Tracking unpowered assets can be a challenging task, but with advanced asset tracking technologies, it has become more efficient and accurate. In logistics and trucking especially, asset tracking has been more readily available for powered assets, provided for vehicles via telematics systems or other built-in tracking capabilities. But this leaves plenty of room for improvement, as this prevents companies from retaining visibility when trailers are disconnected from their power source or when assets aren’t attached to the trackable vehicle in the first place.
There are unique challenges for tracking unpowered assets that require innovative solutions. When these solutions are effectively implemented, however, they quickly prove themselves through their ability to enable businesses to monitor and manage their assets effectively, ensuring security, efficiency, and optimal utilization of resources. We’ll break down the difficulties of tracking unpowered assets, the factors to consider when choosing a solution, and what these solutions look like when used in conjunction with more traditional telematics systems.
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What is an Unpowered Asset?
Unpowered assets are a category of valuable resources that lack an inherent power source. Unlike their powered counterparts, unpowered assets do not rely on internal batteries or electrical systems to operate. Instead, they typically serve a specific purpose or function without the need for active power. In other cases, they might utilize external power to function by plugging into electrical outlets or other power sources.
Unpowered assets encompass a wide range of items across various industries. They can include tools, equipment, machinery, and other physical resources that contribute to business operations. They can also include cargo, as well as the pallets and containers used to transport them from location to location. These assets are often essential components of daily activities, enabling organizations to deliver products or services efficiently.
What’s So Difficult About Tracking Unpowered Assets, Anyway?
It’s perhaps inaccurate to claim that it’s more difficult to track unpowered assets than it is to track powered assets. Truthfully, with the right system and implementation strategies in place, it can be just as easy. The real problem is that unpowered assets cannot be tracked using the technology that most trucking and logistics companies currently have at their disposal; this creates the false assumption that these assets cannot be tracked or that they require an entirely independent system that isn’t worth the cost.
Powered assets can be tracked using a basic telematics system, a truck-centric technology that is required to be installed in trucks by law. These systems function in part to monitor driver behavior, as well as the location and condition of the truck and the trailer that is attached to it. As we’ve already said, however, the visibility of these powered assets is contingent on the trailer being plugged in and the truck being turned on. If either of these conditions are not met, you lose visibility of the truck, the trailer, or both. Due to this reliance on an external power source, the importance and capability of tracking non-powered assets is often overlooked, and cargo, equipment, and disconnected trailers are rendered invisible and untraceable.
Since telematics systems can’t be used to track unpowered assets, it can seem like an insurmountable task. However, that is not the case. There are systems designed to provide a version of trailer tracking that provides visibility for unplugged trailers, cargo, pallets, containers, critical equipment, and anything else that might be necessary to successfully complete your daily operations. The difficult part isn’t the actual tracking, as the technology readily exists on the market; the difficult part is finding the right solution for your operations and learning to use it in tandem with your telematics system for the best possible results.
Factors to Consider When Selecting an Asset Tracking Solution for Unpowered Assets
Selecting an asset tracker for unpowered assets requires careful evaluation of various factors. Companies must ensure that they are choosing a solution that aligns with their unique needs and fits the shape of their daily operations. This time and effort may seem daunting, but careful consideration is crucial to maximize a solution’s effectiveness and achieve long-term success. Remember, the choosing is the hard part; once a solution is chosen and implemented, you will reap the benefits for years to come.
Here’s some factors to consider when choosing an solution for tracking your unpowered assets:
Let’s start with the simplest consideration: what are the physical characteristics of the assets you want to track? When evaluating tracking solutions, it’s important to consider the size, weight, and durability requirements of your assets. Smaller assets may require compact tracking devices, while heavier assets may need robust and durable tracking solutions to withstand harsh environments. It’s easy to assume that asset trackers are one-size-fits-all, but most are actually designed with a specific type of asset in mind. You’ll want to make sure the solution you choose can account for the specifications of what you’re tracking or that they have multiple options for different use cases.
Tracking Range and Accuracy
Next, you’ll want to establish what kind of range and accuracy your use case requires. Where do your assets usually go? Do you need to know exactly where they’re at, or is an approximation enough for your purposes? Are you tracking your assets within the facility, or just once they leave? To answer these questions, you should determine the required tracking range based on the asset's usual location and movement patterns. Luckily for most logistics and trucking operations, this data can be approximated using what your telematics system already compiles. This can provide a baseline level of understanding for how far assets are expected to go and what areas might prove challenging for accuracy so that you can choose a solution that accounts for those needs.
