Asset tracking enables individuals and enterprises to accurately track physical items anywhere in the world. Use cases range from heavy equipment and vehicles to robots and high value products. There are also growing numbers pets and children being tracked and monitored. Further value has been added by enablement of remote asset monitoring alongside IoT for asset tracking.
This means it’s not just the location of an asset such as an excavator that can be tracked but also critical asset monitoring information, such as fuel levels or maintenance requirements, that can be monitored. This asset condition monitoring capability also has applications for shipping of sensitive products such as medicines that need to be maintained at a constant temperature or for high value goods. Real-time asset tracking also has applications for time-sensitive processes such as just in time manufacturing or for ensuring lone worker safety.
Asset tracking is a method used to track the physical location and status of items. Traditional approaches involved scanning of barcodes or RFID tags but IoT asset tracking uses connected tags which broadcast their GPS location and other monitoring information such as temperature or travel velocity over cellular, Bluetooth or LPWA networks.
Asset tracking has been reinvigorated by the innovations of IoT which have brought down the cost of tracking tags at the same time as connectivity has become more widely available and cost effective. Cellular options now cover most of the globe while hard to reach, remote locations can be addressed with satellite connections. Innovative business models are now on the market enabling enterprises to select the business case that best suits their needs.
For example, asset tracking customers can specify how often the tracked asset communicates its location or other data and pay on a per-ping basis. Other providers offer flat rate services that deliver predictable cost. The ability to harness IoT asset monitoring and tracking to ensure asset uptime, safety and compliance has never been easier or more accessible and many new use cases for asset tracking and monitoring have emerged.
There are growing number of asset tracking IoT examples with use cases continuing to develop. Popular examples include:
There are now more options than ever before for tracking and monitoring assets, with more than 8 billion assets now being tracked. This figure represents an early stage for the IoT tracking and monitoring sector which is expected to see substantial growth over the coming years as higher demand and lower costs drive uptake.
Asset tracking relies on connections to the tracked device so it can communicate its location and other monitored information. This is achieved by fixing a tracking tag or device to the asset which communicates using GPS for positioning plus 5G, NB-IoT, LTE or LPWA networks over large areas. This tag pings the network to report its location plus any other data specified. For indoor applications such as robots within a factory, technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi can be used for the communication capability.
The asset tracking tag can be as small as an adhesive label but typically requires a larger form factor in order to accommodate the antenna, battery or power supply, and any other additional sensors, such as those for shock, temperature or velocity. Power supply is an important consideration. In an asset such as a truck, that has its own power, the tracker can plug into the vehicle’s power supply, but other assets are not powered so some trackers need their own batteries. In addition, it is often simpler to install a tracker that has its own power supply.
Another consideration is the type of monitoring and tracking your use case requires. A container full of frozen food may only need to communicate its status on an hourly or even retrospective basis to assure a cold chain has not been interrupted but a lone worker, a fuel tank, or a sensitive machine such as a robot may need to be monitored in real-time to ensure safety and uptime are maintained. In contrast, a user may only track a pet’s location on-demand if the pet goes missing.
Many assets are easy to service and regularly accessed by their owners and this means consumables such as batteries can be easily renewed and charged but remote assets, such as heavy plant equipment in locations such as mines, deserts or forests must be deployed for long periods of time.
This presents two challenges to enterprises. First, the tracking device must be able to operate for as long as the asset will be out in the field. For a mining machine, this could be many months or even years and it is essential for the tracking and monitoring to remain active so predictive maintenance can be arranged and to ensure the asset is not stolen.
In addition, the tracking capability must be able to connect so it can communicate the data it collects. This often involves additional connectivity capability beyond 3G or 4G in the form of satellite (GNSS) connectivity which is the only way of ensuring every point on the planet’s surface can be covered. Enterprises deploying remote assets should carefully assess what their requirements are in terms of the remote location of their assets, their likely maintenance requirements, and the duration of their deployments.