Asset management is a challenge even when those assets are relatively static. For companies that utilize highly mobile and expensive assets (such as large trucks, shipping containers, expensive tools, etc.) the challenge is even greater. Assets and equipment are often deployed in the field for long stretches of time with little visibility. This makes it difficult to optimize asset utilization and also raises the risk of theft or loss.
There are a number of automatic identification technologies that can help provide real-time asset management capabilities in the field, but which type of technology is best will depend on the application and the environment.
Each industry has its own unique set of field assets and accompanying challenges:
Transportation/Logistics. Companies that manage large fleets of trucks, trailers, returnable shipping containers, and other equipment often lack visibility into exactly where these items are. This is especially true for containers or trailers that are dropped in customer yards. This makes it difficult to see how many are in circulation and where they are located. If there are dynamic changes in demand, it can be difficult to shift that supply, so companies purchase unnecessary containers to compensate.
Field Service. In addition to expensive vehicles, field service companies manage large inventories of expensive tools and other equipment that is stored on each technician’s truck. Technicians may need access to equipment held on another truck or at a depot, but that can be difficult to locate without proper asset management in place. In addition, equipment is vulnerable to loss or theft.
Delivery. Delivery companies often utilize reusable trays, crates, pallets and other containers that represent a significant capital investment. Being able to manage and optimize utilization of these assets can save money and streamline delivery operations. Customers sometimes steal or hoard these assets as well.
Healthcare. Mobile healthcare is a growing market. Workers in this space manage expensive assets and medical equipment (oxygen tanks, blood pressure monitors, infusion pumps, etc.) that must be returned and, in some cases, sterilized. Better asset management can improve patient safety and make it easier for employees to find critical equipment.
Real-Time Tracking Solutions
Automated solutions for asset management can help provide visibility in real time, but each approach offers different benefits (and potential drawbacks).
Barcodes. This is easily the least expensive way to manage field assets. This is a simple way to address tool or mobile asset tracking, for example, in field service or healthcare. Using mobile barcode readers, employees can simply scan a label to update asset status. However, this requires line of sight to complete the scan, and if a large number of items is involved it can be time consuming.
Passive RFID. Passive RFID can be used to automatically track assets in a facility or as they enter or leave the rear of a truck or pass through a dock door. Attached to returnable trays or containers, RFID can also help track inventory as it moves on and off delivery trucks and even track which customers received which containers. RFID is slightly more expensive than barcodes, but passive tags are a cost-effective method of tracking returnable items.
Active RFID. This type of RFID is more expensive. Often the tags are large and are attached to very expensive assets such as shipping containers or trailers. They have a longer range and can be integrated with other technology, like sensors or GPS, to provide real-time location data on items that are in motion.
Bluetooth Beacons. These systems are similar to active RFID, but are more commonly used inside warehouses or other facilities to track assets (both fixed and mobile). The technology allows companies to search for and find these assets within a facility using a map-based interface. The beacons can be placed on assets, and then broadcast their location wirelessly. Using a mobile device, employees can locate any beacon within range. The tags can also have other “smart” sensors for movement, vibration, temperature, GPS, and other measurements, especially important for tracking food or other assets that need stable environments.
RTLS (Real-Time Location) Systems. Some RTLS systems work with the above technologies, but some also work in conjunction with Wi-Fi technology. Leveraging an existing WLAN network, they can provide highly accurate location data on assets within a building or large vehicle.
By using real-time asset management technology, companies can better measure cycle times, improve asset utilization, and gain visibility into the status of their high-value assets. This can help reduce unnecessary asset purchases, and help identify potential operational improvements. With the wide variety of technology options available, there’s an asset management solution that is right for your company.