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Real Time Locating Systems: Tracking Everything, Everywhere, All at Once


Feb 22, 2023 - 4 minute read

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Justin O'Dwyer Principal Technologist

Justin has worked in IT for over 25 years, in a range of delivery and leadership roles. He currently works as a Principal Technologist, providing technology consulting to customers and colleagues. 

See all Justin's posts

2988 HC Digital Transformation 476X381


Take Inventory 

Manufacturing can be an extremely dynamic business, with fast-moving supply chains. Making sure the right thing is in the right place at the right time can be a significant challenge. Doing this well can provide cost savings and increased profits, while an inefficient process can really hit the bottom line. 

Manufacturers need to know where their materials, assets, and products are at any given point in time. Commonly asked questions may include, "Do I have enough widgets on hand to complete this production run?", and "Where are those 80 pallets of product X that we need to ship tomorrow?". 

While many manufacturers will be able to answer questions like these with some precision, they could also probably find room for improvement by making things more "locatable". A Real Time Locating System (RTLS) can help here. 

Measure, So You Can Manage 

RTLS is a key enabling technology for Smart Manufacturing. It allows real-time tracking of individual products and their sub-assemblies, from the receipt of raw materials and third-party components, right through to end-of-life disposal. The extent to which this approach makes commercial sense obviously depends on each specific business case — for instance, what makes sense for a connected car may be a non-starter for a lower value product. 

Many different sensor technologies can be deployed in an RTLS system against a range of use cases, like RFID for access control and short range asset tracking, UWB and LIDAR for coverage of indoor and outdoor spaces, and GPS for vehicle tracking. A given system may need to gather data from many different types of sensors to provide the operational coverage required. 

Sensors are of limited use on their own though, so they're often bought in conjunction with a dedicated RTLS enabled software package, such as a Warehouse Management System or Fleet Tracking solution. These systems are often great at what they do, but the functionality they provide will typically only provide tracking over a specific (and possibly very limited) part of the product life cycle. 

Put the Data to Work 

So, what are our options if we'd like to get a more joined up view of our supply chain and our product's life cycle? Fortunately, many of the sensors available today make use of open standards for data connection. This means that we often have a range of options to consume, process, and visualise the data that they generate. 

Sending sensor data to an Internet of Things (IoT) platform for example, like Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, AWS IoT Core, or Siemens MindSphere would enable us to collect and centralise that data within the cloud, where it can be stored securely and easily accessed. We could then use additional cloud services to build a cost-effective solution that's completely tailored to our needs — it's now possible to put together applications with little or no programming needed, using so-called "low code" platforms like Mendix, from Siemens, and Microsoft's Power Apps. 

Alternatively, we could connect our sensors to a platform that's built specifically to support RTLS applications, a platform that supports a range of tracking technologies and enables tracking across multiple physical spaces. omlox, which is described by the team behind it as "the open locating standard", could provide an option here. 

Omlox is designed so that multiple tracking and locating technologies can be plugged in to it, which makes it easier to wrangle the zoo of different sensors mentioned earlier. Once the sensor data is available in omlox, it's exposed to client applications though a set of well-defined interfaces. This simplifies the process of building applications that use this data by reducing the amount of integration points we'd need to handle. 

There's an ecosystem of omlox applications emerging, and solutions for a variety of use cases are available or in development, so we may have the option to build or buy what we need. Applications that are designed to be used with omlox can be submitted for certification, so buyers can be pretty confident they'll work as advertised. 

Join the Revolution 

At this point you may be thinking, "this all sounds great, but it also sounds like a lot of effort, so why should I bother?" Well, as I mentioned earlier, it's all about the business case, and adopting an RTLS system has been shown to deliver significant benefits. RTLS also offers a source of important data to other digital initiatives with proven value to manufacturers, like adding location data to a Digital Twin, for example. 

Ultimately, as Industry 4.0 initiatives gather pace and Smart Manufacturing gains further traction, it's likely that the case for adopting RTLS will become difficult to ignore. 

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on January 30, 2023. 


2988 HC Digital Transformation 476X381
Justin O'Dwyer Principal Technologist

Justin has worked in IT for over 25 years, in a range of delivery and leadership roles. He currently works as a Principal Technologist, providing technology consulting to customers and colleagues. 

See all Justin's posts

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