Asset tracking doesn’t have to be a nightmare. It can be a streamlined process that gives businesses a clear and constant picture of their assets and their status. All you need is the right tools.
By the end of this article, you’ll know:
- What asset tracking is
- The difference between asset tracking and inventory management
- Why asset tracking is important
- Common asset tracking tools
- How to develop and implement a simple asset tracking strategy
What is asset tracking?
Asset tracking is the process of tracking the location, condition, and status of physical assets.
Most often, asset tracking involves using some kind of unique identifier, like a barcode or GPS locator to track the equipment. It is one of the many components of enterprise asset management (EAM).
Think of asset tracking like a treasure map. If you have a map with well-documented indicators of where your assets are, and what they are, it will be much easier to keep track of them, and to keep them in good working order. Without the map — well, you may end up looking like this guy.
Examples of assets organizations may track range from industrial machines and essential equipment to IT assets like computers and even office furniture. The type of assets tracked vary across industries and organizations based on each company’s primary function and business needs.
What industries use asset tracking?
Any business can benefit from equipment tracking. If you have equipment that costs more than petty cash, it’s probably worth tracking. There are, however, certain industries that most commonly make use of asset tracking:
- Manufacturing: To keep track of equipment and machines for maintenance.
- Transportation, supply chain, and logistics: To provide a real-time view of fleets, deliveries, and unforeseen delays.
- Construction: All of the above, plus to prevent both small and large, expensive equipment on construction sites from theft.
What kind of information gets tracked?
There is a variety of information you can track on each asset, and it is up to you to decide which information is relevant for your business. Commonly tracked details include:
- Standard information about the asset (asset description, model)
- Usage history (to identify where, when and who used the asset)
- Asset location
- Asset identification items (serial numbers, RFID/barcode, etc.)
- Date of purchase and years in operation
- Maintenance history
- Asset depreciation
It will be different for every business. You and your team can decide which information is most important to track for your organization.
Inventory management vs. asset tracking
Inventory management and asset tracking are often confused. But they are not the same.
Inventory tracking is used for products that will be sold. For example, a light bulb manufacturer will have various lightbulbs in inventory that are eventually sold to make a profit.
Asset tracking, however, refers to machines and equipment used to make products — lightbulbs in the case of our example above. These items are not destined for sale, but are listed on the accounting ledgers as financial assets that depreciate over time.
Because assets are critical to making your inventory, your assets should be on a proactive maintenance plan using an asset management system.
Benefits of proper asset tracking
Having access to accurate, real-time asset information can determine whether a company is profitable or if it gets drowned in administrative procedures and inefficiencies. Let’s look at the key benefits of asset tracking.
Ensures adherence to regulatory requirements
A good asset tracking system will make it easier and more efficient to ensure regulations are met, minimizing your risk.
For example, a fire extinguisher should have an updated inspection certificate during specific time intervals in some companies. Without a proper asset tracking solution in place, knowing the location, number, and types of fire extinguishers on the property is complicated.
On the other hand, with an asset inventory management solution, it is much easier to stay in compliance with regulatory requirements.
Saves time and money
When done correctly, electronic asset tracking can:
- Provide real-time, systematic, accurate information and accountability
- Reduce financial, time, and efficiency losses
- Lower the likelihood of items being misplaced
- Lower administrative costs and paperwork errors
- Ensure that damaged assets are removed from the books
All of this translates to saved time and an improved bottom line.
Improves asset lifecycle monitoring
As time progresses, assets undergo wear-and-tear that changes their productivity levels. Asset tracking can help you monitor this inevitable process.
Knowing which assets are near the end of their useful life and which ones need routine maintenance helps lower the number of unplanned breakdowns and associated costs. It is much easier to have the “repair or replace” debate when you have an up-to-date overview of all of your assets and their condition.
Most common types of asset tracking systems and tools
Pen and paper or excel spreadsheets are not great ways to manage your business, at least not anymore.
Here is a list of specific software solutions and items (like asset tags and mobile apps) used for asset tracking.
RFID and barcode tags
RFID and barcodes are both a quick way to uniquely mark/identify an asset you want to track. They offer different capabilities.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) uses near-field technology (more on that next) to capture encoded data in smart labels or RFID tags affixed to an asset. It can:
- Read and update information about your assets
- Allow access to information from a few feet of distance, rather than inches
- Use a unique identifier for each individual asset
- Allow you to scan multiple RFID tags at once
Barcodes are simpler and cheaper, but also less powerful. They can:
- Read data, but cannot update data
- Scan items only from a few inches of distance, with a clear line of sight
- Allow you to scan only one label at a time
The main advantage of barcode scanning technology is that it is cheaper to implement as barcode labels are inexpensive to design and print. Barcode scanners are readily available and straightforward to use.
With either technology, scanning the tag with a mobile device allows you immediately access information about that particular asset. This technology has been developed for Android and iOS and is widely available.
Near Field Communication (NFC)
Similar to RFID, NFC lets you use your Android or iOS smartphone to track assets. Unlike RFID, NFC-enabled devices must be close (within inches) to the asset to get a reading.
NFC has been around for quite some time. If you’ve used a key card to access a building or room, you’ve used NFC.
The advantage of NFC is that you don’t need a highly specialized scanner to keep your system working. However, you need to be close to the asset to scan it, which does not allow for remote asset management.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
Bluetooth technology is everywhere these days, and if you want to track devices from a further distance, BLE is a good alternative.
