What is Asset Tracking and How Does it Work?

Customer satisfied by car delivery aided by asset tracking
March 23, 2023
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What is Asset Tracking

Asset tracking is one of the main use cases in IoT. But what are the different technologies involved, and what business value can asset tracking help uncover? This article will shed some light. Furthermore, it will address the topic of programmability and APIs, which allow companies to incorporate tracker data into their workflows and business systems.

What is asset tracking?

Asset tracking refers to the process of identifying and monitoring the movement of physical assets, such as equipment, tools, and machinery. This can be accomplished through the use of various active and passive technologies, such as passive RFID or NFC tags, or active GPS tracking devices with attached sensors for measurements of acceleration/temperature/light/etc., which are attached to the assets and provide real-time information about their location and status.

An asset tracker

Asset tracking is important for a variety of reasons. For one, it allows organizations to keep track of their assets and ensure that they are being used efficiently and effectively. For example, in logistics, companies can use asset tracking to monitor the movement of their delivery trucks and ensure that they are staying on schedule. In construction, asset tracking can be used to monitor the use and location of equipment, reducing the risk of theft or damage.

Asset tracking can also help improve inventory management accuracy, e.g., in retail, allowing organizations to easily see what assets they have on hand and where they are located. This can help prevent stock-outs and reduce unnecessary purchasing, leading to cost savings and increased efficiency.

Finally, asset tracking can also help to improve maintenance and repair processes. By providing real-time information about the condition and usage of assets, organizations can proactively schedule maintenance and repairs, reducing downtime and improving overall asset reliability.

Different types of asset tracking technologies

There are several different types of technologies in use for different types of asset tracking scenarios, including the use of barcodes, QR codes, RFID, NFC, GPS, and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). As mentioned before, we can distinguish between active and passive technologies, where the former proactively submit relevant information at regular intervals through an Internet connection, and the latter usually imply the scanning of nearby assets at fixed locations.

Barcodes and QR codes are the most economical options for asset tracking, or more specifically: inventory tracking.

Barcodes have been around for quite some time and have proven to be reliable in inventory tracking, however, the limitation of barcodes lies in the requirement of proper alignment with scanning devices in order to retrieve information. If the barcode tag is tampered with or damaged, the scanner will not be able to read it and the associated data cannot be retrieved. On the other hand, QR codes (short for Quick Response codes) are an advanced version of barcodes and are also used in advertising or marketing. QR codes were designed in 1994 for the Japanese automotive industry and have since become a popular tool for quick and efficient data retrieval.

Another option for inventory tracking is RFID technology. It uses radio waves to scan RFID tags and retrieve asset details, making it more efficient compared to barcodes. The main drawback of RFID technology is the relatively high cost of the tag reader. NFC enabled smartphones can also be used for scanning NFC tags, but they have a limited range and can only be used within a few inches.

In the area of active technologies for asset tracking, GPS is predominant. GPS tracking is primarily used for fleet management and tracking assets across the world. GPS trackers typically have a whole array of sensors onboard and actively transmit information about the asset’s whereabouts and current environmental conditions. Although GPS tracking provides efficient monitoring of assets, it requires a lot of energy compared to the passive inventory tracking techniques – GPS trackers are either battery-powered or have a wired connection to an energy source – and are not effective for indoor tracking. BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) is another option for accurate active asset tracking within a facility.

Whichever method for identifying the asset is used, the active asset trackers then submit any information gathered about the assets to some backend processing system, typically through the Internet. The most commonly used connectivity option for moving trackers is cellular connectivity. Cellular trackers use special IoT SIM cards to access a wide variety of networks for the best coverage in the regions the asset travels.

Integrating asset trackers into business workflows with APIs

Integrating asset trackers into existing business workflows is an important step in maximizing their benefits. By integrating trackers into existing systems, businesses can streamline operations and improve efficiency. For example, combining an asset tracker with telematics systems or fleet management software can provide real-time information on the location and status of vehicles, allowing dispatchers to redirect vehicles in response to changing conditions quickly.

APIs play an important role in the ability to integrate a tracker. Asset trackers with APIs offer several key benefits for businesses, including:

  • Customization: APIs allow businesses to customize the way that they use their asset trackers to a certain degree, allowing them to integrate them into their existing systems and workflows in the first place.
  • Data Sharing: APIs allow data from asset trackers to be shared with other systems, such as fleet management systems, inventory management systems, or accounting software. This can help provide a complete picture of an organization's operations and help to improve decision-making.
  • Automated Workflows: By integrating asset trackers with other systems through APIs, businesses can automate many of their workflows, reducing the risk of errors and freeing up staff to focus on other tasks.

Twilio Programmable Asset Tracker

Most software for asset tracking devices is generic by design, and thus never serves a use case precisely. For example, the tracking application:

  • produces data in frustrating data formats specific to each device
  • alerts whenever a temperature range is exceeded, while you only care about that for outbound shipping, not for returns
  • reports its location every hour, while your use case requires it every 5 minutes, but only when moving

All of this leaves potential efficiency gains unutilized.

To solve this problem, Twilio launched the first truly customizable asset tracker as an IoT solution toolkit: Twilio Programmable Asset Tracker – A high-performance asset tracking device and application that is complete and fully functional out of the box for a fast time-to-market while offering the highest possible degree of customizability of firmware and cloud integration.

Twilio Programmable Asset Tracker evolves and transforms as needed:

  • Evolves over time – as you can push firmware updates that improve the tracker’s performance
  • Transforms to entirely new use cases when needed – as you can push firmware updates whenever the type of asset changes

With this offering, Twilio helps asset owners in fields as diverse as Construction, Manufacturing, Utilities, Supply Chain, Automotive, Transportation & Logistics, Healthcare, or Food Production – as well as technology providers building asset tracking solutions for these or other industries. Twilio Programmable Asset Tracker gives both types of organizations a toolkit that works out of the box with a very fast time to market, and a framework for customizing the firmware without needing deep hardware or firmware expertise: any Web developer familiar with scripting languages can do the work. With firmware customizability, the offering goes beyond what APIs, as described above, can do on their own.

To explore Twilio Programmable Asset Tracker further, please visit https://twil.io/tracker.