If there's one thing a poor equipment maintenance strategy guarantees every time, it's unplanned downtime, which, according to recent estimates, can cost a business hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour. While routine asset inspections can mitigate that, gone are the days when the best such plans involved engineers wandering about facilities or plants looking for the right item to repair, without prior knowledge of its location or status. Advanced technology is changing all that, and it's impacting how companies in healthcare, education, manufacturing, construction, government, nonprofits, and other industries are conducting routine equipment inspections, enabling them to save time, money, and mission-critical assets while at it.
The Architecture of a Typical, Modern Asset Tracking System
Today, several different types of asset tracking systems are available to firms looking to align their planned or preventive inspection programs with their industries' best practices. Such technologies may differ in costs, technical specifications, or infrastructural constitution. But the architecture of the most efficient and agile of these tools has the following core components or features:
- SaaS Software: This feature eliminates the need to use pencils and paper to record asset information during repair or routine inspection. It also automates the scheduling of maintenance and inspection. For example, engineers use digital data entry forms to feed asset condition information into a centralized database. Also, the software provides a quick way to pull asset maintenance history.
- Database: It stores all asset status and maintenance records for future reference. A centralized database enhances collaborations among technical staff and other employees that interact with the assets in question.
- Tagging System: There has to be a way to identify each asset, which is where tags come in. There are several such systems in the market, including Quick Response (QR) Codes, Bluetooth Low Energy, RFID (radio-frequency identification), and Near Field Communication (NFC). The setup is incomplete without tag/label readers or scanners, which can capture equipment identity as well as location information. A tagging mechanism is the most crucial component of any asset tracking system for routine inspections.
- Mobility: Field technicians need mobile devices, such as smartphones, to enter asset repair data remotely. These devices can also function as equipment label readers.
- Connectivity: All the technological components deployed for routine asset inspection need a way to communicate or transfer information. The most common connectivity options in this application are the internet and WiFi.
- Cloud: It hosts the system's centralized database--a crucial resource for the asset management software. It facilitates remote access to tagged equipment information in real time from any location with an internet connection.
- GPS: Not all tracking systems are GPS-enabled. However, having the feature is advantageous in that it enables inspectors to find mobile equipment or devices in real time. For example, smartphones that read asset information encoded in QR codes can provide identity and location data at the same time.
The Role of RFID in Managing Regular Asset Inspections
A radio-frequency identification or RFID tag (whether active or passive) has a microchip (for processing) and an antenna for transmitting asset location and identity data to a scanning device via radio waves. Active RFID technology may also report on equipment status and condition (such as temperature). However, the system is better suited to tracking fixed assets within restricted spaces. Some of the industries or sectors using RFID to monitor items are warehousing, retail, medical, and manufacturing.
When linked with a cloud-based asset management portal, RFID can facilitate the search for equipment using an internet-enabled device. Inspection personnel may also use handheld scanners to locate apparatus as they walk around confined environments, for example, a hospital. In that case, handheld RFID readers display asset location data in real time.
The main issues with RFID are costs and the lack of GPS capability. For instance, this RFID reader costs $2,795, and the entire system is much more expensive per scanner. If a manufacturer were to acquire it to track their assets for routine inspections, they'd have to mind the number of such devices required within the factory to provide optimal location granularity. In some scenarios, adding GPS-tracking capabilities to the already costly RFID infrastructure would likely beat the purposes of automating asset inspection workflows, which include saving money.
Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons for Managing Routine Asset Inspections
Some companies are deploying BLE beacons to track assets within indoor environments. In operations like warehousing, logistics, or manufacturing, the technology is helping enhance the visibility of both low-value and high-value assets.
With the integration of BLE asset tracking technology and SaaS in the cloud, technical staff can feed equipment status or condition data into system processes for inspection, repair, or maintenance. The employees use Bluetooth-enabled devices for the task.
There are different ways to set up a BLE beacon system for tracking equipment in a business or industrial setting. In one such setup, a facility has several proximity zones with permanently-attached BLE receivers. Each device is continuously scanning its area of deployment for BLE signals, and it detects tagged assets as they move in and out of the space.
After detecting and identifying an asset, the BLE receiver sends this information to a cloud database via the internet or WiFi. Inspection managers may then search the SaaS database for the last scanned location of items up for scheduled inspections or safety compliance audits, such as a fire extinguisher. Inspectors don't have to use their smartphones to locate assets in this specific scenario. However, they'll be working with approximate location information.
Usually, Bluetooth technology offers a maximum range of 100 meters. That's why it's not ideal for the remote, real-time tracking of assets that move long distances regularly. Another potential issue is the cost of setting up BLE beacons infrastructure to cover as much ground as possible in a massive facility.
How QR Codes are Changing Routine Asset Inspections
QR codes are transforming the way enterprises, schools, manufacturers, nonprofits, construction contractors, governments, and other organizations are tracking assets for regular inspections. Supervisors or inspectors are using the technology to locate and determine the status of high-value equipment while performing routine walk-through observations.
