Process Control in Manufacturing and Logistics with Bluetooth Beacons

In sectors such as aerospace, automotive, logistics, transit management and process-driven manufacturing, the quest for efficiency and precision is unending. The integration of Bluetooth beacons into monitoring process control provides a significant leap in addressing these challenges. Traditionally, manual processes suffer from a range of issues. Bluetooth beacons offer a compelling solution to these age-old problems.

Firstly, there’s the matter of process visibility and optimisation. In complex environments like aerospace or automotive manufacturing, keeping track of components and processes is critical. Bluetooth beacons enable real-time tracking and provide data-driven insights, allowing for better decision-making and process optimisation. This technology ensures that every aspect of the manufacturing process is visible and under control, leading to enhanced efficiency and productivity.

A common issue in logistics and transit management is the misplacement of items; things can’t be located or are found in the wrong place. Bluetooth beacons counteract this by offering precise location tracking. This ensures that items are always where they need to be, thereby reducing the time and resources spent on locating misplaced items. In transit management, this translates to smoother operations and reduced delays.

Interaction, or the lack thereof, between components or processes, is another challenge that Bluetooth beacons can handle. In scenarios where two or more things are (or are not) interacting as they should, beacons provide real-time interaction data. This information is crucial in environments where the interplay between different components or processes is key to successful operations.

When it comes to counting, the issue often lies in having too many or too few items in a certain place. Bluetooth beacons facilitate accurate inventory management, ensuring that the right quantity of materials or products is always available where needed. This precision is particularly vital in just-in-time manufacturing processes, where inventory accuracy is paramount.

Time management is another critical factor in process control. A task taking too long or not long enough can significantly impact overall productivity. Beacons can track the time spent on specific tasks, providing insights into potential bottlenecks or inefficiencies. This data is invaluable for optimising workflow and ensuring that time is utilized effectively.

Lastly, sequence plays a pivotal role in manufacturing and logistics. When things happen in the wrong order, it can lead to a cascade of issues. Bluetooth beacons, with their ability to track and record sequences of events, ensure that processes follow the correct order, thereby avoiding costly mistakes and delays.

Tracking Forklift Trucks

Forklift trucks are a common theme or problem in warehouses. They are expensive, can cause damage and are potentially dangerous. Here are the top 3 scenarios we have come across when speaking to warehouse clients.

  • Tracking the usage of forklifts to make best use of what is an expensive resource. The solution is real-time monitoring of movement using a real time locating system (RTLS) to detect excessive durations of no movement.
  • Detecting if they crash into racking. For example, we had a customer with a warehouse storing dangerous chemicals. They needed to know about impacts with racking that could potentially displace and spill the chemicals. The solution is detecting unexpected excessive rack movement using a RTLS.
  • Detecting if they go missing. One client told us of forklifts going missing having been driven off in lorries in the cargo area. A RTLS can alert when forklifts go outside an area, inside an area or are no longer being seen.

These scenarios affect the company’s direct costs. Preventing just one incident can pay for the RTLS and more importantly prevent fines, injuries, lost days and medical bills.

Even when there aren’t accidents, a RTLS saves costs through improved efficiency.

Read about BeaconRTLS™

Learn about Beacons in Industry and the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)

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