With the advancement of Internet of things (IoT), smart technology, disruptive innovation and machine learning, the future of factories will go through a transformative change. What role does Real-time location technology play in that change?
It’s becoming increasingly hard to find a business feature or news story that doesn’t discuss technology. We live in a time of smart devices controlled by our voices, artificial intelligence that can analyse zettabytes of information in seconds, phones that can control household appliances and much, much more. Increasingly, we find ourselves surrounded by connected devices that encompass the Internet of Things (IoT), smart technology, disruptive innovation and machine learning.
This is particularly true for the manufacturing industry, where automation and artificial intelligence are poised to define the sector over the coming decades. Collectively, they form the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0, as it is more commonly known.
First, some background. The original Industrial Revolution took place during the 18th and 19th centuries and gave us industrial machinery, mass mechanisation and a move away from producing what we consumed on farms and in workshops to large-scale production in factories. From the 1850s to World War One, electricity moved us on again. We created steel, built assembly lines and welcomed a new age of mass production. This was the second industrial revolution – Industry 2.0. The third industrial revolution was all about IT and information as we became comfortable with computers, digital replaced analogue, and manufacturing began to shift towards automation and robotics. Industry 4.0, or the Industrial Internet of Things, is the fourth disruption, characterised by digital twins, process digitalisation, location awareness, remote sensing and artificial intelligence (AI).
Connectivity is the underpinning of Industry 4.0. For the manufacturing sector, warehouses and logistics facilities, one of the most important potential impact areas is in asset management and insight, particularly into the complete production chain. Asset tracking is well established within manufacturing – after all, there has always been value in locating individual assets, tools or planning replenishments. However, Industry 4.0 has seen an explosion of Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) and the move from passive to active technologies that enable the pillars of the new industrial revolution by providing accurate and reliable location information.
Quuppa’s Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) platform gives businesses a full view of every detail of their production process, allowing them to see precisely when, where and why problems arise – in real time. Armed with this actionable data, organisations have the power to optimise processes immediately to make business safer, more efficient and more profitable. By knowing essentially “what is where” in real-time, it is possible to digitise the physical world; that is, to create a dynamic digital model of the real-world environment.
It can be used to automatically identify and track the location of staff and workpieces in production lines or in the factory hall, as well as mobile inventory in facility management. Introducing measures for ensuring advanced employees’ safety, analysing how equipment is being used, and assessing the efficiency of the supply chain lets businesses identify opportunities for improved workflow, increased safety and security, and improved customer satisfaction levels.
For example, most manufacturing relies on heavy equipment such as forklifts and other specialised machinery. RTLS collects data on how this equipment is used and its journey through the production line, such as when a piece of machinery is turned on or off, its usage hours and how long it has been at a station – and more. This can all be used to pinpoint inefficiencies, identify any unsafe behaviour or bottlenecks, equipment overuse, predictive analytics, or misuse during off-hours, which ultimately helps streamline operations and reduce costs.
In addition, a consistent issue in manufacturing is simply finding the tools or equipment, as it is quite common for a manufacturing line to rotate machinery based on the production stage or the product being produced. In manufacturing, time spent searching for specific tools and equipment is, effectively, an increase in production costs.
In situations such as this, smart solutions such as ThinkIN for Industry 4.0 show their usefulness. An advanced IoT solution for smart factories, it uses Bluetooth-based RTLS for real-time accurate monitoring of workers and assets, with the raw data processed to extract actionable knowledge on the execution of industrial processes and to optimise factory efficiency.
Worker safety also comes into play in smart factories, especially today in the Covid era. Knowing where people are on the production floor, whom they have been in contact with and other location data is valuable for several reasons: compliance, efficiency, security and safety. The ability to gain a real-time overview of personnel within the premises means back-up teams are informed about the current location of individual workers and, in the case of contact tracking, it provides a fast and reliable source of information for isolated workers that may have been exposed. Furthermore, the facility manager can promptly be notified of the area which requires sanitation and cleaning without having to shut down the entire floor. Meeting the compliance requirements which minimise manufacturing and operation disruption is critical for maintaining efficiency.
An example of this can be seen with the Canadian company ILR Industries. Concerned about employee safety and security, it adopted a scalable RTLS solution that combined Quuppa’s indoor positioning technology with ThinkIN’s location intelligence software. It not only improved worker safety and security but also enabled the business to increase productivity and enhance efficiency with revised workflows.
Industry 4.0 is well on its way, and the pace of change in IoT, digitalisation and smart factories will continue to accelerate. The incorporation of RTLS presents the opportunity to optimise processes and efficiencies by giving businesses a single view of work in progress and immediately locating any asset across multiple facilities; its ultimate strength lies in the optimisation of asset utilisation. As technology continues to advance and use cases develop, there is still a lot more disruptive innovation and smart technology to come for manufacturing. It’s an exciting time for the industry.