The recent study Bluetooth Low Energy Indoor Localization for Large Industrial Areas and Limited Infrastructure discusses the use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) in industrial applications, particularly in Smart Factory and Smart Farming settings. Bluetooth systems are beneficial for their low-power operation and are widely used for asset monitoring, management, tracking and localisation. The focus of this paper is on BLE-based localisation systems, which typically use radio propagation models and multi-lateration, or radio fingerprinting, to achieve high accuracy and precision. These methods rely on the received signal strength indicator (RSSI) measurements and its dependency on the distance between the transmitter and the receiver.
However, the paper highlights the challenges in achieving high localisation accuracy due to the inaccuracy of RSSI measurements and susceptibility to radio propagation phenomena. In industrial environments, where radio propagation is complex and the number of anchors (fixed reference points) is limited, achieving high accuracy is difficult. The paper proposes a set of localisation algorithms that require limited infrastructure, have low complexity, and can provide valuable location information at low costs. These algorithms were tested in a Smart Farming application for monitoring the well-being of farm animals, demonstrating reliable operation despite system-level constraints and varying propagation conditions.
The proposed algorithms are based on signal strength measurement. They allow for localising animals in a cowshed of 1600m² using only 10 anchors with an average positioning error below 8 meters.
The paper also discusses the applicability of RSSI-based localisation to different radio technologies and the limitations of these methods. The proposed approaches are designed to enable location-based services in existing systems at minimal additional costs, benefiting from the already available infrastructure, mechanisms and procedures.
Work-in-progress (WIP) monitoring is tracking the progress of production. It allows managers to make informed decisions about resource allocation and scheduling as well as determine the current status of a job or subassembly. Work-in-progress (WIP) monitoring is part of Industry 4.0, the term used to describe the fourth industrial revolution, which use digital technologies to create more efficient and automated production processes.
WIP monitoring saves costs by identifying bottlenecks in the production process, reduces the amount manual tracking and enables proactive decisions. Also, real-time data can be used to optimise production schedules and minimise downtime, reducing the overall cost of production.
Tracking work in progress (WIP) has several advantages for manufacturing and production operations:
Improved Production Planning: By tracking WIP, manufacturers can better understand how much inventory they have at each stage of production, which can help them plan for future production runs, adjust staffing levels, and optimise production schedules.
Better Resource Allocation: WIP tracking can help identify areas of the production process where resources are being over-utilised or under-utilised. This information can be used to allocate resources more efficiently, reducing waste and increasing productivity.
Quality Control: WIP tracking can help identify quality issues earlier in the production process, allowing manufacturers to take corrective action before the product reaches the final assembly stage. This can reduce the amount of rework required and improve overall product quality.
Reduced Lead Times: By tracking WIP, manufacturers can identify bottlenecks in the production process and take action to resolve them more quickly. This can help reduce lead times and improve on-time delivery to customers.
Cost Savings: By optimising production schedules and resource allocation, WIP tracking can help manufacturers reduce costs associated with over-production, inventory storage, and waste.
Bluetooth beacons can be used to track WIP by attaching a small, low-power Bluetooth device to each job or unit of production. These beacons transmit a unique signal that can be detected by Bluetooth-enabled gateways located throughout the production line. This allows for real-time tracking of the location and status of each job or unit of production.
Some legacy system use barcodes or RFID for WIP tracking. The problem with these is the information is only as up-to-date as the last scan. Bluetooth beacons transmit all the time allowing for real-time tracking of WIP with no manual scanning. Additionally, Bluetooth beacons can be easily integrated with existing IoT infrastructure, making them a cost-effective solution for WIP monitoring. RFID and barcodes, on the other hand, require specialised equipment to read the tags. Bluetooth beacons can transmit data up to 100 meters or more, also making them more suitable for large spaces such as warehouses and factories.
The Bluetooth SIG, the organisation that produces Bluetooth standards, has a recent post The Myths & Facts About Bluetooth Technology as a Positioning Radio. It talks about the location services in general and how they have evolved over time. It explains how Bluetooth helps solve key enterprise pain points to save tens to hundreds of billions of dollars globally through enhanced operational efficiencies, increased worker safety, and loss prevention.
In manufacturing facilities, billions of dollars are lost through unplanned downtime thanks to being unable to locate assets, tools, and equipment. In warehouses, RTLS can help automate the tracking of assets, such as pallets, which is becoming more essential with the ever-increasing size, complexity, and amount of assets stored
Despite the gains thus far, this only represents as small proportion of the opportunity because only a very small percentage of the potential addressable market in the enterprise is using RTLS.
ABI Research expects that will be a 2.5x increase in total Bluetooth RTLS deployments over the next five years, with the fastest growing segments being healthcare, warehouse and logistics, manufacturing and smart building.
Today’s just-in-time and busy manufacturing processes means that manual tracking of pallets for inbound and outbound shipments often can’t keep pace with the speed of production. Production and assembly requires the quick locating of components. Delays and inaccuracies due to lost components lead to increased costs, employee frustration and ultimately customer disappointment.
Competitive pressures are also driving the need to reduce labour thus reducing the capacity to manually search for items. Customisation using configured options and demand-driven production is also increasing the degree of inbound component searching that exacerbates the problems.
Even those companies using legacy tracking solutions find that location is only as good as the last barcode or RFID scan. Humans get lazy, make mistakes and don’t scan, causing pallets, crates and boxes to get lost. Many RFID readers don’t work reliably near metal components. Relying on a system that can’t find just a few items can be worse that a manual system that works but is slower. Bluetooth asset tracking solves these problems because the location is automatically collected in real-time and is continually updated.
Asset tracking can be applied to items such as components, pallets, cases, tools, returnable assets such as racks and cages as well as items on loan to ensure they are returned on time. It can improve worker safety and provide alerts in cases of congestion, perimeter deviation and lone worker distress. It can ensure forklifts are being fully utilised, are taking an optimum route, haven’t crashed into racking and haven’t gone out of an area.
The real-time visibility allows connected systems to generate confirmation and exception alerts and automatically trigger shipping processes, replacing costly manual workflows. Tracking outputs also allows confirmation that the correct things are loaded on the correct transport.
A Bluetooth-based real time location system (RTLS) increases visibility and allows the manufacturing process to adapt in real-time to short term business needs. It provides cost savings, greater efficiency and business intelligence that can be used to derive larger scale changes based on data rather than gut instinct. Overall reporting of input and outputs provides input to management reporting to monitor the business.