What is asset tracking?

How does asset tracking work?

Asset tracking is used to track tangible, expensive assets that are integral to a working supply chain. It allows operators to keep a close eye on their companies’ goods, enabling them to precisely monitor their operations, evaluate their progress, and prevent potential loss or theft of assets. IoT enabled asset tracking allows companies to reduce their manual labor time, track assets in real-time 24/7, and streamline their day to day tasks more efficiently, all the while reducing the risk of human error.

Traditional asset tracking is getting a much-needed revamp?

Asset tracking or asset management is the task of tracking tangible (in most cases, also very costly) assets as they make their way through the supply chain. This allows companies to monitor their operations and progress precisely and prevents loss or theft of valuable assets. Up until recently, asset tracking has mostly been conducted manually, with internal staff, retail employees, logistics companies etc. scanning barcodes or QR codes to keep track of high-value items. However recent milestones in the IoT landscape have been a gamechanger, making fully automated, streamlined asset tracking, commercially feasible for many companies looking to protect their assets

Core elements for IoT asset tracking

Some of the asset management systems, specifically those tailored towards specific industries or use cases, feature different functionalities. However, all IoT systems used to manage assets include these three components:

  • IoT enabled tracking devices – These devices are typically the same as used in traditional asset tracking; however, they are IoT-enabled and typically have a longer battery life in order to reduce maintenance cost. The form factor of these devices also varies wildly depending on the use case. Some of them may need to be water-, shock-, or heat-proof. Some of these devices may only serve one purpose, like tracking the GPS location or specific RFID tags of parcels, while other devices may consist of multiple sensors, such as dash cameras of a fleet company’s vehicles.
    A connectivity protocol – In order for these devices to transmit their important datasets to the IoT network operator, they need to utilize a specific connectivity protocol. Just like the choice of devices, the connectivity protocol is also dependent on the individual use case of each company. Traditional cellular networks, such as 4G or 5G, with their low latency and high speed, may be ideal for transmitting real-time dashcam footage of domestic shipping trucks. However, the same company may decide to utilize an LPWAN, such as LoRaWAN® or LTE-M for their cargo ship’s GPS trackers, where long range and long battery life is much more important than bandwidth or latency.
  • Management platform – IoT network operators and fleet managers need to have a central platform installed that gathers and bundles all datasets transmitted by the IoT-enabled devices. This allows them to monitor device locations, access their gathered data, as well as the device’s error logs, which can be used to troubleshoot technical malfunctions.

Additional crucial features an IoT asset tracking platform should include

Companies deciding on an asset tracking solution should consider the following features before subscribing to a system:

Reliable 24/7 connectivity

With asset tracking as a use case, downtime is not tolerable as metrics tracked by your IoT enabled devices typically need to be transmitted continuously and reliably.

Long-lasting connectivity with low maintenance requirements

The fundamental purpose of deploying IoT enabled asset tracking devices is to reduce manual labor costs. However, this purpose is defeated if these devices require lots of maintenance, such as fixing bugs, updating their firmware manually, or switching out their batteries. Thus most devices and the connectivity protocol they utilize to transmit their data need to be power-efficient. In addition, IoT network operators should be able to update firmware remotely, as conducting these updates across different IoT devices belonging to many different fleets can be incredibly labor-intensive.

Sophisticated security features

Falsification of location data could result in the theft of high-value assets going completely unnoticed until it is too late. Companies need to be ensured, that data is recorded, encrypted, and transmitted securely and safely for a variety of reasons.

eSIMS in IoT asset tracking

While eSIMs are beginning to gradually replace traditional SIM cards in consumer technology products, such as smartwatches, tablets, and phones, they are already the gold standard for cellular M2M and IoT asset tracking.

eSIMs are able to switch between different network carriers without manual intervention; this makes them particularly useful for IoT asset tracking applications, where IoT enabled tracking devices typically cross a countries borders and travel across many different coverage zones.

European cars and smart car manufacturers use eSIMs to add unique functionalities to their smart cars. In Europe, the “eCall feature” was made mandatory by the European Union for every newly manufactured car. This means every new car in Europe is essentially equipped with an IoT-enabled asset tracking device used to make emergency calls.

What are the benefits of IoT asset tracking

Compared to traditional asset tracking, IoT enabled asset management has the following benefits:

  • Time-saving and less risk of human error – Traditional processes always rely on manual labor to some degree. Which is not only costly but also comes with the often unwanted baggage of potential human error.
  • Being able to track in real-time – Having a system that is connected 24/7 allows you to check a device’s location and its current condition anytime in real-time. This is particularly crucial for time-sensitive operations, such as security and recovery of asset theft.
  • More streamlined automation – Utilizing an IoT-enabled tracking system allows IoT network operators and fleet managers to automate individual processes along the supply chain.

IoT asset tracking use cases

IoT asset tracking can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some of the most prominent applications for IoT asset tracking technology are:

IoT asset tracking in healthcare

In medical fields and health care, IoT networks are frequently used to track expensive equipment and machines. In some cases, the asset being tracked is not an object, but a person or a patient. A person with an implanted diabetes management system, for example, is also an important asset, and these devices also transmit crucial data and may need to be updated in the near future.

IoT asset tracking in transportation

The most well-known and integral device in transportation asset management is undoubtedly the GPS tracker. It enables smart tracking of not just fleets of cargo ships, planes and trucks, but also allows micro-transport providers to track the location of their rentable e-scooters or city bikes, even if they get stolen and then transported across borders with different network coverage.

IoT asset tracking in manufacturing

In factories, IoT asset tracking is used to keep an inventory of warehouse resources and manufacturing equipment. QoS managers can use the IoT asset tracking platform to inform themselves about usage, device logs, efficiency, maintenance time, and potential downtimes.