Asset Tracking: An Introduction to a Key IIoT Application

Jan 28, 2021 | blog, IoT, iiot

Asset Tracking: An Introduction to a Key IIoT Application

One of the best things about working for Corvalent in Industrial IoT (IIoT, the commercial, big brother of consumer-grade IoT) is that I get to work on so many different kinds of problems, and I can generally respond positively to inquiries because our CAT-APM (Connected Assets Technologies-Application Performance Monitoring) software is so flexible. As a former Engineer, it’s…fulfilling.

A year ago, I along with many other people claimed that Predictive and Preventive Maintenance was the “killer application” for IIoT. The ability to monitor assets such as oil and gas wells, wind turbines, industrial machines on the factory floor, medical equipment, defense equipment, and dozens of other asset types allows us to be able to build predictive models using modern statistical analysis so that we can predict and hopefully prevent downtime, loss of production, and expensive repairs out in the field during inconvenient times.

I still believe that this is a key application for IIoT.

I have found, however, that we are getting more and more traction in another IIoT type of application: Asset Tracking. Knowing the physical position (location) of an asset that can be moved has proven to be a key concern of companies big, medium, and small. Some of our customers are facing “loss”, a polite word for what amounts to plain old theft. Some, literally, are struggling to locate where key machines and equipment are located, and the absence of that equipment can cost them a lot of money in buying replacements that should not have to have been replaced.   If a production line depends on this equipment, money is lost not only in buying a replacement, but in lost downtime.

Corvalent started down this Asset Tracking road by designing and implementing the tracking of fracking trucks. These expensive assets are used to produce oil and gas in many fields in the world, and these trucks tend to – well, it can only be called “shake themselves apart.” Fracking is a pretty violent activity, and trucks break (implementing predictive maintenance on these is a big win). But to add to our energy-producing friend’s woes, some of these trucks were ending up in Mexico – where they were not supposed to be.

Our CAT—APM solution was one of the first industrial IoT software systems to be able to track assets in a map view, and to offer true heterogeneous asset tracking (meaning we can track any kind of asset at the same time in the same software system). We can monitor, track, and manage (alerts, notifications) these and set up different kinds of rules for any kind of asset.

To do this, we turn to technologies such as Bluetooth Beacons, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), even ultra-wideband technologies as well as the tried-and-true GPS for outdoor positioning (see the Info-Box, “Asset Tracking: What’s in an Acronym?”). We have also found that the old belief that “people are your most important asset” rings true when you’re trying to make sure employees are where they are supposed to be, doing the work you hired them to do (as opposed to, say, cat-napping on the job). Our Asset Tracking system also includes the euphemistically obtuse “Human Capital Tracking”, but don’t be alarmed: we’re only tracking people on the job, not in their personal life.

Assets being tracked are, by the very nature of the application’s purpose, mobile. People are, too. They move around indoors, they move from indoors to outdoors, and if you combine Asset Tracking with Monitoring, you can also see the condition of the asset’s functions, such as the battery health or the battery state of charge (to use on example). Telemetry is married to key performance indicators, and ascertaining who has the asset (who is signed in, for example, to a notebook computer, a tablet PC, or another expensive mobile asset) is easily monitored all at the same time. Maintenance can be automatically scheduled based on metrics, and notices can be sent to remind the user to get the asset to the maintenance depot or charging place before an asset has to be carried, not working, back to the shop.

The recent story of how someone broke into the Speaker of the House of Representative’s office and attempted to steal her notebook computer to sell to the Russians informs us all that what is stored, or able to be copied and stored, on mobile computers of all types is valuable. Often confidential and/or secret, it is a target of all kinds of nasty people – from ransomware hackers to intellectual property thieves. CAT-APM’s ability to track any kind of asset anywhere on this planet can really help put a halt to “in the front-door, out the back-door” asset theft.

A number of companies in the IoT and IIoT business try to make this seem complicated, because they’re trying to sell you software systems that you have to set up, program, and/or provision. They may call it “no code” or “low code”, but that doesn’t make it easy to implement, test, and operationalize IIoT.

Corvalent takes a different path: rather than try to teach you how to use complicated software authoring tool systems (even if they are “drag and drop”, they can be complicated!) we provision and test every complete system in our factory before it is sent to your location, where one of our talented and certified Partners can install and implement the system easily – all without using your own resources.

Have you ever tried to put together a play set for your kids? It can take hours and the instructions, even if they are in English, seem like Mandarin (those of us that speak Mandarin are excused if they say, “yeah, and?”). We want to provide complete, turn-key solutions that don’t force you to learn complicated software – or programming, or sequencing. We strive to make our Asset Tracking software easy to use and integrated with our other IIoT asset monitoring, which means you don’t have to pay more for different “applications” if you want to do different things with CAT-APM. Contact me directly or through our website if you want a demonstration.



Asset Tracking - What's in an Acronym?

Asset tracking is the generic term for monitoring the location and the status of any type of asset, whether indoors or outdoors. It seeks to solve the question, “where is my equipment, and what condition are they in?” Sometimes IoT (Internet of Things) and Industrial IoT (IIoT) people use the term “Real Time Locating Systems” (RTLS), but this is both a general term and also by definition means “in real time” (meaning continuously). This can be erroneous, because many assets only need to “check in” with the IoT system every so often (say, twice a day, once an hour, and so on). Another term used is simply “Location Based Service” (LBS), which is a general term that not only includes using software and hardware to find the assets, but also mobile commerce (for example, using your personal location on your mobile phone to detect if you are near a particular store, and beaming coupons and offers to your phone. This is not considered IoT or IIoT. A subset of LBS can be IPS (Indoor Positioning System), which is a term used for tracking assets indoors and not using the Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) to do it (indoors it can be difficult to get signals from the GPS satellites).

A lot of companies make this much more complicated than it needs to be. They create software that you have to use to set up a system, attach sensors, pipe the data into dashboards, and a dozen other things before you can deploy and get a return on investment. Not Corvalent. Find out why we make it simple and make it work for you.


In my next Blog entry, I will discuss the various technologies used in RTLS / LBS / IPS, the various tradeoffs, and why if you choose to contact Corvalent you won’t have to develop this software or hardware yourself. You shouldn’t have to be an Industrial IoT expert to get into this lucrative business. We even have Partners that can help install and provide support for your customers. Turn-key problem-solving? It’s what we do best.

Contact Corvalent and let’s have a conversation.

 

 

About the Author

Alan R. Weiss
Alan Weiss is the Industrial IoT Business Unit Manager and Head of the IIoT B.U. at Corvalent. His 30+ years in software, hardware, silicon, and systems engineering has led him to one of the most fascinating fields in computing today, the hardware/software business known as IIoT, where his 12+ years architecting, developing, deploying, and monetizing IoT has provided great insights. Contact him at Alan.Weiss@corvalent.com

SUBSCRIBE FOR UPDATES