What are the benefits of RTLS?
RTLS solutions are relevant for on-site operations where searching for assets or people yields major operational improvements. Asset tracking and worker security are among the most popular RTLS use cases.
In Manufacturing & Logistics typical use cases are: saving time to search for tools or work orders and perform value stream mapping automatically through counting inventory and time spent in specific processing zones. Furthermore, RTLS can be used to protect workers from collisions or warn them when approaching dangerous zones and find them in case of accidents thus enhancing worker safety.
In Hospitals, typical uses cases are facilitating search of medical equipment, optimising utilisation rate of equipments, track patients at risk and improve patient workflows to reduce waiting times.
In Construction, typical use cases are protecting workers from collisions and dangerous zones, simplifying tool search and ensuring all workers are safe in case of accidents.
In Quick Service Restaurants, RTLS has revolutionised table service and drive-through experience enabling greater customer satisfaction and productivity.
There are many more sectors where RTLS has proven use cases in particular in larger venues : retail stores, airports, train stations, offices, museums etc...
RTLS can provide a quick ROI, typically between 6 months to 1.5 years.
On the benefits side you need t to evaluate time spent searching for assets and productivity gains, it is important to have these KPIs early on so that you can evaluate budgetary constraints to deploy your RTLS.
On the cost side you have to account for investments costs (devices, anchors, installation, integration to your systems, licence and servers if you choose on premise deployment) and recurring costs (maintenance of devices, licence maintenance or SaaS fees and support).
It is very important to evaluate correctly requirements of location accuracy and frequency of updates as this will drive the type of solution that is suited to your needs and therefore the investment needed as well as the project complexity.
The most requested integrations with RTLS are with asset management softwares. Ubudu RTLS software can integrate third party data linked to the assets tracked that enable customer to search with his own terms.
Customer can define his own categories and associate tags that are used to search for assets in Ubudu Location engine and import their own assets categories' taxonomy.
Ubudu Pairing Tool allows customer to associate the reference in his asset management software with the tag unique identifier (mac address).
We have developed integrations with leading asset management software (CMMS, ERP, MES) in manufacturing and healthcare. Furthermore, we are adopting emerging standards such as Omlox in order to facilitate integration.
Clients can also integrate data computed by Ubudu Location Engine into their system through HTTP or MQTT APIs.
To evaluate RTLS solution business case you need to evaluate the waste in operational process linked to unnecessary movements and the time it takes and the reliability of information about real-time operations. Lean Six Sigma method provides a solid and proven methodology helping you on the diagnostic and supporting the improvement process.
What to look for when choosing RTLS?
Depending on your use case, different assets can be located using RTLS but because tags are active, you will generally not track any consumable asset.
For example, in hospitals, assets that can be tracked include medical devices such as syringe pumps, infusion pumps or medical monitors as well as non-medical equipment such as beds or wheelchairs. In some cases, patients can wear an RTLS tag in order for the hospital to analyse their flow in their treatment process and reduce waiting times or even for safety purpose for special patients to prevent elopement.
In factories, tools and equipment used by operators can be located to avoid wasting time searching for it and increase their utilisation rates. Also, work orders can be interested to locate precisely in order to get better visibility on production processes in real-time. It can also be useful to locate lone workers in large factories or construction sites with hazardous areas to increase worker safety?
RTLS is used to track assets within a specific site in indoor and outdoor areas. To ensure the highest ROI, it is recommended to define clearly which assets need to be tracked and determine precisely which areas to cover having in mind that thanks to the fact that Ubudu RTLS is hybrid, it is possible to cover some areas with high accuracy tracking and other areas with lower accuracy tracking. For instance, if you are looking to improve your production process, it might be important to have highly accurate positions of work orders to know precisely in which workstation they are and how long they stayed in different workstations. However, the work order might sometimes be placed in "stock" areas between workstations and it might be sufficient to know that the work order is in the stock area but not necessarily where it is precisely in this area.
The same logic applies to hospitals for instance where equipment might be located with high accuracy in the Operating Theatre and the Admissions and Emergency areas but not necessarily in every room in the wards; here, knowing in which ward the equipment is might be sufficient.
If the main purpose for using RTLS is to save time searching for specific assets that do not move very often, you can use a medium accuracy and low frequency of position updates to reduce the CAPEX and OPEX of the solution. However, if you are looking to analyse precisely how your assets are moving to optimise your operational flows, it will be important to ensure that the location data is precise and that you have sufficient number of positions to make your analysis, thus ensuring high accuracy and frequent position updates.
One important thing to remember is that the Ubudu RTLS tags have an accelerometer sensor that can be used to change the broadcast frequency based on the movement of the asset: when the asset moves, the tag will broadcast frequently; when the asset stops moving, the tag will broadcast much less frequently as the system already knows where the tag is. This will help extend the battery life autonomy of the tags and reduce maintenance costs.
When you deploy an RTLS solution, it is important to consider if you want the software to be installed on cloud or on a local server on-premise as the costing model and resources needed are very different.
Indeed, if opting for SaaS model by subscribing to the Software on Cloud, you will have to pay an annual subscription fee and will not have to worry about buying a server, installing the software on it, maintaining the server as well as performing maintenance of the software.
If opting for On-Premise model, the costs will be higher upfront and you will only have to pay an annual maintenance fee for the software but you will be responsible of supervising the server and maintaining it.
Finally, it is important to think of RTLS as an additional brick in your systems rather than a separate system running in silo. Doing this, you will need to think of what systems the RTLS has to exchange data with and how to organise these integrations. For example, RTLS are ofter integrated with CMMS, ERP and MES solutions.
What technologies are used in RTLS?
