Asset tracking refers to the method of tracking physical assets owned by a company by means of scanning barcode labels attached to the assets or by using “tags” which broadcast their location.
Technology used for the tracking of assets has evolved significantly over the last decade as firms look to reduce costs associated with misplaced or misused assets. With examples such as the £19,216 payout recently awarded to Bakers Basco for the misuse of it’s equipment, it’s perhaps no wonder that asset management has become a high priority for all.
Early Asset management and tracking solutions involved attaching Wi-Fi tags to expensive mobile assets and reporting locations to back-end databases. If a logistics manager wanted to know where their trolleys had congregated, the asset tracking data would allow them to identify where, so they could be recovered effectively.
The market for this type of asset tracking peaked around 2006. Since then, some participants have moved into new businesses, whilst others have disappeared entirely.
So, What Are the Issues with WiFi Asset Tracking?
In short, the answer is cost.
Early WiFi tags comprise simple chips which would “transmit” it’s ID every few seconds. These “active” tags would require a battery to operate and, batteries had a short shelf life. Aside from the cost of replacement, this meant that logistics and network managers would spend much of their day locating tags in the field to replace failing batteries.
Later models are battery-assisted passive. These models are only activated in the presence of an RFID reader. “Passive” tags are cheaper and smaller because they have no battery; instead, the tag uses radio energy transmitted by the reader. However, to operate a passive tag, it must be illuminated with a power level roughly a thousand times stronger than for signal transmission. In short, it must be VERY close to the reader.
Since the early barcode and WiFi tag days, the passive tag and several other technologies have been introduced to the market and are continuing to bring costs per tag down to an all-time low. These include NFC technology (which simplify the tracking of assets by tapping the asset itself) and Bluetooth technology.
However, whilst individual tag costs remain significant, not all implementation cost resides in the tag itself. Much is in the back-end integration.
Whilst data can now be sent to a cloud service and displayed on smartphones and tablets with the help of an app, one must still set up a database to identify which tag is on which asset and import floorplans and tracking locations to be able to manage assets effectively. The ease of integration with existing inventory management systems and IT software must always be considered.
So, What’s the Future for Asset Tracking?
Well, despite the technological strides made to date, integration cost will always be a factor in a logistics managers decision making.
For some, the differentiator will be the ease and effectiveness of the implementation of these technologies rather than the technology itself. For that reason, it is perhaps those tech firms able to manage the integration process as well as provide ongoing bespoke reporting for Asset Management who will have the edge in this market.