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There are huge benefits to improving the visibility and traceability of your products on a granular level: reducing recall risks, made-to-order products, inventory efficiency, and more. Our engineers can help you choose the right solution to gain the information you need in a cost-effective manner.
Asset tracking is a category of technology that can be used to give information about objects. Usually, the asset tracking system consists of a tag and a reader or scanner. When integrated into other areas of the control system, MES (manufacturing execution system), or ERP (enterprise resource planning), data collected through asset tracking can be used in nearly infinite ways.
Any type of technology that attaches information to an object could be considered asset tracking. We often find barcodes, RFID, or RTLS to be the best solutions. However, bluetooth and other technologies also fit into this category.
Barcodes are machine-readable images that identify a product. Barcodes are used to have a scannable representation of predetermined data.
Traditional (1D) barcodes are a series of vertical lines while the matrix (2D) barcodes represent data in 2 directions.
While traditional barcodes are used frequency, especially for item identification like UPC codes, a 2D barcode allows the user to store more data in a smaller area.
Barcodes work really well when you want to keep data with the object and when that data is predetermined and unchanging. Some examples of this type of data include:
Because barcodes are inexpensive to print and scanning equipment is affordable, this technology fits tight budgets.
Since they are typically printed onto a label, barcodes are a great way to highlight information about an object or a container.
Barcodes scan easily using portable handheld scanners or with stationary cameras.
Barcode printers are easily programmable and can allow multiple barcodes and 2D matrices on a single label.
There are free apps that can be downloaded onto a smartphone to read barcodes during debugging.
RFID or radio frequency identification works in a similar manner to barcodes. Rather than scanning a visual symbol, specialized scanners read the frequency that is emitted by small tags. There are two main types of RFID, classified by the ranges of the frequency:
Like barcodes, use RFID tags to keep data with the object. RFID tags are able to hold a lot of data and have read/write capabilities, so the data can change. This technology is used well when the data tracked with an object needs to be updated.
When it comes to cost consideration, RFID becomes more economical when there are many items to track. That is because the upfront cost of the readers is more expensive than barcode readers, but the cost of the tags themselves is very inexpensive.
A word of caution: RFID is not suitable for all applications. In some cases, things like liquids, metal, or static, can interfere with the signals. For more UHF RFID coverage tips, check out our UHF RFID Antenna Coverage whitepaper.
The ability to read and write data to the tag means that tags can be used for multiple purposes or used over and over again.
Greater range of scanning distance – up to several feet – means that the scanners can be kept out of messy areas.
Real Time Locating System (RTLS) from Siemens tracks the location of an item. Where the other technologies track the “what” of an object, RTLS tracks the “where” of an object. The technology works similar to GPS. It requires creating a field using gateways and anchors. These gateways read tags, usually attached to an object, relative to the distance from those gateways. A tag with paperwhite technology can also display information according to its location.
RTLS is the best industrial technology when you need to know where the object is in a given region. The region should be contained, although the area can be quite large, like a warehouse or campus.
Versatility: RTLS can track people, machinery, equipment, tools, parts, etc.
Distance: Depending on the application accuracy can be from a few inches to several yards.
One way to weigh the criteria is to use our asset tracking decision tree, which will walk you through the main factors to consider.