How Network-Connected Sensors Enable Asset Tracking Across Industries
First published by IoT for All
Illustration @ IoT for All
Businesses spend money to make money, and they rely on the equipment, products, vehicles, goods, and people they have invested in to realize profits. These are all business assets. Effectively tracking these assets to maximize productivity and reduce loss is a critical factor in growing the bottom line.
To gain a new level of visibility and actionable insights into their assets and operations, many businesses are implementing new Low Power Wide Area wireless networks and low-cost sensors to gain real-time, or near real-time updates throughout their facilities, in the field, and while in transit.
Driving Efficiency Through Innovation: LoRaWAN Asset Tracking
LoRaWAN, (Long Range Wide Area Network) is a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) protocol that is disrupting both the economics of deploying asset tracking solutions and expanding use cases beyond what legacy solutions offer to the market.
Compared to satellite-based navigation and cellular services, LoRaWAN asset tracking networks are economical to deploy due to their lower infrastructure, data transmission, and maintenance costs. Densifying and/or expanding LoRaWAN coverage is also significantly more feasible than expanding cellular services where it doesn’t exist.
With the growth of public LoRaWAN network buildouts, new data services are also emerging. For example, forward-thinking operators are offering services that include low-cost network-based location logic for asset tracking, location-enabled mapping, and other applications that can benefit from the estimated presence and proximity detection.
The low cost, long life, and multi-purpose capabilities of sensor-enabled devices also contribute to the favorable economics of a LoRaWAN asset-tracking solution. LoRaWAN devices are designed to consume very little power which means they can operate for long periods without the need to change batteries. Further, by combining location data with application-specific environmental data such as motion, tilt, shock, temperature, and humidity, a single low-cost LoRaWAN device can support more use cases than standalone, GPS, cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi solutions. In some instances, the end device connecting to the network does not need to be designed with specific geolocation technology, making any LoRaWAN device, regardless of its original intended purpose, location-aware.
These advancements in technology support a wide range of use cases across markets, including:
Supply Chain and Logistics
Asset tracking is fundamental to the supply chain and logistics markets which have been using wireless technology for container, pallet, and goods tracking for many years. However, with major supply chain disruptions stemming from pandemic lockdowns being compounded by ongoing economic uncertainty, many companies have been forced to rethink their strategies and technology choices.
Location and condition monitoring are both critical for this market with companies across sectors looking for new Return on Investment (ROI) opportunities by leveraging small amounts of data from hundreds or thousands of connected devices. LoRaWAN asset tracking is ideal for this scenario, providing several advantages including:
- The availability of low-cost multi-purpose LoRaWAN devices capable of delivering location and condition data.
- LoRaWAN asset tracking networks are deployed from coast-to-coast and across major US logistics corridors, providing new low-cost vehicle and goods tracking options.
- The flexibility to connect to a combination of public and private LoRaWAN networks to track goods and monitor their condition from the point of origin, in packing facilities and distribution centers, and to their final destination.
- The integration of terrestrial LoRaWAN networks and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) LoRaWAN satellite connectivity offers a technology roadmap to address gaps in network coverage across rural areas, shipping routes, and other hard-to-reach areas.
Smart Buildings and Campuses
At its core, the concept of smart buildings includes the transformation of commercial and residential buildings to optimize the use of resources (assets) while decreasing building maintenance costs. This applies to nearly all building types, including office buildings, multi-dwelling units (MDUs), hotels, hospitals, convention centers, airports, schools, and other facilities or campus environments.
Leading LoRaWAN use cases for asset tracking in buildings and on campuses include:
- Optimizing enterprise and municipal workforce productivity by having equipment and material available where and when they are needed.
- Equipping and replenishing convention centers, sports complexes, and other heavily trafficked public facilities with the supplies needed to deliver high-quality visitor experiences.
- Locating wheelchairs, pumps, medications, staff, and patients in hospitals.
- Tracking luggage and supply carts, equipment, and high-value spare parts at airports.
- Ensuring equipment and supplies are available when needed across large campus environments like colleges and universities.
- Tracking and locating material needed for new building construction across construction sites and laydown yards.
The definition of a “smart city” can be vastly different depending on the city official you speak to, but they are all generally focused on a common set of goals: improving service delivery to citizens, modernizing critical infrastructure, conserving natural resources, and reducing costs wherever possible. Implementing a modernized asset tracking and management program can help address these goals through:
- Optimizing service delivery to citizens by tracking assets used for utility operations, health, and safety services.
- Service vehicle and equipment tracking.
- Tracking and managing waste and recycling equipment such as compactors, dumpsters, and containers.
- Optimizing space utilization, improving energy use, and decreasing maintenance costs of municipal buildings.
- Supporting urban and climate resiliency initiatives.
Fixed Location Use Cases
Ensuring the correct location of fixed assets and various elements of critical infrastructure is directly related to operational efficiency and safety. Guaranteeing that only authorized installation, maintenance, and moves are taking place can help prevent capital equipment loss, service disruption, and catastrophic events. LoRaWAN use cases for fixed asset tracking and associated services include:
- Locating underground utility infrastructure for maintenance or repair.
- Locating and identifying assets in remote or expansive areas and optimizing related instrumentation and monitoring.
- Controlling access to restricted manufacturing, utility, and construction sites and their related tools and machinery.
Choosing the Proper Asset Tracking Technology
At the core of any successful asset tracking solution is a secure, efficient, and affordable network infrastructure, and Low Power Wide Area wireless networks and sensors are an innovative hotbed for the development of new asset tracking solutions.
LoRaWAN asset tracking offers several advantages including low-cost network coverage without complex installations, interoperability with a great number of tracking devices, and both estimated and high-precision asset tracking options.
By implementing connected solutions comprised of low-cost sensors and LoRaWAN asset tracking networks, businesses can address burdensome manual processes and inefficient legacy applications with new automated asset tracking and management practices.