What is RTLS? The term Real Time Locating System (RTLS) applies to a positioning solution that pinpoints the location of assets, tools, equipment, containers, people and other key items via constant communication between the system and the objects being tracked. Real time location tracking is designed to be local in nature. You can think of RTLS systems as GPS for indoors, providing enterprises with real-time visibility of people and objects within a building or other confined area. This local positioning is often made possible using RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to provide immediate information on precisely where things are and where they have been.
A variety of sensor technologies (active RFID, semi-active RFID, passive RFID, radio beacon, and others) can be employed in real time locating systems to achieve multiple levels of tracking, depending on your needs.
RFID tags are affixed to the objects or people you want to track. Fixed RFID readers and antennas are then installed throughout a warehouse or building to provide the necessary tag read coverage. Once the system is installed, connected and configured, the RTLS solution provides real-time visibility, normally via a map or GUI (Graphical User Interface) via continuous and automatic communication.
Source: CTsabre14 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Things to Consider
In some cases, you might need to track the precise locations of objects. Other times, it’s enough to know that an item is in a general area. RTLS solutions can be configured to report tag location at different levels of granularity. You can also configure an RTLS system to tell you when a tag passes through a specific door or other critical chokepoint.
It’s also worth noting that, although an RTLS system is capable of providing real-time information as often as you need it, the need for true real-time data is rare. For many common RFID RTLS applications, you just need to know something’s location when you need it. Why identify where something is every second when it only moves every few hours or days? In this case, updates every minute or hour would probably be sufficient, and you can configure your system accordingly.
A variety of sensor technologies (active RFID, semi-active RFID, passive RFID, radio beacon, and others) can be employed in real time locating systems to achieve multiple levels of tracking, depending on your needs. The objects being tracked, the layout of the environment, location accuracy required and other factors will heavily influence this decision.
RTLS in Action
Here are a few common ways RTLS technology is being used to improve productivity and customer satisfaction:
- Tracking automobiles through an assembly line.
- Locating pallets of merchandise in a warehouse.
- Item-level item tracking in a high-end retail location.
- Ensuring proper staff levels, such as guards at a detention facility.
- Identifying customers in a restaurant for food delivery or service.
- Locating shared-use medical equipment in a hospital.
According to a study conducted by VDC Research Group, Inc. in 2012, RTLS was being used in virtually every market to improve workflow and productivity. Here’s how location-based services are being leveraged by different industries:
Common RTLS Applications by Vertical Market
This list is by no means exhaustive. For many industries, RTLS provides one of the most effective and affordable means of measuring and seeing what’s going on operationally within an enterprise.
Deploying RTLS doesn’t have to be a complex, expensive and time-consuming process. If you focus your initial efforts on addressing one or two less complex business applications, you will have less risk and a lower resource commitment, will likely see measurable results more quickly, and will be able to determine the overall potential ROI for RTLS within your operations.
Have a use case in mind? Contact us to learn more about how RTLS can be used to support the specialized needs of your organization.