RTLS use cases: where are real-time location systems used?

9 June 2021
Dominik Szczygieł
Dominik Szczygieł
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  • Intro

Improving efficiency is the main issue facing many businesses. Managers of companies today have to deal with the implementation of an increasing number of tasks while at the same time maintaining the quality of what they offer. New technologies are helping to achieve better work results, however. 

One area that has been gaining increasingly more attention is RTLS technology. What is it and how can it be used in business? Let’s take a closer look to find out.

What is a RTLS?

When it comes to traceability solutions, the keyword is an RTLS, which stands for real-time location system. It enables the location, identification, and supervision of an object in real-time. Basically, tracking different objects is easier when they are automatically identified.

In common RTLS implementations, wireless tags that send wireless signals to fixed reference points in order to determine their locations are attached to objects or worn by humans.

Tags and fixed points can be either transmitters or receivers. The flexibility of these devices permits many different possible combinations. Tracking can take place in any location, in either closed or open environments, allowing for optimization. The tracking process can be fully controlled, granting or restricting access depending on the location. 

In practice, RTLS technology allows the identification and location tracking of individuals and objects to be achieved with high accuracy within buildings, such as warehouses or production halls as well as hospitals or campuses, for example. These solutions enable organizations to track contributions more effectively, which helps them improve processes that are challenging to handle such as inventory management. 

Because of evolving demand on commercial markets, this technology is increasingly being integrated into business processes. It directly or indirectly influences competitiveness, improves interactions between entities, and enhances the overall quality of services provided, just to name a few benefits.

More benefits of real-time location systems can be found below. 

How does RTLS work, actually?

An RTLS is generally based on the use of battery-operated radio, optical, or acoustic tags attached to the objects or individuals that will be tracked. 

Importantly, RTLS technology is not only useful for locating objects but also for tracking individuals. Special RFID tags may not only be worn by people but can also be attached to objects that specific transmitters have been assigned to. The technology provides precise movement analysis. 

The signal emitted by transmitters, also known as tags, is picked up by sensors in the region monitored by the RTLS system. The technology used in this example is based on the so-called UWB. In other words, the transmitter produces radio waves that allow its position to be precisely pinpointed.

TDoA is a technique to analyze time differences between receivers using at least two sensors. The actual position of the transmitter is determined based on the information obtained from these sensors.

It is of course essential not to overlook one more integral part of the system, namely the software. It is this part that allows the constant tracking of objects and their movements.

RTLS how it works?
RTLS how it works?

RTLS benefits

The possibility of continuous monitoring

Knowing where resources or people are at any given time can provide many advantages to an organization.

Real-Time Location Systems are being implemented to address the needs of many companies. We are specifically speaking about manufacturing companies, transportation companies, and those that provide various services or need to be controlled. A near-constant need for monitoring various objects is evident here. The history of employee movements can be tracked by using RTLS monitoring software, which helps to reduce process errors.

Excellent precise and automation

RTLS provides high-quality communication. It can transmit through objects and walls and therefore has a remarkably long range. At the same time, it is extremely precise, pinpointing an individual or place to within a few centimeters.

In this scenario, manual arrangements are replaced with modern technology, which enables more rapid responses to changes or inaccuracies as well as automation of operations. RTLS systems automate tasks that used to be manual and error-prone by replacing outdated, inefficient solutions like spreadsheets.

Workflow optimization and automation

The key to success lies in a clearly visible flow of materials and people. Thanks to a real-time location system, the time in which this occurs can also be precisely calculated.

This solution can be beneficial for both efficient inventory management and effective human resource management. The utilization of RTLS infrastructure for production control and asset tracking enables optimizing processes and security.

Additionally, RTLS technology not only allows for the acceleration of operations but also helps with pinpointing and diagnosing problems that impede them. In this way, we can improve the speed of service. 

By providing them control over their work instruments, it improves the ergonomics of the job and the efficiency of employees on the line. Furthermore, it prevents employees from performing incorrect operations at their workstations.

The data is continuously collected and analyzed, allowing for such analyses to be completed at any time, either regularly or according to company personnel’s convenience, and can be reviewed by internal or external authorities.

Industries that use RTLS

E-commerce & retail

Retail and e-commerce are two industries that can take advantage of the benefits of RTLS.
Retail and e-commerce are two industries that can take advantage of the benefits of RTLS.

Retail and e-commerce are two industries that can take advantage of the benefits of RTLS. In brick-and-mortar stores, RTLS mechanisms are increasingly used so as to simplify and shorten the purchasing process. One example is the so-called „intelligent shopping basket” into which items are inserted and the machine takes care of scanning and adding them to the order. People are no longer needed to manually scan products, so the human element is minimized. Additionally, RTLS is employed in smart self-service stores (after a series of prototypes, increasingly more such stores are being placed in cities). Sensors are built into the warehouse to help the system determine the appropriate locations to place the goods. So when adding goods to the warehouse, we do not need to enter them manually into the system because the sensors take care of that.

Prison system

RTLS may also be utilized in the prison system. 

