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RTLS Solutions: Which Is Right for You?
Life Sciences

RTLS Solutions: Which Is Right for You?

There’s no shortage of solutions available for asset tracking in the real-time location systems (RTLS) arena, which is why evaluating core features, functions, and design of varying RTLS options is essential to meet your specific business needs.

The asset tracking solutions market is growing at a 17% CAGR, expected to reach $60 billion in 2027. This surging growth can be attributed to the rising enterprise adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT)-powered technologies that optimize utilization, reduce costs, enhance productivity, and automate the management, maintenance, and tracking of high-value equipment.  

When investing in IoT-based real-time location systems (RTLS), organizations have an array of options to consider. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist, as each solution varies in functionality, range, and purpose. Selecting the right fit requires discerning whether the technology will address a single use case with specific requirements, or if it will scale to cover dynamic applications and environments.  

Other factors to consider include:

  • Total cost of ownership (TCO)
  • The technology’s precision in locating items (location accuracy)
  • Whether to leverage an existing network infrastructure or run the solution independently
  • The environment in which the solution will operate
  • The location reporting frequency for tracked items
  • Scalability to expand and accommodate evolving needs

Solution Costs

When choosing an RTLS solution, consider all costs – both the obvious, up-front fees and the less tangible, soft dollar expenditures. Up-front costs entail hardware such as beacons and gateways, asset tags, tracking software, and installation fees. Don’t forget ancillary costs such as power consumption, ongoing maintenance, expenses for IT or specialty technician teams, and battery replacements for tracking devices.

Also try to calculate the expected savings resulting from asset management and IoT-powered tracking capabilities. Eliminating time spent searching for misplaced items and automating manual tasks such as inventory logging, asset audits, preventative maintenance, translates to substantial cost savings. You should also factor in the savings associated with replacing or repurchasing missing assets.

Tracking Accuracy

When it comes to tracking, precision matters. Accuracy is based on location update frequency, with some solutions optimized to provide consistent location updates, further complemented by industry-leading battery life. If the location update is infrequent, the asset could have moved in between the time it was searched for and when it last provided its location. While longer range accuracy may suffice for locating a wheelchair or forklift, it may fall short of locating smaller items, such as infusion pumps in a hospital or a palm-sized package in a warehouse. RTLS solutions vary in location accuracy, so it’s important to understand how the technology’s capabilities can accommodate your specific use case.

Network Infrastructure

Any time you add wireless technology to your IT network, you’re adding strain. This can be avoided with an IoT-based RTLS solution by implementing a dedicated, separate infrastructure that bypasses the existing one, alleviating both the network tension and overburdening of IT staff. As a result, you’re less likely to encounter resistance from IT departments in adopting an RTLS implementation.

More importantly, a separate infrastructure also minimizes the risk of exposure to cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities. This is especially vital in settings such as medical facilities or laboratories, where protecting sensitive research and patient data is critical.

Deployment Environment

Understanding the deployment environment is essential when picking an asset-tracking solution. Evaluate the following factors:  

  • Temperature and humidity levels  
  • Types of assets, such as industrial equipment in harsh environments
  • The layout and storage of assets, i.e., stacked on top of one another or residing in dense, partitioned areas
  • Coverage needs, e.g., within deep indoor spaces, above or underground  
  • Storage requirements, like vertical and/or horizontal positioning of an asset

In a large warehouse setting, the general proximity of an item often doesn’t suffice for location purposes. For example, “aisle 2, bay 4,” isn’t enough information. You need more precise data – e.g., “aisle 2, bay 4, shelf 7.” Also, consider the height of ceilings and shelving density with respect to infrastructure installation, as potential interference could occur, disrupting operations.

Industrial environments require special considerations with IP (ingress protection) and IK (impact protection)-rated equipment. In these settings, you may need tags with waterproofing and shock absorption to withstand harsh environmental conditions.

Reporting frequency

Asset-tracking requirements vary by organization, type of asset, and reason for tracking. Some industries may require real-time, on-demand tracking, such as healthcare or vehicle operators on construction sites for safety reasons, where large, unwieldy packages, or those transferring gases or hazardous chemicals, require special movement to avoid endangering personnel.

Some assets require less monitoring frequency. For instance, idle pallets sitting in a warehouse don’t require constant tracking. In some cases, the tracking requirement may correlate with specific chokepoints to alert staff in the event items move offsite or enters an area where it doesn’t belong.

Asset Size

The size of an asset matters when selecting an RTLS solution. To accommodate wide, diverse requirements, tags come in a variety of options, and the type of tag will vary depending on the asset’s size and shape. Medical devices may require small, unobtrusive tags while heavy machinery often needs more resilient, larger devices with special capabilities such as waterproofing or heat resistance.  

Current Protocols

Asset-tracking solutions leverage a variety of communication protocols. Common technologies include 2.4Ghz Low Energy, UWB (ultra-wide band), Passive RFID, Wi-Fi and Zigbee. Naturally, each offers different capabilities, features, pros, and cons. 2.4Ghz Low Energy, for example, uses low-cost tags, maintains long battery life and renders sub-room level tracking accuracy, which surpasses RFID but falls short of ultra-wide band (UWB).  

Zigbee provides a lower-cost alternative to Wi-Fi for smart home and building environments with high bandwidth and communication requirements. Its disadvantages include a shorter range, line-of-sight communication, and the need for Zigbee-compatible devices.

Passive RFID is typically affordable but the tags lack an internal power source, making them unsuitable for real-time tracking. RFID is less accurate than protocols such as UWB and 2.4Ghz Low Energy. UWB offers precision, strong penetration and low latency, but the technology is expensive and consumes a massive amount of power, making it less suitable for modest tracking needs and tight budgeting.

Wi-Fi delivers high transmission rates and compatibility with mobile devices, but it has limitations when used for asset tracking. Disadvantages include high power consumption, short transmission distances, and added traffic to IT network infrastructure.

RTLS Protocol Differences

Attributes 2.4 Ghz Low Energy UWB Passive RFID Wi-Fi Zigbee
Frequency Band 2.4 GHz 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz 300 to 1000 MHz 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz 2.4 GHz
Accuracy Medium High Low Low Low to medium
Range Short to medium Short Short Short Short
Pros of technology protocol Easy to install low-cost tags, long battery life High accuracy, low latency No-battery, inexpensive tags Easy deployment, use of mobile devices Low power consumption, supports large implementations
Cons of technology protocol Low transmission rates, short range Expensive Very short range, no real-time capabilities Expensive tags, imprecise Short range, requires line of sight
Cost Medium High Low High High

Combining LoRaWAN with 2.4Ghz Low Energy

When reviewing RTLS options, you may feel they’re inadequate for your specific use case. MachineQ for Asset Management addresses this challenge with an end-to-end solution that pairs 2.4Ghz Low Energy short-range capabilities with the long-range reach of LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network). The solution employs 2.4Ghz Low Energy beacons that signal to location bridges and transmit data downstream via LoRaWAN. Benefits of the solution include:

  • High location accuracy – sub-room level
  • Separate, secure infrastructure, bypassing corporate networks to avoid exposure to vulnerabilities or added strain on existing networks  
  • Rapid deployment, ongoing maintenance, including day-two support and automatic, over-the-air upgrades  
  • Highly reliable network connectivity backed by Comcast
  • Effortless scalability to power limitless use cases

MachineQ for Indoor Asset Tracking futureproofs operations with a asset tracking solution that integrates seamlessly with existing processes, technologies, and systems. And it maximizes the value of your investment with powerful scalability, thanks to the network infrastructure to add more use cases and prepare for whatever tomorrow may hold.  

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