3 Tips to Increase Manufacturing Efficiency with RTLS

warehouse worker looking at handheld screen, Fabio Belloni Forbes tech council logo

How many times have you lost your phone in your own home in the past year and spent half an hour or more looking for it?

Maybe you ended up being late for a meeting as a result. We all lose things, but some instances of misplacing items are more costly and damaging than others. And if you’re in manufacturing, you’re no doubt well acquainted with the annoyance of spending twenty minutes, or even a couple hours, looking for a very specific tool that could be anywhere in the building. Even worse, if you lose track of a major shipment of materials from your regular suppliers, you may fail to meet your production goals for the month. Losing track of items or inventory is inconvenient at best and expensive or damaging to your reputation at worst.

Some manufacturers have begun to pursue methods to combat this kind of inefficient downtime using Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS). RTLS may at first seem similar to GPS, except that RTLS can function indoors and give users highly specific, real-time locations. Therefore, an RTLS can give employees or CEOs an instant view of both goods and people.

Here’s an explanation of RTLS as well as some of the biggest advantages and disadvantages of using RTLS in manufacturing.

How Does RTLS Work?

An RTLS needs three things in order to function. The first is tags. Tags are relatively small battery powered electronic devices, which at regular intervals send out a signal to be localised. You can attach these tags to any objects you want to locate and move around.

The signals sent by tags go to receivers, i.e. static (unmoving) infrastructure devices, typically called locators. In some cases, depending on the location software, these are also referred to as anchors or nodes. Locators are placed in well-designed locations to receive signals from tags throughout the entire building.

The third and final component of such a system is the software suite, which is used for many different purposes, from planning the system setup, configuration and telemetry process, to computing the location coordinates of the tags signal received by the RTLS infrastructure system. The RTLS system feeds data to Location Based Service (LBS) platforms, where a user can view analytics and collect reports about where any tagged assets are at any given time.

Together with location awareness, condition monitoring is also becoming more relevant in manufacturing. Some RTLS systems also have sensors built into tags which can collect information such as temperature, air quality, or general movement info, or the tags can provide feedback to users nearby by blinking a LED or buzzing, depending on pre-selected rules and logic.

3 Ways to Increase Efficiency Through Location Awareness

RTLS and LBS are much more than just inventory-management systems. Here are the top five ways an RTLS can help you increase efficiency.

1. Finding missing components

One missing component can really ruin your day. Consider an automotive factory that builds 200,000 cars every year. Each car typically contains around 30,000 individual parts. Over the course of a year, employees might spend hundreds or thousands of hours just trying to locate missing components and tools. Customers might not get their shipments in time. Rush orders might get lost. An RTLS tracks various components and tools so you can see exactly where they are at any given time.

2. Monitoring and Optimising Processes

Since an RTLS can track everything in real time with pinpoint accuracy, company decision makers can use the system to compare different processes and measure overall performance and efficiency. One hospital saved 10,000 staff hours in a single year through RTLS, in large part by tracking time spent during various parts of the process and determining the most efficient ways to optimize workflows and eliminate bottlenecks.

3. Reducing accidents

In 2020, there were 450,000 injuries in the U.S. manufacturing industry. Injuries in manufacturing often happen because of poor scheduling, collisions in overly congested areas, and general work traffic. However, using an RTLS, companies can notify in real time when a vehicle is coming too close or when it may be approaching from behind a blind corner. Also, in case of a dangerous material spill, an area could be quickly isolated, and all people within such areas notified to leave for their safety.

Downsides of RTLS

Unfortunately, like with all good things, there are some downsides and disadvantages to any RTLS system.

1. High implementation cost

Setting up an RTLS infrastructure isn’t cheap, and while the system can save you money in many ways over time, the initial cost can be prohibitive. Setting up receivers and tags will take some downtime as well. You need to plan carefully and shop around for the best option in your budget if you want to minimize the cost and downtime.

2. High energy requirements

Let’s say you’re tracking 20,000 assets throughout your business. That means you need 20,000 tags, and each of those tags needs a battery. While there are low-power connectivity protocols like BLE that can connect tags with a minimum of energy consumption, the reality is that you’ll still have to expect increased overhead, energy and battery costs for your business. With the rising costs of energy worldwide, that can be a real problem.

3. Security vulnerabilities

Any device that connects to the Internet of Things as part of condition-monitoring/RTLS infrastructure can become a security vulnerability that gives hackers access to essential systems. In just the first six months of 2021, there were 1.5 billion IoT device breaches. Many IoT devices lack adequate access controls and security measures, so that’s something to watch for if you opt for an RTLS.

Final Thoughts

The manufacturing world is all about getting things where they need to be as efficiently and safely as possible, whether that be tools, supplies, or people. An RTLS can help you do all of that, which is why many companies are taking advantage of these systems today.

This article was originally published at Forbes.com

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    Fabio Belloni

    Fabio Belloni

    Fabio Belloni is the Co-founder & Chief Customer Officer at Quuppa. He is also a member of Forbes Technology Council – A Community for World-Class CIOs, CTOs, and Technology Executives. (Read more here)