A Short Guide to Asset Tracking Technologies

A Short Guide to Asset Tracking Technologies

Real-time location systems (RTLS) are crucial for many organizations to deploy across a broad spectrum of sectors and industries, including fleet management, manufacturing and logistics facilities. 

Asset tracking - and by extension, asset management - enables companies to capture data in real-time about the status, location and movements of assets. Assets can include inanimate objects ranging from motherboards and barcode readers to tools and pallets, and everything in between. 

Assets can also consist of vehicles and even people, depending on the nature of the business and the complexity and scale of its estate(s).

Understanding the Various Asset Tracking Technologies

The asset tracking market is expected to surpass its recent $17.75 billion valuation over the next few years. However, despite this market boom, many consumers struggle to choose the correct asset-tracking solution, as there is plenty of conflicting information about which is right for their operational needs. 

Each company’s assets move at different speeds and cover specific ranges in any given period, meaning that the best asset-tracking solution for one business might not mirror that of the next. 

However, an important first step in helping you determine which asset tracking product you may need is to highlight some of the most common technology categories. For many, the technologies sound similar, but there are some clear distinctions to be made. Each of the asset tracking and management technologies outlined below has clear benefits and considerations, and some will suit more localized estates whereas others can cover a more ubiquitous range. 

Exploring Different Types of Asset Tracking

Bluetooth/BLE Tracking

Bluetooth asset tracking, more commonly known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), refers to a wireless technology used to track Bluetooth-enabled assets. BLE-enabled assets often consist of medical devices, tools, industrial equipment and transmitters. 

Bluetooth tags (which can be retrofitted or built into assets) detect the presence of Bluetooth beacons that are situated throughout a building or outdoor estate. The closer the tag is to the beacon, the more accurate the location.

Bluetooth and BLE tracking provides location accuracy within 10 meters and provides a cost-effective option for basic or short-range asset visibility. It can also function with many common consumer devices. However, a common drawback for BLE tracking and management is its latency and high risk of interference from devices in a nearby frequency spectrum. In reflective or busy facilities like factories, signals can be easily intercepted.

RFID Tracking

RFID, (Radio Frequency Identification), is a popular wireless asset tracking technology. RFID tags transmit signals to RFID readers, which can detect the presence of tags from as much as 100 feet away. 

Active tags offer continuous transmission thanks to their built-in power sources, while passive tags can only be activated when in the optimum range of a reader. RFID technology may be best suited for high-value electrical assets like monitoring equipment or power quality analyzers.

RFID asset tracking provides automated and real-time visibility for managing high-value assets in large volumes. RFID tags (both active and passive) don’t take up much room and can last for long periods autonomously without the need for charging or replacing. However, there is usually a higher upfront investment in readers and tags, with installations proving fairly complex to set up.

GPS Tracking

GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking uses satellite data to locate assets with built-in or retrofitted GPS receivers. GPS asset tracking tags transmit real-time data to allow full, uninterrupted visibility of asset movements. This technology is often used for tracking assets in transit, such as shipping containers, pallets, stock, and vehicles themselves. 

GPS asset tracking provides worldwide visibility thanks to the global availability of reliable satellite signals. Battery-powered GPS tags can last for years without succumbing to failure or faltering and can be integrated into numerous stable asset management applications. 

Having said that, GPS signals require uninterrupted lines of sight with satellites, so if they are interrupted by high-rise buildings, or assets are underground or indoors, visibility may be hindered. GPS also backs off cellular networks to transmit data, and coverage strength can be limited in some regions.

If assets are located underground, a specialised transmitter such as that provided by PilotTrack may be more appropriate. For example, more information on the DigiTrack F5 can be found here.

Wi-Fi Tracking

A plethora of consumer or business devices have built-in Wi-Fi compatibility now, and it’s hard to find areas that do not offer some extent of Wi-Fi coverage. Within a given building or facility, Wi-Fi asset tracking solutions piggyback off an existing Wi-Fi network to locate enabled assets, which often consist of smartphones, alarms, radios, scanners, and tablets. 

Wi-Fi tracking provides precise and accurate data indoors where GPS is often restricted. Business owners can find plenty of potential applications for easy and seamless Wi-Fi asset integration, given that a network will likely already be installed. 

However, Wi-Fi asset tracking and management is not without consideration. Often, this technology will be best suited to areas with solid and reliable coverage like offices and hospitals, so for estates with outdoor areas, it may not be as reliable. There are some inherent security risks associated with Wi-Fi technology, not to mention its power consumption being considerably higher.

UWB Tracking 

UWB (Ultra-Wide Band) asset tracking is a newer technology in real-time asset management. It’s widely perceived as the solution that can offer the most scalable and optimum performance. The premise is simple; it uses small UWB tags that emit radio pulses that are detected by readers to determine an asset’s location, which is similar to BLE in many ways.

UWB technology can transmit data over a large area with radio enablement, achieving location accuracy of up to 10 centimeters. UWB is often deployed in heavy industry and contained environments where wireless or GPS technologies are regularly hindered by signal interruption, obstacles or walls. UWB asset management software can often support the real-time location visibility of hundreds of assets per reader, making it highly desirable.

Installing UWB tracking solutions requires a strong and stable network of readers, and for some facilities that coverage range might not justify the upfront investment. Often, for optimal performance, it will utilize lots of power, meaning that utility bills may see a hike for businesses that deploy this technology for continuous operation.

The Importance of Integrated, Complete Asset Management

Businesses require their asset management platforms to leverage accurate data from whichever tracking technologies they deploy. Careful consideration needs to be made about which technology they deploy, as in some cases a business might need to integrate more than one. 

For example, a materials supplier may require GPS tracking for assets (e.g. vehicles) in transit, while requiring Wi-Fi or UWB tracking functionality to track movements inside its facility. 

Enterprise-grade asset management software provides a single interface through which all assets are detailed for facilities managers to oversee in real-time, regardless of technology. Using such technology, they can track maintenance schedules, monitor movements, optimize asset usage, and improve operational efficiency.

Choosing the Right Asset Tracking and Management Solution

Whatever asset technology (or technologies) you choose, implementing the right system to collect and leverage your asset data is crucial to maximizing your return on investment. Technologies like RFID, Wi-Fi, GPS, BLE and UWB can coexist simultaneously, so you may not exclusively need one. 

However, to make the right choice, you must evaluate your business’s operational needs, inventory, and infrastructure. Consider which ones offer you the desired level of asset visibility and management, as well as the upfront installation and integration costs.