s be realistic. Any of the technology adaptions will incur an additional cost. But what matters most is what is that you are going to achieve – the impact of the implementation. If the nature of the problem that you want to tackle is eradicated completely and resulting in substantial saving the cost of implementing asset tracking technology should not be of concern. With innovative models such as pay-per-use, the technology and implementation cost has been reduced significantly. The general rule of thumb is – Capex investment should be recoverable within one year from the date of implementation.
Adapting the right kind of technology to track your business-critical assets can help you by saving documentation efforts, resources and cost. However, the decision should be well informed and based on carefully selected parameters. Whatever technology you choose at the end of the day, what matters is that it helps you improve efficiency and save on time and cost.