Like NFC, it uses your smartphone but relies on Bluetooth to connect to tags attached to your assets. Once the tag is paired with your device, it can monitor signals as it moves. You can install a Bluetooth beacon to boost the accuracy of the tracking.
When it comes to asset tracking, this is a low-cost, low-energy solution that is highly scalable.
GPS asset tracking
Time, speed, and historical location data can be gathered through GPS asset tracking. The technology works by installing a tracking device on an asset followed by a satellite.
GPS is a great option used widely by industries where equipment theft is a big problem (such as the construction industry). It is also an essential part of many fleet management programs.
Fleet management and asset tracking software
Advanced asset tracking rarely comes as a standalone solution and is typically part of fleet management software.
Besides storing maintenance-related information about your fleet, it can connect to a tracking device installed on a vehicle that enables you to track the asset’s location at all times (alongside other user-defined information like fuel levels, usage, temperature, and humidity changes, etc.).
This is great when you have multiple teams on the ground that you need to manage remotely without the constant need for your team to check-in.
CMMS software (asset management software)
A CMMS is a software package specifically designed for maintenance management with features like planning and scheduling maintenance work, tracking spare parts inventory, work order management, and much more.
Asset management is a cornerstone feature of Limble. For instance, Limble tracks asset description, location, model, barcode, and more and prints QR codes for tagging and scanning.
The bonus of having a CMMS is that it automatically tracks maintenance history so you can know the status and health of a particular asset in just a few clicks. And it is scalable to more advanced monitoring: if you use condition-monitoring sensors, you can connect them with your CMMS and get real-time data about the health of your most precious assets.
Key features an asset tracking system should have
Many systems will offer some bells and whistles to make them more attractive to customers. Here are a few key features to focus on when looking for asset tracking software:
- Always on capability: Assets need to be tracked continuously to keep up-to-date records.
- The ability to run for an extended period: Assets used in the field need batteries and backup power to keep their management running as they cannot rely on a plug-in model to keep going. It’s good to have a warning of some sort when the battery is running low.
- Remotely upgraded: The last thing you want is to halt operations to run updates on asset software and systems. All updates need to be done remotely with as little downtime as possible.
- Data security: It is important that the data exchanged throughout your system is safe. This information will allow you to make real-time decisions that could save your company a lot of time and money in the future.
How to choose the right asset tracking system
Choosing the best asset tracking system for your business isn’t as simple as plug-and-play. You need to take the time to do your research and understand exactly what your business needs to monitor and analyze.
You want to include the key features we listed above. You may also want to think about things such as:
- Data tracking and auditing
- Management tools
- Reporting capabilities
- User onboarding and setup
The easier it is to upload assets and onboard teams, the better your asset tracking and overall management are.
With Limble, you can track anywhere from 1 to 1,000,000 assets. It’s so easy to use that teams can start using them on day one, with minimal training or setup.
How to create a reliable asset tracking strategy
Here are a few critical points to consider if you’re implementing a reliable and cost-effective asset tracking strategy.
Step #1: Prioritize critical assets
Make a list of all of your trackable assets.
After that, meet with your team and narrow the list down to your “top priority assets.” Top priority assets are costly to repair and replace, as well as those critical to business operations (they might not be particularly expensive, but people can’t perform their daily work without them).
Once you have distinguished between very important and less important assets, assess the type of budget you can allocate for asset tracking. You may need to further adjust your list.
Step #2: Choose an asset tracking method
Decide how you will keep track of your assets: GPS? Barcodes? Bluetooth?
The types of assets you select will determine which asset tracking method you use. For example, if you operate a logistics company, you may choose a GPS tracking tool to track your fleet. The same applies to renting equipment to a construction site.
On the other hand, if you are a manufacturing facility, you can have all the necessary information about your fixed assets inside your CMMS software. A proper CMMS should store everything from the location of the asset and serial numbers and operating manuals to asset description, warranty, and maintenance history.
Step #3: Perform a test run
Whenever you are trying something new, it’s not a bad idea to have a test run on a small sample. Implement the chosen method for one or two assets and establish a pilot timeframe. Once complete, see if you are satisfied with the scope of the information you tracked and how accurate the system was.
If something was off, make changes to your system and processes until you get what you want. When you are satisfied, implement the strategy on all other assets.
Some systems, like Limble, offer a self demo and a free trial so you can test the capability and overall experience before committing.
Step #4: Scale and optimize
Asset tracking is always a work in progress. Even after scaling up to all assets, check if other adjustments can be made for even better results.
After a while, you might need to track more information (or less information). Adjusting the system to meet your organization’s needs will be an ongoing process.
Asset tracking made easy
Are you tired of the old, time-consuming, and cumbersome excel or pen and paper method of asset tracking? Do you want to save money and increase asset productivity? It’s time to upgrade.
With an asset tracking system, you’ll quickly see the benefits of gathering real-time information about assets, whether you are in the transportation, manufacturing, health, or construction sectors. It will make your job a whole lot easier, too.
If you’re ready to take your asset management to the next level, contact the team at Limble and let’s figure out what will work best for you.
we are thinking of starting an asset tracking system at our residential care homes (beds, chairs, equipment, etc). can you send me any information that would help with this?
Hi Peter, we have an in-depth guide on asset inventory management you can take a look at: https://limblecmms.com/blog/asset-inventory-management/.
You should find more helpful info there.