There is not one RF technology that can meet every need in every environment with good ROI so it is very important to define clearly what is the use case and expected benefits of the solution in order to choose the best RF or the best combination of RF technologies to use.
For instance, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a great RF technology if you wish to locate with medium accuracy (3-5m) a large number of assets in a large building with different floors and small rooms.
If however you are looking to track assets with high accuracy in a factory-like environment with lots of metal, high ceiling with large open areas, UltraWideband technology will probably be best.
LoRa and Wi-Fi backhauls can also be useful to use in order to send back data to the server wirelessly in order to avoid having to lay cables which will increase installation costs.
Finally, don't forget that your needs and environment might evolve through time and therefore it might be important to consider using a Hybrid RTLS that will let you address different use cases in different environments with the same system.
The main algorithms used to compute locations from RF signals are the following:
- Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) technique is highly appreciated because of its minimal complexity. It can be used to detect the asset by zone using only one anchor in the middle of the zone, or to locate the asset on a line between two anchors or to locate the asset with a dot on a map with x,y coordinates.
- Time Difference of Arrival (TDoA) technique uses multiple reference points (anchors) that are time synchronised so that when they receive a signal from a tag on a moving asset, a multilateration algorithm will compute the tag position based on the time difference of arrival of the signal sent by the tag to the different anchors. This technique enables to calculate the position of thousands of tags simultaneously with down to 20-30cm thanks to UWB.
- Two-Way Ranging (TWR) technique relies on two-way communication between two devices where the time of flight of the signal exchange is used to measure the distance between the two devices as the signal speed is known.
- Angle-of-Arrival (AoA) technique is based on the measurement of the angular directions (Azimuth and Elevation) from the Tag to the Anchor using directional antennas or antenna arrays. This direction can be calculated through the phase differences of the elements of an antenna array.
The best location accuracy from RTLS solution is 20-30 cms using UltraWideBand (UWB).
However, it is not always necessary to have such a high accuracy and RTLS solutions based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) can be used to have around 3m accuracy, to detect assets by zone and to get entry-exit by zone information.
The tags' battery autonomy depends on several factors: battery capacity, frequency of broadcasts and scans, RF technology used and environmental factors such as temperature and humidity.
In order to optimise the battery autonomy of tags, it is first crucial to select the RF technology and technical architecture that fits best your use case and environment. Then, it is important to configure the signal broadcasting and/or emission to happen exactly when you need it and not more. To do this, Ubudu tags can be configured to communicate at different frequency when in movement compared to when idle as there is no need for the tag to broadcast or scan if it doesn't move as the system would already know where the tag is.
What are the evolutions of the RTLS market?
Low power RF technologies such as BLE, UWB and LoRa is a very dynamic market with substantial innovations. Every new generation of SOCs brings improvements both in terms of functionalities: more accuracy in distance, angle measurements, more bandwidth and reduced power consumption.
BLE new developments are coming from:
- BLE 5.1 Angle Of Arrival localisation although this approach tends to be still far from being easy to deploy in complex environments
- Lower power consumption and integration with energy harvesting. For example, the new SOCs from ATMOSIC Technologies and the passive BLE circuits developed by WILLIOT are a demonstration of these trends.
In regards to UWB, adoption in IOS devices (since iPhone 11 pro) and in Android (the new Google Nexus 6 pro for instance) is opening a whole new era and the technology is finally getting deployed massively.
New SOCs from Decawave (now Qorvo) are offering 4x lower consumption than previous generations and new channels at 9Mhz (channel 10).
The UWB market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 21.1% between 2021 to 2028 driven by the growing demand of UWB technology in RTLS applications and the rise of adoption of UWB technology in Personal and Consumer device tracking in particular in next generation smartphones, wearable devices and connected cars.
Apple AirTag is a demonstration of how to combine UWB and BLE to provide a sensational user experience.
For LoRa, a new generation of chips developed by Semtech which offers A-GPS and Wi-Fi sniffing is promising for trackers. The ultra low consumption and long range RF technologies are now dominated by LoRa technologies.
After being disrupted by the emergence of new RF technologies such as BLE, UWB and LORA since 2012, RTLS is now reaching a more mature state and will evolve into mostly wireless architectures with location computing engines located in the cloud in order to leverage big data analysis and easier scalability.
As guaranteeing internet broadband is now less and less an issue thanks to the deployment of 5G and optical fiber, more and more deployments will be done in the cloud with limited cases where for cyber-security reasons on-premise solutions will be still required.
Customers will request more and more hybrid approaches mixing BLE, UWB and LoRa in order to cover their evolving needs and to handle multiple degrees of accuracy with a single platform to optimise investment cost.
We believe also that we will see more and more "on-demand" RTLS architectures where tags are only located when the user needs to see their position.
Ubudu is focused on improving continuously its hardware and software products to provide better ROI for typical RTLS use cases by :
- Reducing investment costs by proposing wireless infrastructures
- Simplifying maintenance by increasing battery lifetime through the adoption of new generation of chips that integrates energy harvesting
- Reducing integration costs by providing standard interfaces such as Omlox, ready-to-use apps and integrations with asset management softwares
- Making the solution even more bulletproof and scalable thanks to a new horizontally scalable architecture
The global Location-based Service (LBS) and Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) markets are expected to grow by USD 20 billion in 2021 to USD 48.5 billion by 2026, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 19.4% during the forecast period (source: ResearchAndMarkets).
The UWB chipset market for RTLS was valued at US$ 34.36 million in 2020 and is projected to reach US$248.06 million by 2028; it is expected to grow at a CAGR of 28.0% during the forecast period (source: InsightPartners analysis).