Inventory Management vs Asset Tracking Using RTLS

Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS) can be used for both inventory management and asset tracking. Here, we explore the differences between inventory and assets and the respective benefits of using a RTLS.

Inventory is stock, parts, materials and products that move through the company while assets are equipment, fixtures and furniture the company needs to do work. Inventory tends to be sold quickly to customers and leave the company while assets tend to be be kept longer term. It’s not just companies that have inventory and stock. Organisations such as government and health agencies consume rather than sell inventory and use assets to provide services.

While there are many systems that can be used to track the quantities of inventory and assets, very few track location. Knowing you have something but not knowing where it is leads to significant inefficiencies, especially in large organisations.

Managing both inventory, assets levels and location is important to avoid shortages and the need to over-stock so as to mitigate not being able to find items. In some cases items can spoil, due to expiry dates, which makes locating them more time sensitive. RTLS provides an automatic real-time view of inventory and assets so that quantities are known when items get stolen, thrown away or otherwise leave the site.

Inventory management provides better accuracy as it’s known what is in stock so the correct quantity can be ordered to meet anticipated demand. It makes it less likely products will be oversold, when not in stock, preventing end-customer disappointment. Having optimal stock saves money. Excess stock costs money until sold that can include overheads such as storage, handling fees and insurance. Excess standing stock is also is also presents the risk of loss by theft, obsolescence and unexpected damage. A better, real-time view of stock allows demand to be analysed and optimised. Having the correct stock ultimately keeps end-customers loyal due to a better customer experience.

Asset management ensures that assets don’t have to be over-purchased to compensate for inefficiencies in finding items. Knowing you have item(s) prevents unnecessary duplicate purchases. As the RTLS is real-time there’s no need for manual audits. The automatic auditing of assets also highlights items that have become lost or stolen. Knowing where assets are ultimately reduces labour costs because employees spend less time searching.

Read about BeaconRTLS

New P1 Plus Industrial Beacon

We have the new Minew P1 Plus in stock. It’s a sensor beacon designed for rough environments and is IP68 waterproof, IK09 shockproof and has a wider than normal temperature rating due to use of the included industrial ER14250H lithium battery.

This beacon has temperature and accelerometer sensors. It’s turned on and off via a magnetic switch. As with other Minew beacons it advertises up to 6 channels that can be iBeacon, Eddystone UID, Eddystone URL, Eddystone TLM and device info. 

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Logistics and Manufacturing Pallet Tracking with Beacons

Tracking loaded pallets saves a significant amount of time, effort and hence cost in logistics and manufacturing. Pallets might contain stock, components or sub-assemblies. The top usecase is finding a particular pallet quickly. However, sensing need not be limited to pallets. Extending tracking to forklifts, racking and even people provides additional business benefits. For example, we have previously been asked to provide for the following scenarios:

“I need to ensure best use of my forklifts. Tell me when one hasn’t moved for 2 minutes.”

“I need to know if a forklift has crashed into racking.”

“I run a warehouse containing hazardous materials. If evacuation is needed, I need to know everyone has evacuated the building even if someone has temporarily gone off site”

These situations, and more, are solvable using Bluetooth beacons (In terms of asset tracking, beacons are sometimes called tags).

RFID and barcodes can also be used for tracking. However, the information is only as good as the last scan that might have been a long time ago after which the asset might have moved without being scanned. The advantage of beacons is that they repeatedly advertise so the information is always up to date.

Further advantages of Bluetooth tags are:

  • Being commodity items rather than specialist devices, tags and readers are relatively inexpensive compared to other proprietary technologies such as ultra wideband (UWB).
  • They consume very low power and battery lifetimes of 5 to 10 years are possible.
  • They are readable from handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets, providing for additional possibilities within the warehouse.

Software such as our BeaconServer™ and BeaconRTLS™ can be used to track what’s where over time, create notifications and integrate with your existing systems.

Once you have some current and historical data you can also start to do clever things such as automatically detecting and predicting over or under utilisation, finding pinch points or detecting valuable equipment about to be stolen.

Read about Asset Tracking for Manufacturers