Real-Time Locations Systems (RTLS), sometimes called On-Site Asset Tracking (OSAT), is quickly gaining momentum in the automotive sector, more rapidly than in many other sectors. In automotive, OSAT provides benefits across multiple use cases, allowing the initial investment to be spread out over a range of value drivers which are driving a boost of 2%-5% in efficiency, required by the sector to remain competitive.
This article will explore these use cases and their benefits.
WHAT IS RTLS OR OSAT?
Real-Time Locations Systems (RTLS), sometimes called On-Site Asset Tracking (OSAT) is a technology solution allowing you to track where things are. A thing, often called an asset, is a physical object such as a tool, inventory, a person – anything you would want to track the location of.
OSAT is not to be confused with Track & Trace. OSAT tracks assets on a well-defined site, which can be a factory, a hospital, a shipyard, etc. The site can be very large, e.g., several square kilometers or miles, and can be comprised of several buildings each with several floors, as well as outdoor sections such as a laydown yard. Track & Trace, in contrast, determines the location of an asset using GPS, cell tower triangulation and WIFI-sniffing. It does so nearly everywhere on earth by uploading the determined location using a cell connection. Technically Track & Trace also provides location while the asset in on-site, but when indoors the accuracy will be limited to 50m (164 ft.) at best and 500m (1,640 ft.) or worse in most cases. When outdoors, the GPS of a Track & Trace device auto-enables, giving a positioning accuracy of 5m (16 ft.) to 25m (82 ft.). But GPS positioning consumes a lot of power and typically limits the update rate of a battery-operated device to once every few hours. In contrast, OSAT provides location updates at a sub-minute level, both indoors and outdoors. Concluding, OSAT and Track & Trace have some superficial similarities, but otherwise serve different applications.
Early OSAT technologies were expensive and provided limited accuracy, often not better than 5m . This limited the technology to use cases where the return-on-investment was very high even where high positioning accuracy was not so important. Today, the accuracy has much improved, and prices have decreased . In addition, some vendors have added sensor monitoring to the positioning tags. This new generation of OSAT has opened many more use cases.
HOW IS OSAT BENEFITING THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY?
Of all the industries, automotive is one of the most efficiency-driven. To stay competitive, manufacturers aim to increase efficiencies by 2% to 5% every year. This means that in one year the same production output needs to be achieved 2% to 5% cheaper than the previous year. Over a span of 7 years, the standard lifetime of a car model, this means the same car must be made 15% to 30% cheaper, which is no small feat. To manage these efficiency improvements the automotive industry, among others, has introduced a myriad of Key Performance Indicators such as OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), On-Time-In Full delivery (OTIF), Inventory Turns, Throughput and many others.
Here are several OSAT applications that are seeing an increased adoption in automotive:
- Inventory Management: By applying a reusable OSAT tag to incoming inventory parts, or to the packaging that contains these parts, the quantity and location of the inventory is known in real-time. When a tag is removed from the inventory, the ERP or MRP system is alerted, and the electronic inventory count is adjusted. This provides a much more accurate view on inventory than the traditional approach using barcode or RFID, because it doesn’t rely on a manual scanning operation and doesn’t require the parts to pass through RFID gates.
- Kanban process tracking: This is an extension to the previous Inventory Management application. In most manufacturing operations, materials undergo several transformations from a raw material state to a finished product. Before every transformation there is typically a limited amount of Work-in-Progress (WIP) awaiting transformation, which is called the Kanban stock. Having a real-time and accurate view of the WIP in the Kanban process is paramount to an efficient operation. Traditionally, ERP systems update with WIP through manual scanning or by means of uploading machine cycle data. Neither process is free of errors. OSAT can achieve a 100% accurate and real-time view on the Kanban process and feed such data into the ERP system.