The RTLS can act as a basis for the creation of an integrated monitoring system that exploits a wearable component capable of keeping track of the location of vulnerable prisoners.

In most cases, this is done via a magnetic strip, which allows one to determine location with nearly 100 percent accuracy. So it enhances levels of physical security and surveillance in prison systems.

With the right RTLS system, prisons will have the ability to track prisoners and secure the location of each. This would be useful for ensuring security in prisons or house arrest when the movement of the inmate is limited. 

Additionally, location tracking provides real-time alerts to prevent jail groups from forming, which can enhance the safety of staff and detainees. Based on movement patterns, prisoner information can be used by staff to distinguish which detainees tend to move together in groups, forewarning them of potential or impending incidents.

Industrial & Logistics

The RTLS provides a complete overview of the entire process and product flow as well as the ability to locate the product at any given point in the process.
The RTLS provides a complete overview of the entire process and product flow as well as the ability to locate the product at any given point in the process.

The RTLS provides a complete overview of the entire process and product flow as well as the ability to locate the product at any given point in the process. RTLS facilitates this at the production, storage, and distribution stages. It is further possible to identify what they came in contact with if the location of products also includes substances contained within the entire production process.

The use of RTLS in a factory or warehouse reveals the benefits of effective production management and supply chain management. The user has access to up-to-date information on the location of a given product and can therefore manage items in real-time thanks to proper integration with ERP or WMS systems.

RTLS technology improves inventory management for manufacturers, allowing them to maintain more efficient factories and warehouses. Real-time alerting enables companies to ensure that their equipment is well maintained, thereby reducing the total cost of ownership.

Automotive & Assembly

Also in the automotive industry, RTLS can be used to enhance business processes.
Also in the automotive industry, RTLS can be used to enhance business processes.

Also in the automotive industry, RTLS can be used to enhance business processes. By using a real-time location system, processes can be tracked in real-time to provide the 3D locations of cars and tools. This eliminates the need for barcode scanning and improves efficiencies and quality throughout the assembly process.

This real-time tracking of cars on the production line allows for easier management of their positions so they can be moved forward. This may also be a useful way to identify problems: alerts can be set up for vehicles that have not moved for some period of time or that fail to meet set performance metrics. 

This can be sufficient to address a minor issue before it becomes more complicated to treat as it impacts other workstations later on. 

By avoiding delays and failing to prioritize certain orders, general plant efficiency becomes enhanced. And it is essential for warehouses and production sites to keep track of inventory and components that are located throughout huge facilities. RTLS just makes it easier.

Other industries

  • Travel & transport: trace the whereabouts of vehicles, optimize train schedules and plans, improve fleet optimization and tracking, monitor vehicle movement patterns to alleviate traffic.

  • Mining & construction: besides tracking employees’ workplaces for safety purposes, measures can be taken to track tools and individual parts of structures or construction machines as well as metrics related to mining.

  • Healthcare & pharmaceutical: Temperature and lab conditions can be monitored to ensure optimal product and medicine quality.

  • Leisure & tourism: Restaurants and hotels can locate employees to contact. Sensorized laundry tags can also alert staff in advance of an asset leaving the building, thereby maximizing asset utilization and eliminating the loss of room belongings. Also, all staff may use a customizable call button on their badges for improving safety in the event of an emergency.

However, the potential benefits and uses of RTLS aren’t restricted to just a few industries; they are almost unlimited.

RTLS in the times of Covid-19

Achieving automation of processes through RTLS is a significant step toward optimizing hospital resources. It speeds up a medical organization’s ability to deliver care and enhances productivity.

And this became even more important in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Covid-19 has left a lasting impression on healthcare, both during the pandemic and as a consequence of it. Healthcare institutions have returned to provide some non-emergency medical care and regular checkups, but they must remain attentive to coronavirus activity nevertheless. 

Healthcare has already been using IoT technology in some way, especially with regards to technologies that give accurate location information. Real-time location systems (RTLS) are also making other healthcare management areas a little easier to navigate. 

With the ability to track medical equipment within facilities, it is possible to reduce the costs and time associated with their manual search, loss, or even theft. Additionally, thanks to the effective management of beds and equipment, hospitals are able to manage their resources better.

An additional solution is to find out who has been exposed to Covid-19 by tracking contacts in real-time so that the number of cases of infection can be reduced. The same is true in terms of tracking high-risk patients and keeping them protected against a pandemic.

Additionally, an RTLS can allocate human resources efficiently, ensuring that each department is properly staffed to provide patients with top quality, prompt care.

Over to you

Businesses across different industries can utilize RTLS technology to improve their processes. The primary purpose of RTLS applications is to improve operational processes, workflows, security, inventory management, or some combination. In addition to well-known industries such as e-commerce or logistics, RTLS is making waves in prison systems and non-standard leisure businesses. A variety of factors can cause an organization to face challenges such as resource waste, errors, and even potential employee accidents. Real-time location services can help solve these issues. There is much more to it than just a trend to watch.

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