Inside edge: getting indoor tracking right with digital

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Asset tracking is a perennial challenge for manufacturers: they want to keep track of their assets, tools, containers and boxes but don’t want to waste valuable time and resources searching for them. Factories have reported that employees can spend up to one hour per day searching for tools. The latest digital technologies can help, and provide supplementary benefits, too, on top of being able to pinpoint your tools, assets, people and vehicles on a map.

What constraints are there on indoor tracking?

The environment itself in which you are trying to track tools and assets can work against you. GPS technology, for example, can struggle to track assets well indoors because GPS signals cannot penetrate through concrete and steel building structures. So building an infrastructure for successful geolocation is required.

Indoor tracking can be tricky, though: accuracy of the technology being used varies, and the industrial environment is often changing on a regular basis. People move around, and tools are left behind, which can make them hard to track, so a smart solution that can adapt alongside changes in the industrial site itself is necessary.

What technologies can address the indoor tracking issue?

A wide range of technologies can be utilized to track indoors, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE), Ultrasonic, Computer Vision and more. But with geolocation set to become a more prevalent issue and analysts like Gartner forecasting billions of IoT-connected objects, it is important to find the right solution.

Radio frequency (RF) solutions for indoor tracking mostly use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons and tags that provide a solution with accuracy up to less than 1 meter and guarantee a low-power concept that maximizes the tags’ lifetimes. BLE is one of the most commonly used technologies for geolocation today, and it offers a decent level of precision. In order to address industrial environments, which can be quite complex, Orange developed its own solution based on BLE that is robust enough even in metallic industrial environments.

Making the right case with the right partner

As with all things digital and a complex ecosystem comprising several technologies and companies, it makes the most sense to have assistance in building your business case and choosing the tools that best fit the job. That requires working with the right partner who is able to understand the needs of the industrial environment and who has the appropriate IoT skills and know-how to address it. At Orange, we are building a wide portfolio of solutions backed by expert knowledge to address this.

But geolocation technology is not the only piece of the indoor tracking proposition. As with most IoT projects, a platform and business application are required, such as our innovative offering based on Live Object, our IoT platform.

In line with today’s need for agility and flexibility in digital transformation, it makes sense for industrial companies to use a platform that is technology-agnostic, allows the use of APIs and is user-friendly. The goal should be to make asset location as simple as possible.

Our approach has been endorsed already, with large customers having asked for several deployments in their factories and industrial sites.

Driving positive outcomes

Industrial companies need to focus on return on investment (ROI); they don’t want to waste a lot of time looking for tools and assets around their factory, so reducing time on this equals saving money.

Secondly, however, using geolocation also means being able to reduce the amount of money spent on both CAPEX and inventory. Digital solutions and indoor tracking tools enable better visibility of assets, which in turn, enables, via a small layer of intelligence, being able to predict where assets are in your factory, which protects your CAPEX and expenditure for the future. So indoor tracking using geolocation helps companies control and optimize costs.

Indoor tracking is one way that digital transformation is revolutionizing the way industrial companies operate. Reducing costs and streamlining operations always makes sense, and beyond that, you get to transform your digital solutions and new work practices into data – data that can be turned into valuable business insights. According to McKinsey, 68 percent of industrial companies consider digitizing the production value chain as their highest priority, so around two-thirds of companies are focusing on transforming their business operations. Indoor tracking is a great place to continue to grow.

Find out how Orange Business Services can help you choose the right indoor tracking solutions for your Industrial IoT projects.

Gregoire Thillaye du Boullay
Grégoire Thillaye du Boullay

Grégoire Thillaye du Boullay is Product Manager, IoT, for indoor tracking at Orange Applications for Business. He has a double Masters of Engineering degree in smart grids from CentraleSupelec and Xi’An Jiatong University, China.