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How Location Services Can Guide The Future Of Manufacturing

Consider how often you misplace an item and wish you could ping it just like your smartphone. Well, now you can. It’s called a real-time location system (RTLS), and the technology’s applications are rapidly expanding.


RTLS enables you to monitor the live location of both goods and people, and it has widespread implications for workplace efficiency. Armed with the power to instantly determine the location of any tracked asset, businesses are looking to creatively leverage this newfound ability to better support their bottom line. But how?

 
 

These systems use location-based services to track the precise whereabouts of assets—whether they’re sitting in a warehouse, drifting throughout a supply chain or being shipped directly to a consumer. This means less time and effort spent tracking down lost or misplaced items, which industry experts hope can be leveraged to markedly increase manufacturing productivity.

While this technology can benefit the manufacturing industry, RTLS is exciting for its implications in assisting both industrial and routine problems alike.

An Introduction To RTLS

An RTLS is one of many emerging technologies capable of determining the location of any tagged target. RTLS can be used to automatically track, identify and locate everything from goods to people in real time.

This information is collected and analyzed using an assortment of smart hardware and software technologies, which can then process the information to develop everything from more organized floor plans to better staff allocation. In a hospital, for instance, this is achieved by analyzing which units are overstaffed or understaffed by tracking employee movements and room capacity.

While everyone has heard of GPS—that, too, is a kind of early RTLS—few are familiar with the wider RTLS system. As of late, RTLS technology has largely shifted from such early wireless systems to integration with physical sensors. While GPS generally does not work well indoors, modern RTLS is designed specifically for indoor use to monitor objects or animals, even as they move.

Imagine materials in sprawling warehouses fitted with digital locator tags to ensure employees can find everything right when they need it. This has considerable implications for many industries looking to adopt new technology. In fact, the RTLS market was valued at $3.9 billion in 2021 and is projected to triple within the next five years, surpassing $12 billion by 2026.

Technology In Practice

Consider the case study of the manufacturer Kloeckner Metals, a client of Quuppa. At its Tulsa facility, management was trying to weed out inefficiencies in the production process. The sheer size of the facility—166,000 square feet—made daily operations complicated, but by attaching small electronic tags to materials in its warehouse, the company substantially optimized its workflow. Load times for shipments decreased by over 80%, resulting in three more truckloads dispatched every day and thousands more in daily revenue.

While the company’s primary goal was to simply save time locating metal in their facilities and create a standardized locating procedure, RTLS can be used to do much more than simply pinpoint inventory.

In Oslo, Norway, for instance, the city’s subway system is entirely integrated with RTLS. All trains are equipped with RTLS transponders and antennas to provide better performance indicators and real-time, accurate waiting times for passengers. Imagine—a subway train that is not only on time but has accurate waiting times available.

Imagining Future Applications

While RTLS is just entering the limelight and developments are finally taking off, the potential unexplored applications are numerous. For example, the technology can be integrated with smart buildings to do everything from locating malfunctioning equipment to improving patient care and sending out alerts when a room hasn’t recently been entered by a healthcare professional.

RTLS services can also provide information about the environment surrounding the tracked object/person, such as temperature, speed and air quality. Real-time information then feeds into an environmental monitoring system, safeguarding temperature-sensitive goods and employee health. These systems are capable of detecting everything from heightened CO2 levels to speeding truck drivers.

Location services can also be paired with IoT devices or the network of digital tools that collect and exchange information. Together, RTLS-integrated IoT devices can gather and analyze data to reveal insightful patterns, monitoring everything from athletes navigating a playing field to manufactured goods being sorted into shipping containers.

Coupled with IoT devices, RTLS can be leveraged to reveal the slowest processes in manufacturing facilities and monitor the results of new approaches, spelling out exactly what works and what doesn’t. It’s this kind of data-driven approach to improve productivity that can help guide the future of the industry.