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Why battery life holds the key to asset tracking success

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Dr Mohsen Mohseninia, vice president of market development Europe at Aeris

The Internet of Things (IoT) market is expanding at an exponential rate and is expected to grow to $520 billion by 2021.

Developments in connectivity and greater IoT adoption has also seen another market thrive – asset tracking.

Applying IoT to the ever-increasing number of assets tracked across the globe has meant that the asset tracking market is set to reach $32 billion by 2024, growing at 14.9% CAGR.

In addition to this, the growth of cold chain supply chains means that asset tracking is increasingly needed by food manufacturers to monitor cargo conditions from source to destination to estimate delivery times accurately, as well as monitor things like temperature control.

Similarly, asset tracking is incredibly useful in the case of just-in-time production.

Having the ability to access information about where an item is within the production process at any given time means that the entire way the production line works has changed.

Managers can gain updates in real-time, meaning they have better visibility of the process, ensure speed and efficiency, and ultimately improve customer service.

Moving to tracking the cargo itself

Asset tracking can be a slightly disjointed process. For example, with a shipment of food across mainland Europe, the cargo will most likely be transported by various trains, lorries and vans.

This means monitoring an asset’s location requires tracking across three types of transport, which can be both costly and cumbersome.

Now, many organisations have started to overcome this by attaching tracking devices to the cargo itself. 

Tracking the cargo, rather than what it is being transported in, ensures that it can continue to transmit data throughout its journey regardless of how many different types of transport it takes.

A carrier agnostic SIM inside the tracker, which can switch between carriers according to signal strength, can then ensure a seamless transmission of data.

This solution not only minimises the chances of data outage, it also means that that the device won’t be automatically steered towards the original carrier’s preferred supplier when it crosses countries, rather it will be connected to the best connectivity option. 

As well as tracking the location of cargo, manufacturers are using asset tracking devices to monitor many different variables.

For example, the food manufacturing industry – which understandably has strict safety regulations – uses trackers to monitor conditions as well as traceability.

This is especially important when you consider that the cargo in this instance is highly sensitive to the conditions in which it is transported.

Similarly, some goods may need to be monitored for changes in light or humidity.

A pharmaceutical company that is transporting medicine can use an asset tracking device to report on environmental changes in order to help ensure the chemical composition of the medicine is not compromised during transit.

In the critical scenario of organ and blood transportation, accurate monitoring is vital.

In addition to monitoring temperature and other environmental variables, tracking enables vital minutes to be saved.

It is possible for the delivery company to geofence a hospital, enabling an automatic alert to be sent as soon as an organ arrives, or even when it is close to arrival, helping to ensure hospital staff are on hand to collect the delivery.

Overcoming the power problem

Like with any market, asset tracking comes with its own set of challenges, one of the main ones being battery power.

In order for a device to regularly transmit information about its location and variables it needs sufficient battery power and this can be a critical issue, especially if that asset is travelling a long distance and regular readings need to be taken in order to determine its location.

For example, every time a device runs a GPS location check, it puts a strain on battery life.

Extending the battery life can mean that you can extend the ability to track an asset more frequently and/or for longer.

Similarly, if a tracker attached to cargo runs out of battery, this can cause a multitude of issues in industries and processes where constant monitoring is critical – for example, when transporting medicines or even an organ transplant.

This becomes even more important when taking the entire supply chain into consideration.

Suppliers need to ensure they can build a solution that can enable wide scale tracking and traceability of potentially millions of assets from source to destination without exhausting battery power.

By implementing a solution that uses IoT, anyone in the supply chain that has the authority to access tracking information can do so quickly and efficiently without using the same power as with a GPS tracking system.

Manufacturers can bypass the need for power-draining and costly GPS location checks, through communication with cellular towers and triangulation.

Reducing the power required for a tracking device to reveal its location can extend battery life significantly.

This means that a lower powered, more cost effective, battery can be used.

The cost of a battery can range from £3 to £30 depending on your requirements.

When you consider a battery is typically a third of the cost of the device and the sheer scale of many deployments, such a saving is not inconsequential.

The growth in assets, initiatives and laws across many industries are all driving a greater requirement for effective asset tracking, and the increasingly connectedness across systems, across sectors, is further fuelling this trend.

Making asset tracking devices as energy efficient as possible will enable providers to offer more for less, and take advantage of this growing sector.

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