Here’s a loaded question for you: In your opinion, how confident are you that all processes in your supply chain are fully transparent and that material and product flows are optimized?
In many companies, the location and status of assets such as material, load carriers or tools is a key requirement for production and logistics automation. The use of Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) can provide immense value as they are used to automatically identify or track assets in real-time throughout the entire supply chain. The underlying technologies come in different forms (such as UWB, GPS, BLE) and each provides different strengths and use case focus. The operating needs and degree of positional precision ultimately determine the best technology to use.
Your company has probably already introduced some form of RTLS or other locating and Auto-ID technologies to maintain an overview, automate workflows and optimize process steps. This is an important step in the right direction and enables you to analyze and improve your operations on a data-driven basis, unlocking faster lead times, lower total costs of ownership (TCO) and, ultimately, higher profit margins.
Here’s the bad news: the vast majority of companies are realizing only a small fraction of the potential enabled by RTLS. We know this because at Flowcate, we help companies make RTLS infrastructures better day by day. Along the way, we run into the same roadblocks over and over again that prevent organizations from truly leveraging RTLS efficiently. This article provides a summary of the top five hurdles you need to clear to unleash the full potential of RTLS.
Table of Contents
- Harmonizing Heterogeneous Interests
- Harmonizing System Landscapes
- Reducing Risks
- Lowering Total Costs & Effort
- Speed-up Time for Implementation
Getting things right the first time: These are the questions you should ask yourself when implementing or re-evaluating your RTLS
Whether you’re just beginning to implement real-time locating systems in your organization or you already have solutions deployed: There are a number of questions you should ask yourself on a regular basis to identify critical transparency gaps between process steps. Here is a short sample:
- What exactly happens between process steps A and B?
- Where is my material?
- Where is my production order and what’s its status?
- Which vehicles are available right now?
- How can I identify exceptions in my process?
- Why are there discrepancies in my stock?
- Why do my workers not book properly in WMS/ERP?
The challenges that every manufacturing and logistics manager faces in his daily work can be overcome by driving standardization, integration and interoperability of the planned (or already deployed) real-time locating systems. However, since the market for RTLS solutions is large due to different technologies, hardware vendors, solution providers and applications, it’s hard to find the right place to start. Some approaches may seem promising, but when it comes to the actual implementation, major hurdles appear that slow down progress, prevent the solution from scaling, or halt its development entirely.
Here’s the good news: omlox – the world’s first open locating standard – and our DeepHub – the premier omlox middleware – make it easy to develop site-specific solutions that are economical and scalable, meeting and exceeding current and future requirements.
Now that you’re ready for the battle: Here are the 5 biggest hurdles blocking efficient and future-proof RTLS solutions that we’ve identified
1. Harmonizing Heterogeneous Interests
Most RTLS use cases are born after specific issues and pain points have been identified, and specific departments and managers start searching for relevant solutions. Usually, they are the project managers and in most cases these kinds of projects involve various stakeholders. Some can be supporters, some gatekeepers and some can be opponents due to conflicting interests.
A classic example is multiple sites that are searching for a solution to tackle similar issues – independently from each other, and without joint consultation. Each site has its own requirements and preferences for specific solutions with the goal to choose the best possible solution for their individual needs. On the other side, there are corporate departments such as purchasing, logistics or IT. These departments are interested in finding a single solution for all sites to reduce complexity of the system landscape and vendor management, while ensuring synergies and positive scaling effects.
Unsurprisingly, these conflicting interests lead to delays, bottlenecks and increasing project management efforts prior to and during RTLS design and implementation.
The fastest way to tackle this dilemma is to harmonize the different interests by working on the technological infrastructure. Namely, it is possible to serve individual requirements, maintain site autonomy, and yet standardize tracking at the same time. This requires, on the one hand, a standardized protocol for exchanging RTLS data and, on the other hand, a middleware that aggregates and processes this data, creating transparency and interoperability across the entire value chain. This is exactly what our DeebHub does in combination with the world’s leading omlox standard.
Once harmonized, the sites can freely choose the technology, hardware and solution provider that match their requirements, while the corporate departments benefit from:
- Standardized integration (no blown-up system landscape)
- Scalability and interoperability of solutions
- Faster implementation
- Comparability of solutions and offers
- No “vendor lock-in”
2. Harmonizing System Landscapes
Locating “things” doesn’t stop at the edge of your yard. In most cases, you need to track things along your entire supply chain, but system landscapes along the supply chain can be very heterogeneous. This already begins within one single site and keeps getting worse when extending the view to multiple sites, external service providers, suppliers, and customers.
All of this wouldn’t be an issue if you wouldn’t need to exchange data with the various entities on a frequent basis. There are dozens of ways to exchange data, and all of them are used due to different data exchange capabilities of systems. ERP or WMS systems vary enormously, and so do their options for communicating using interfaces. They are often just not able to handle specific protocols or location data formats even if they are well established.