- Consignment Stocking (CS) and Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI): In CS and VMI the supplier is in charge of replenishing inventory to the customer’s warehouse. Whenever the customer consumes a part from the inventory, the customer should report it to the supplier, for proper inventory counting. Therein also lies the weakness of a CS/VMI systems because it relies on manual scanning and reporting. With OSAT the consumption of parts is automatically detected, e.g. when a box is opened or when a part leaves the customer’s stocking warehouse. Hence, consigned stock levels are always correct, and known in real-time.
- Tool and equipment tracking: An automotive manufacturing operation relies on tools and equipment. These items are dedicated to a fixed location in the production line, but many are mobile. Knowing their location when needed can save precious time, not only during retrieval, but also in order not to delay other steps in the production chain. Moreover, by using sensor tags the equipment can be monitored for damage, such as a hard fall to the floor.
- Monitoring of dies, molding and stamping tools: Dies, injection molding tools and stamping tools are special kinds of tools. In addition to the benefits of OSAT described above, OSAT with sensor-enabled tags offers the following extra benefits when tracking dies and molding tools: The sensor tag can keep track of production cycles, i.e. how many parts were produced with the tool and hence signal when tool maintenance is required. In addition, it can provide accurate location info when the tool is stored in a rack full of similar looking tools, for easy retrieval, even when the tool was not stored at its designated location.
- Spare Parts Management: The availability of spare parts where and when they are needed is key to efficient manufacturing. Automotive manufacturers typically keep the most often required spare parts on hand, for a quick response when a machine part breaks. Unfortunately, the consumption of spare parts is not always correctly accounted for and the shelves with spare parts are often emptier than the IT system would suggest. By attaching tags to spare parts, the view on the spare parts inventory becomes real-time and 100% accurate. Moreover, as the shelf age of a new spare part is recorded by the tag, implementing a FIFO or FEFO strategy becomes trivial.
- Reusable Packaging Tracking: Reusable packaging has found widespread adoption in the automotive industry, mostly to reduce damage and improve quality, especially when transporting parts from a supplier to a consumer, such as between the Tier 1 manufacturer and the automotive OEM. This automatically introduces a reverse logistics process, where the consumer is required to return empty packages to the supplier. Reverse logistics are typically a labor-intensive and inter-company affair, leading to many errors and inefficiencies. OSAT manages the reverse logistics process, even across multiple companies and sites, sending alerts when at any point in the chain there is a risk of a packaging shortage.
- Damage detection: Mobile equipment is vulnerable to damage. E.g., racks with parts or a train of carts pulled by a tugger are prone to physical damage from running into other objects. Adding OSAT tags to mobile equipment will monitor location and collisions, reporting the location and time of the damage, such that the root cause can easily be found, and counteracting measures can be taken.
LOCUS is RedLore’s OSAT solution. LOCUS provides a positioning accuracy down to 15cm (1/2 ft.). In addition to positioning, LOCUS Sensor Tags simultaneously provide several types of condition monitoring: physical (fall, lateral shock), environmental (ambient temperature, humidity, VOC, eCO2) and process (IR temperature, magnetic, vibration).
LOCUS’s unique quality is that is it entirely wire-free whereas the majority of OSAT solutions require wiring for power and wiring for connectivity, . independent from the existing Ethernet infrastructure. Installing such power infrastructure and powered data network is not only expensive but can also interfere with on-going operations. In environments such as automotive manufacturing and hospitals, where operations need to go on uninterruptedly, installing wires can be a non-starter.
LOCUS was developed with such environments in mind, slashing the installation time and cost by 90%, while not compromising on the benefits.
RedLore provides high-accuracy on-site asset tracking and touchless logistics process solutions for distributors, manufacturers, and 3PLs. Our mission is to make the world’s supply chains better through ground-breaking technology.
RedLore’s LOCUS patented technology is the first and only solution for high-accuracy positioning, down to ½ foot or 15 cm, without requiring any wiring throughout the facility, for neither power nor data wiring. Large corporations across the world depend on RedLore’s solutions, benefiting from our patented IoT and Machine Learning technology.
The team behind RedLore has a long history in logistics, the Internet-of-Things, large-volume industrial manufacturing and large-scale field testing.