Battery Life and Power Management
Here’s the crux of tracking unpowered assets: in order to gain tracking capabilities, the tracker that they utilize must have a power source. Most of the time, that power source is going to be an internal battery which will either require replacements or recharges. It is absolutely essential that you understand the battery life and power management capabilities of the solutions you’re examining. After all, the fewer battery replacements that a solution needs, the less time, money, and effort you will need to commit to maintaining the system once it’s installed. It’s also worth noting the relationship between tracking accuracy and battery life. Usually, the higher the accuracy, the higher the power consumption; the opposite is also true. Understand your company’s priorities and look into solutions that provide customizable accuracy and motion-triggered reporting to determine what configuration is best for you.
Scalability and Flexibility
When considering an asset tracking solution, it’s important to consider not only the current state of your operations, but the future state of your operations. The number of assets you’re tracking now might not be the same amount you’ll want to track in the future, especially as your company grows. To provide a basic example, a small operation might have 15 trailers now, but experience growth and end up with 25 trailers in the future. Now, they have 10 additional trailers that each need their own trailer tracker. This basic principle can be applied to any critical asset. It’s important to consider the scalability of the tracking solution to accommodate for future asset growth, because not all solutions can be easily scaled. You’ll also want to look for a solution that has flexibility across a variety of use cases, that way you can use it in multiple ways without needing to invest in multiple solutions.
Data Security and Privacy
As with all technology, it’s important to assess the security features of any potential asset tracking solution. Prioritize data security by selecting a solution that employs robust encryption protocols for secure data transmission. You can also take your data security a step further by utilizing a system that does not rely on WiFi networks, which can cause vulnerabilities due to the public nature of the connection. It’s also important to find a company that’s willing to work with you and provide insight into their security measures, allowing you to readily address any breaches that happen and prevent them from happening again.
It’s important to take your budget and the pricing of solutions into account when evaluating your options. This might seem simple, but cost considerations go beyond a number on a price tag. Instead, you’ll need to evaluate not only the initial investment required for implementing the tracking solution, but also the total cost of ownership over the asset's lifespan, including maintenance and support costs. For instance, one solution may appear cheaper upfront, but have components that need to be replaced more often, making it more expensive in the long run. When considering the amount of money you’re willing to spend, you’ll need to assess the value of the losses you’re preventing and the efficiency you’re gaining, as well. After all, a quality solution should pay for itself in ROI sooner rather than later.
Customer Service and Support
Your evaluation of a solution shouldn’t just stop at the solution, either. You’ll need to evaluate the company providing that solution. Research their reputation and experience, considering their industry expertise and reliability. In the case of tracking unpowered assets, you’ll want someone with a system that can support long-distance tracking in the logistics industry. It’s also important to evaluate their customer support services and training programs to ensure smooth implementation and user adoption. A good solution is made great by the people behind it, willing to support and work with you every step of the way.
Integration with Existing Systems
And finally, when it comes to tracking unpowered assets, you’ll want to verify that the solution can be integrated with your existing systems. Your telematics systems already exist, and everyone likely already knows how to use them. By finding an asset tracking solution that is compatible, you lower the barrier for adoption and ensure seamless integration. You can look for compatibility with any existing inventory management systems and enterprise resource planning systems, as well. These integration capabilities streamline asset management processes and provide a holistic view of asset data.
Using Asset Tracking Alongside Telematics
The system integration that is going to be most important within logistics is, of course, your telematics system. As stated previously, telematics allows for some level of asset monitoring when trailers are connected and trucks are turned on. The point of investing in a separate asset tracking system is to monitor trailers and other assets when they are not connected to the active power source of the truck. These systems are not competing, rather, they complement each other in a way that allows one to fill in the blanks that the other leaves open. But what does that look like?
Your telematics can retain visibility of your trailers while they’re connected and on the road. By adding asset tracking, you can also retain visibility when they’re disconnected or the truck is turned off. An asset tracking system also lets you effectively pursue container or pallet tracking for more detailed location and condition data. When you combine both systems, you’ll have true visibility and control at all times, and you’ll also have access to comprehensive data that can be used to make decisions in accordance with both real-time and historical data.
Track Your Unpowered Assets by Turning Your Trailer into a Platform
For the best way to combine asset tracking with telematics for full visibility of your unpowered assets, discover Link Labs’ trailer-as-a-platform model. We use our technology to help you make your trailers smarter, promoting visibility of trailers, pallets, equipment, and other assets that travel with you. This model functions through the basis of custody, with the trailer detecting which tagged assets are traveling with it in order to determine what’s inside. By integrating this system with your existing telematics, you retain visibility of your trailers and all associated assets at all times. If you want to learn more about our unique approach to tracking unpowered assets, book a demo with our team today.