Whether it's a few hundred or few thousand, almost every organization has tracking needs. From life-saving medical equipment to business-critical IT equipment, businesses across industries have a common need to track their expensive tangible assets.
Businesses using large physical assets are at risk for theft and unauthorized use. They need to know where each asset is at all times to ensure effective utilization. And they need to know pertinent maintenance information to guide decision-making.
Lost products and equipment represent more than an inconvenience; they are a glaring profit liability. However, reliable asset tracking can quickly become labor-intensive if companies don’t have the right solution.
This is where asset management comes in.
Let’s define asset tracking and review a few common types of asset tracking technology to provide businesses multiple cost-effective avenues to track and protect their expensive assets.
What is Asset Tracking?
Asset tracking, also referred to as asset management or asset monitoring, is a process that uses a system of hardware and software to capture information about tangible assets. Asset tracking collects asset information ranging from:
- Product name
- Equipment type
- Usage and engine hours
- Maintenance schedule
Asset management solutions are applicable across industries and various use cases, anywhere from fixed assets such as warehouses to smaller assets such as printers and copiers.
Here are a few types of assets companies can track with an asset management solution.
- IT equipment
- Industrial tools
- Fleet vehicles
- Medical equipment
Key Benefits of Asset Management
Asset management helps companies maintain a competitive advantage in their industry, providing data-driven insights to optimize operations and inform decision-making. Here are some of the extensive benefits of digitized asset management.
- Bolster data security
- Extend asset lifecycle
- Enhance customer service
- Reduce administrative costs
- Improve regulatory compliance
- Increase visibility and prevent loss
- Receive valuable, data-driven information
- Improve theft deterrence and simplify insurance claims
Common Types of Asset Tracking Technologies
There are many different types of asset tracking technologies on the market today to cater to specific business needs. Each asset tracking technology has its benefits as well as its shortcomings. Some of the most common types include:
- Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
- Ultra-wideband (UWB)
- LPWAN technologies
Let’s dive deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of two of the most common asset tracking technologies: barcodes and RFID.
Barcodes are an economical, reliable, and effective way to track and identify physical assets. Compared to RFID, barcode tracking only requires a few components, including barcodes, a barcode scanner, and asset tracking software.
With barcode asset tracking, a unique barcode is assigned to each fixed asset. Fixed assets are tangible pieces of equipment or property a company uses to generate revenue. When fixed asset barcodes are scanned, the asset tracking platform can provide the location of the item, the SKU number of a specific product, and other important attributes ranging from:
- Maintenance history
- Maintenance schedule
- Check-in/check-out status
- Videos and voice notes
- Other records relevant to the item
Remember that 1D barcodes can typically only store 20-25 characters of data. While this may be suitable for inventory management applications, it may be a barrier for organizations that need to store more asset data.
Barcode tracking is considered a passive asset tracking method since an asset’s barcode needs to be manually located and scanned before the asset tracking platform can update with the asset’s current location. While this method does involve manual scanning, it is typically cost-effective and easy to implement as it requires little training.
A barcode asset tracking system is suitable for businesses tracking a few inexpensive assets whose priority is the asset’s location rather than collecting data for analysis. While barcode scanning can be applied to most industries, barcode stickers in harsh environments such as industrial facilities can wear down and become damaged, making it difficult for scanners to read. Heavy-duty barcode labels printed via a high-end digital label printing press are a viable option to compensate for harsh environments.
Barcodes are typically used in the following industries:
Here are a few barcode asset tracking advantages and disadvantages:
- Small and lightweight
- Cost-effective and more affordable than RFID
- Capable of tracking a substantial amount of assets with no theoretical limit
- Must be within line of sight
- Prone to human error
- Requires labor-intensive manual scanning and searching
- Doesn’t provide real-time status or location
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology enables users to automatically identify and track multiple physical assets at a time, even those that are out of sight. RFID tracking has a reading range between a few centimeters to over 20 meters, depending on the type.
This asset tracking system uses radio waves to track tagged items. RFID asset tracking systems consist of three components:
- RFID tags
RFID tracking uses a high-power reader - a portable network-connected device - to transmit high-frequency radio signals to battery-free RFID tags. The tags, which contain an integrated circuit and an antenna, then send a coded message back to the reader at a different frequency, converting the radio waves to a more usable form of data. Data collected from the tags are automatically transferred to a host computer system with asset tracking software that stores the collected information. This tracking system differs from barcodes since no direct line of sight is needed to read a tag.
RFID is typically more expensive than a barcode asset tracking system due to the expense of the tag reader but is more efficient and provides automated data collection. Remember that, unlike the barcode system, an RFID system will take more time to implement and require personnel training.
An RFID asset tracking system is suitable for businesses tracking many expensive assets. It enables users to manage assets in real-time and view which employee last handled an asset and when it has been serviced. RFID tracking technology is commonly used in the IT industry to help businesses track computers, servers, printers, and other expensive office equipment.
RFID asset tracking systems are typically used in the following industries:
- Industry and logistics
- IT and technology tracking
- Location and condition monitoring
- Fuelling automation
- Animal identification
It is essential to keep in mind that there are multiple types of RFID tracking systems - active, semi-passive, and passive - each with its benefits and drawbacks. Here are a few general RFID asset tracking advantages and disadvantages.
- Reusable and durable
- Contains more asset information
- Doesn't require a direct line of sight to read a tag
- Reads data from long distances
- View and manage assets in real-time
- Automatically collect data, reducing the risk of human error
- Scan multiple items at once
- Can be programmed for specific usage
- Stored data is encrypted for increased security
- Time-consuming implementation
- More expensive than barcodes
- May require equipment upgrades to ensure compatibility
- Materials such as liquid and metal may interfere with data transmission
Factors to Identify the Right Asset Tracking Technique for Your Use Case
Determining which asset tracking technology to use will mainly depend on how many assets there are and what information needs to be tracked, such as asset information and real-time location.
Regardless of the use case, businesses should understand a few general parameters to help them make an informed decision. Here are some factors to keep in mind when determining which asset tracking technology is best suited for a particular use case:
- Asset mobility
- Location accuracy
- Tracking frequency
- Line of sight
- Location restrictions
- Ease of deployment
Protect Your High-Value Equipment with an Asset Tracking System
Lost products and equipment translate into lost revenue and reduced customer satisfaction. A digitized asset management solution removes the inefficiencies of tracking valuable assets manually and replaces them with a system that provides a higher degree of control and visibility.
Businesses ready to replace their outdated and complicated manual asset tracking processes should partner with an experienced managed service provider to implement a software-driven solution capable of tracking high-value equipment using RFID or barcode technology.