RTLS Is Changing Manufacturing But What Is It?

RTLS is becoming a mainstay of the manufacturing industry, but many business leaders remain ignorant of the benefits.

A UWB sensor in a factory – By installing a high-end real-time location system, factories can track assets to centimetre-level accuracy.

By Steven Manifold, Chief Marketing Officer at Ubisense

Manufacturing is in a strange position coming into 2023. The level of innovation in manufacturing technology is growing steadily, and the Industry 4.0 initiative seems to be a very real revolution, but the global pandemic has taken its toll. Global supply chains are still in trouble and many manufacturers are still having trouble gathering resources and meeting deadlines. It is in this environment that a real-time location system (RTLS) can thrive. After all, they are there to make manufacturers more efficient.

What is a real-time location system?

RTLS has existed in various forms for over two decades but only recently, since IoT devices began to proliferate, did it really take off. Usually set up in company owned spaces like factories, auto plants, transit hubs (but now also hospitals, offices, military bases and more) they are used to track the location of key assets over time. By knowing where assets like tools, vehicles, stock, and personnel are at any given time, one can build up a digital image of an environment, providing greater oversight to the management team. In turn, this allows management to look for bottlenecks, spot errors in advance, improve worker safety, and experiment with alternative modes of operation. The wide variety of uses of RTLS offer vast potential savings to businesses looking to streamline operations and pursue optimum efficiency.

How do real-time location systems work?

To build an RTLS system one needs a combination of tags, sensors, and software. Different RTLS providers will utilize different hardware and software, and many will use different types of radio signals to communicate between their tag and sensor offerings. In most cases, setting up an RTLS will involve representatives from the RTLS provider coming to the specific site, scanning the environment, and choosing the best location for sensors to be installed (Some companies will have sensor systems which are better suited to certain industrial environments).

Once this is done, and the sensors are installed, the assets that need to be tracked can be tagged. This system of tags and sensors will send location data to a data processing hub either on-site or in the cloud. Specialized software will then process this data and visualize the environment, usually in a customizable fashion.

What are the different types of RTLS?

While there are many varying technologies being used in RTLS, the main types used in manufacturing settings include RFID, UWB (Ultra-wideband), Wi-Fi, GPS, and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) or a combination of these. Often manufacturing environments will have both indoor and outdoor locations, and an effective RTLS will be able to seamlessly switch between one system for the indoor environment to another for outdoors when tracking a moving asset.

RFID Tags – the most common tracking tags but very low-tech. These mostly “passive” tags are common in many industries and usually require manual scanning from close proximity and offer little in the way of precise positioning. However, they are very cost effective.

UWB Tags – These are a more recent development. They are “active”, emitting a signal which is picked up by UWB sensors. They can not only deliver centimetre-level racking in some cases but can in some cases track in three dimensions. They are perfect for complex indoor environments prone to signal interference.

BLE & Wi-Fi tags – Tags using either Bluetooth technology or Wi-Fi technology can send out positioning data which can be picked up by existing Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth enabled devices. This can be a cost-effective way of creating an RTLS system, as many businesses will already own Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled devices, however, these systems offer less accuracy and can suffer from greater signal interference than UWB.

GPS – GPS has been around for a long time and new systems like RTK-GPS can offer far more accurate data than old GPS systems. This can be extremely beneficial for outdoor systems, including in yard and transit management environments (ie, locating and deploying trucks or buses as they enter and park in specific parking bays). GPS is not so suitable for indoor environments.

From the above, you can see there is a great variety in the systems on offer and their potential benefits. For more information on RTLS and how to deploy these systems in your manufacturing environment, feel free to reach out or visit Ubisense.com.

Steven Manifold Ubisense, Industry TodaySteven Manifold

Steven Manifold is Chief Marketing Officer of Ubisense.  Twenty years of marketing experience at both the bluest of blue chips and high growth SaaS companies has taught him that people value one thing; frictionless engagement with companies.  Contact us f you want to know more about Ubisense, the markets we operate in or the challenges we can solve: www.ubisense.com.

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