For many other business processes, this issue has been resolved by most companies, but when it comes to exchanging identification or location data, it turns out that this specific aspect has never been within the scope and now harms the progress of advanced location-based solutions.
The DeepHub is a powerful middleware that aggregates data from the hardware and application layer, for example order and material data, storage locations and many more and can be hosted anywhere – on the edge, in the cloud or on premise. It provides standard connectivity to many applications and Auto ID/Locating systems. This makes pushing/receiving data to the DeepHub via common interfaces and protocols like REST API, WebSockets or MQTT very straightforward and flexible. There is minimal customization required, and it supports standard security and authentication protocols. Thereby, the DeepHub forms the base for exchanging identification and location data with any entity in a standardized and interoperable way.
3. Reducing Risks
Implementing new solutions and technologies always comes with risks and uncertainties. The DeepHub reduces and/or eliminates many of these, such as:
- Vendor lock-in: You can freely choose, combine, and replace any technology, hardware components and applications thanks to the standardized and fully interoperable integration.
- Flexibility: The DeepHub allows you to flexibly scale solutions for multiple use cases – from area to area, from building to building, from site to site. You can use any locating technology, hardware vendor and solution provider. The base always stays the same.
- Comparability: Vendors offering solutions based on omlox, a well-established standard, can be easily compared with each other, for example in terms of the solution architecture.
- Future-proof: Technologies, hardware components and solution providers come and go. Established standards, on the other hand, are made for eternity. The omlox standard is, and will continue to be, integral to the industry of location-based solutions and is maintained and further developed by Profibus and Profinet International.
- Synergies: The DeepHub creates synergies between existing and future solutions, wherever overlaps and touchpoints exist within various use cases in logistics, intralogistics and production.
4. Lowering Total Costs & Effort
There are many types of costs and aspects to be considered when evaluating the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) in a project or solution that has to be developed. It’s rarely only the obvious initial and running costs, but often the “hidden” or unknown costs which lead to a negative economical evaluation or poor scaling of location based solutions.
The DeepHub can have a significant impact on many cost factors, as it generates savings right from the start of a project and is considered cost neutral even in small, very specific use cases that do not even fully exploit the potential of locating technologies harmonized across the board. These savings multiply when use cases begin to scale.
The following table highlights some of the most important areas in which the DeepHub enables a lower TCO.
5. Speed-up Time for Implementation
Implementing location-based solutions often takes more time and effort than forecasted or expected. Beyond the expenses attributed to the solution provider, there are other cost factors that must also be taken into account. Why?
As mentioned above, many stakeholders need to be involved in location-based solution projects, and the time/effort these stakeholders contribute can quickly increase the overall project cost. As the implementation time gets longer, the effort and associated costs go up as well.
A critical success factor for a fast and smooth implementation is effective communication and collaboration among the various stakeholders, including:
- Solution providers
- Cooperating solution providers
- IT departments
- External IT service providers
- Project Managers
- … and many more
The DeepHub not only offers a mutual technical base, but also a set of standardized rules and processes. On the one hand, the DeepHub as a central component defines a framework for the solution infrastructure. It provides an API interface allowing all systems to communicate with each other. This also standardizes functions and supports common authentication and security protocols. The result: Improved collaboration between all stakeholders throughout the crucial aspects of implementation.
From complexity to harmony: Streamlining your supply chain with the right RTLS approach
With digitization advancing in manufacturing and logistics industries, enabling benefits such as leaner processes and greater automation, most companies will soon be taking a closer look at their supply chain operations and will increase their tracking efforts (read here how omlox, DeepHub and locating technologies can help optimizing production and automate processes). They will quickly ask themselves the same questions that were raised at the beginning of this article.
Once the weak points and optimization potentials have been identified, the real challenge begins: bringing together heterogeneous internal and external stakeholder interests, harmonizing the system landscape while working on reducing dependencies and risks, and, of course, implementing interoperable and transparent Real-time location data solutions across all process stages and different sites.
However, it is worth jumping over these hurdles. But not only from the perspective of decreasing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and, vice versa, increasing profit margins. By introducing harmonized RTLS, you can also contribute to significantly reducing the carbon footprint of your production or logistics unit through more efficient processes and the elimination of unnecessary transport routes – especially with regards to the efforts of the European Union regarding requirements for Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) data to be disclosed in financial reports.
Finally, we would like to leave you with one important message. When planning or evaluating RTLS solutions, always keep in mind: Whatever you do, do it based on standardization and interoperability in order to …
- … minimize risks and dependencies
- … stay on time and budget
- … stay flexible, scalable, and future proof
- … foster commitment and decision making
The DeepHub partner ecosystem is growing steadily as our vendor-independent omlox-middleware is being widely adopted and utilized by partners from a multitude of backgrounds and specialties, offering unique benefits for each.
Ready to get your Real-time locating systems harmonized and streamlined? Get in touch with us and we’ll show you how it’s done with our DeepHub.