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Leveraging location data to uncover the hidden factory


27 May 2014

By consuming location data in real-time and transforming it into visible, actionable information, Ubisense solutions reveal the ‘hidden factory’ and empower managers and executives to improve production processes, improve product quality, and automate key business processes to make their operations leaner and more efficient.

What does that actually mean? Well, here is one analogy that might help, and it’s all about location.

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to get from Point A to Point B, you probably pulled out a paper map of the region you were traveling in. You may have had to take some time to locate your start and end points if you weren’t already familiar with where things were. Then you would assess your various route options and plan the best possible route according to your priorities – fastest, shortest, most scenic, etc.

It was time consuming and somewhat risky. Your map probably didn't show road construction and if it was out of date your planned route may not have been the most efficient – newer, larger roads might have been built that would have been a better option had you known about them. If it was a long journey, the map may have had some service stations marked but for the most part finding places to stop or eat along the way was all part of the "mystery" and "adventure" of the fabled road trip.

Once you set off, you were never sure what was just around the corner. How many times did you sit for hours in bumper to bumper traffic because of an accident or road construction? How many greasy diners did you eat at, not knowing your favorite healthy restaurant franchise was just one mile away? Did you ever really know what ETA to give your anxious relatives waiting for you? Have you ever spent a nervous hour driving through the desert hoping to find a service station with the fuel gauge dropping lower and lower? I have.

Kids today have no idea what this was like – it is the 21st century equivalent of the "walked ten miles to school with no shoes" stories our grandparents told us. This is because today we have smart phones, and these phones are running location aware applications.

Have you ever thought about how many of the apps we use daily are using location data to make our lives better and easier? My phone lists dozens, including apps for fitness, bird watching, shopping, weather, public transportation, parking, and travel. Now when I want to take a road trip I load a crowd sourced navigation app. It offers me multiple route options to choose from and displays trip distance, time, and current traffic conditions along the way. It lets me send my ETA to a friend, and even provides a link for them to monitor my trip progress in real time. Other users enter information about traffic conditions, accidents, or hazards in the road in real time, and the app will offer me a new route to help avoid them.

All of this functionality makes travel much more efficient and pleasant than it used to be. It eliminates a lot of wasted time, effort, and energy by giving me all the information I need to make the right decisions according to my goals and preferences – and all in real time.

Ubisense Real Time Location Intelligence (RTLI) solutions are designed to bring the time and money saving features of these applications we all take for granted in our personal lives and apply them to business environments. Using the Smart Factory product set, manufacturers are able to answer important questions about the current state of production using information provided in real time.

The system consumes location data that can come from various sources – Ubisense sensors and tags, handheld barcode readers, passive RFID tags and readers, PLCs, and so on – and transforms it into business intelligence. Businesses who have invested in this technology are now able to understand the secrets that were previously hidden in the factory:

  • Where is Product123 right now?
  • How far through the production process is Product123? (Is it running on time?)
  • Are there any known quality issues on Product123? (Is it in rework?)
  • When is Product123 likely to be finished? (Is it at risk of exceeding the target production time?)
  • What tools have been used to assemble Product123? (Does this match the bill of materials for that product?)
  • What is the average time that products are spending in process step 4? (Is this in line with our performance goals?)
  • Does process step 4 take more time for some types of products than others? (Let’s look into why.)

Smart Factory includes a powerful rules and events engine that is able to monitor for specific situations and proactively alert production leaders to events they are interested in:

  • The Ageing WIP KPI is in danger of being exceeded for product123. (It needs to be prioritized.)
  • Workspace 4 can only accommodate three vehicles, but four have been parked there. (This carries an increased risk of paint damage.)
  • A vehicle with an unresolved electrical fault just entered the Pass to Sales area. (It must be repaired it before it leaves the site.)
  • A part that is vulnerable to corrosion has been in a workspace longer than it should be. (It must be protected to prevent scrap.)
  • Part123 just deviated from its defined production workflow. (It needs to get back on track.)

Smart Factory can add value to production processes on its own, or act as an ‘enabling’ technology augmenting existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), or Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) systems. It provides the location intelligence that takes manufacturers out of the age of paper maps and brings them into the age of smart applications. Just as technology as made travel safer and more efficient, Ubisense RTLI solutions make navigating your business more efficient and cost-effective. 

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