What is the most efficient and effective way to track your inventory? There are many solution options to choose from; some have been providing invaluable assistance for years and others utilize innovative new technologies. The key to choosing the right method for you is understanding the scope of your inventory management challenges and the tracking methods.
To help you make that choice, let's dive into seven methods you can use to track your inventory and materials. But first, why is having the right asset tracking solution necessary for inventory?
Inventory Tracking for Manufacturing
With inventory tracking, manufacturing companies can be sure that they always know where to find what they need when they need it. Inventory tracking prevents issues like ordering too much of a given material or producing an excess that cannot be properly stored. In doing so, production uptime is maximized by ensuring that attention is allocated to the correct places.
Beyond inventory, asset tracking can also help companies keep track of their WIP. As with raw or completed inventory, WIP tracking ensures that products are not being misplaced at inopportune times – in this case, in mid-production. Further, these solutions can help prevent reprocessing, which results in wasted time and materials.
But as we established, there are multiple asset tracking solutions, and you can only know which is best for your business by seeking a better understanding of these methods. Let’s explore what could work for you.
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Manual tracking dates back to the oldest method used for companies to track their assets. Employees manually count each piece of inventory and store information on a sheet of paper. If they are really fancy, they will record the information on an excel spreadsheet. Manual tracking makes it easy to update information regularly. Manual tracking methods are used by companies just starting or smaller businesses that can’t afford advanced methods. Since it is the cheapest, companies are putting their trust in the employees to record accurately.
The barcode method is another older method typically used by retail stores. To use this method, the company places a code with a picture that contains either numbers or text on an item. A scanner is then used to transfer the data associated with that code to a computer. When used to track assets, the barcode method is limited. The biggest one is human error. This requires faith in the employees to accurately scan the barcode of each item or enter it correctly. Time is another factor to take into consideration. When tracking inventory, companies want it to be easily accessible so tracking can be done as quickly as possible. Although using a standard barcode may be cheaper, many risks are involved.
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)
RFID uses a low-power radio frequency to communicate data. Two variations commonly used are passive and active. With passive RFID, the tags are in sleep mode until the high-powered signal is sent by the readers. The tag is then triggered by the energy and is activated. The primary use of passive RFID is to stop theft. Active RFID battery-operated tags identify their location at the access points. The access points then pass on the tag's location to the gateway. The most significant advantage of active RFID is the range, which covers up to 10,000 square feet.
GPS (Global Positioning System)
GPS connects a signal to multiple satellites to determine the location of an asset outdoors. GPS receivers receive the signals. If the signal is strong enough, the GPS device can calculate the exact latitude and longitude of the asset. GPS has become less used today as other methods have taken over, mainly due to the energy and labor the devices require. When tracking assets, you need sustainable battery life.
UWB (Ultra Wide Band)
UWB is a radar that repeatedly scans through a wide range of low-powered radio frequencies. The range of the radio frequency can reach up to 10.6 GHz. UWB operates on low power to prevent intrusion with other technologies functioning within that range. The devices will run best with a clear line of sight and near each other. UWB can monitor the position of an asset within 10-30 centimeters. The predominant characteristic of UWB communication and conversion of data from each device. It has been shown to transmit 110 Mbit/sec. A company that chooses UWB usually does because the low energy consumption allows the battery life of the tags to last for long periods of time.
BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy)
Bluetooth LE uses the same technology as standard Bluetooth. The big differentiator is Bluetooth LE consumes energy at lower rates. With this technology, applications can operate with less battery life for extended periods of time. It’s essential for applications that exchange very little data. Unlike standard Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE remains in sleep mode and waits for a signal to activate. The data transfer takes approximately a few milliseconds, which is key because the data rates are substantially increased. Being able to operate longer by using less battery life at a cheaper cost makes Bluetooth LE the most energy-efficient method.
XLE (Xtreme Low Energy)
XLE is the newest revolutionary technology patented here at Link Labs. It takes Bluetooth Low Energy, extends the battery life up to seven years, and improves the accuracy up to a meter. It works by communicating the tagged asset through XYZ coordinates to achieve accuracy close to UWB, but with XLE, you can install it at a cheaper cost. It benefits companies wanting to check the location of their assets multiple times a day without damaging the battery life. With XLE, technology companies can cover more ground while using fewer beacons.
To Wrap It Up
There isn’t a wrong way to track your assets, but some methods will naturally be more beneficial to you than others. The key is knowing your challenges and selecting a tracking method that allows you to manage your inventory and WIP in a way that makes sense. How much do you want to track? How quickly do you want to track it? Do you need a more affordable option? Do you need to track across a wide range? Do you need to avoid costly and time-consuming battery changes? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you start your asset tracking journey on the right foot.
Link Labs provides various asset tracking solutions that can be scaled to your needs. Book a demo today to learn more about what your company’s best asset tracking solution could look like!