In healthcare, for example, smart QR code scanners and tags attached to devices like bladder scanners, blood pressure monitors, or wheelchairs provide a superior level of intelligence by facilitating the capture and transmission of data to a central, cloud-based database. The technology impacts planned asset inspections in many industries in the following positive ways:
1. Simplifying Data Capture and Inspection Procedures
A typical QR code tracking package includes a cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) component, which offers the means to record equipment status data electronically, on site. The software provides data entry forms that field technicians may access remotely via smartphones. With the tool, these employees can update a secure cloud-hosted database with the latest information on asset repairs.
When onsite supervisors locate equipment during a routine inspection exercise, they need as much information as possible about its maintenance history. In the past, the process of determining what asset needs servicing, what type of service is required, and when to schedule a repair used to be both tedious and time-consuming. Today, that information may be available in the cloud, and inspectors can search and retrieve it anytime from any location with an internet connection.
The process is as simple as scanning a tool's QR label with a smartphone. Here are some of the asset details accessible in real time via QR Codes technology:
- Previous defects (and any recurring pattern of breakdown)
- Last registered point and time of use
- Last maintenance operation and date
- Safety compliance information
- Asset manual and validation data (for example, an inspector may assess a device as faulty if its temperature is higher than a standard indicated on the manual)
2. Optimizing Personnel's Productive Time
Engineers or technicians can count on QR code scanning technology to automatically capture and reveal the location of tagged devices of interest. The scanners transmit data to a database in the cloud so that the staff can search for and locate the equipment they want to maintain in seconds. Typically, a user types a device's ID in a software search box to pull relevant information about it. The technology saves a great deal of time wasted looking around a facility for a device whose whereabouts is unknown.
3. Monitoring Contracted Repair/Maintenance Services
QR labeling gives inspection managers the right tool for tracking the performance of outsourced asset repair and maintenance services. It provides full visibility into historical tagged asset data, revealing where a device is or how long it has been in a specific area awaiting or during scheduled repair or cleaning. Such an audit trail can help supervisors determine whether or not third-party contractors are taking adequate time to fix broken assets.
4. Auto Reminders
Organizations can create custom notifications to remind supervisors when assets are due for planned inspection or maintenance. The system gets it right every time because it preserves the maintenance history of each device or equipment.
5. Prolonging Equipment Life and Avoiding Major Failure
Integrating QR code tagging systems with SaaS can play a considerable role in proactive or preventive maintenance programs, helping extend asset life and avoid potentially costly major failure. That's because the technology gives inspectors a comprehensive view of all company machinery. Therefore, relevant supervisors are privy to the location and maintenance history/schedules of all devices. Thanks to full visibility into all company assets, it's difficult to inadvertently overlook potentially faulty equipment and let it run to failure.
How do companies respond in the event of missing mission-critical equipment that requires urgent maintenance? In a healthcare setting where patient safety is a priority, practitioners may request a quick replacement if they fail twice or thrice to locate a potentially life-saving medical device. However, QR codes can prevent the permanent loss of such devices and avoid unnecessary replacement costs.
When Routine Inspections Call For GPS-Enabled, Mobile Asset-Tracking Technology
In some industrial or business scenarios, asset inspection managers need a tracking tool that can tell the geographical location of a mobile device in real time. Such a system has to be GPS-enabled (capable of providing the equipment's geospatial information).
The construction industry is a perfect example because, there, heavy machinery like excavators and loaders are not always in the same place. Also, it's not easy to maintain round-the-clock surveillance for small machine components exposed to theft or loss at remote job sites. However, a GPS tracking system addresses that challenge.
Generally, this is how the system works: At the office, asset tracking software notifies an inspection manager that specific QR-tagged equipment is due for inspection or repair in a week or so. The employee uses the software to search for the remote location of the asset. If the information is not up to date, perhaps because the last asset scan took place several days ago, the manager asks a field worker to perform a scan with their smartphone right away. The phone has a GPS-integrated, QR code scanning app, so it sends the asset's geospatial data along with any other pertinent information to a database in the cloud, in real time. The inspection manager can now make an informed choice based on current asset status and location information.
Likewise, GPS tracking technology is useful to organizations that need to inspect equipment leased out to individuals or contractors. Government-owned assets like machinery, vehicles, phones, and furniture are perfect examples. Also, schools that give or loan computers, tablets, cameras, and other electronics to students can streamline their asset monitoring and maintenance programs by tracking these assets with GPS-enabled systems.
Wrapping it Up: Advanced Technologies are Certainly Transforming Asset Inspection Management
Agile technologies like BLE beacons or RFID are providing maintenance inspectors with the tools needed to determine the location, condition, and status of equipment in real time. With the integration of QR tags, smartphone QR code readers, and SaaS, inspection managers can remotely pull maintenance records of tagged assets in the field, anytime. In a nutshell, some of the most notable transformations these tracking technologies are having on asset inspections across different industries include:
- No more manual scheduling of repair and routine walk-through surveillance, which increases inspection efficiency and minimizes non-productive time in the workplace
- Accurate location information lets technical staff focus on core everyday responsibilities, and it saves time usually wasted searching aimlessly for mission-critical devices that require repair
- All assets are on inspection managers' radar, reducing the chances of an item missing a scheduled audit or maintenance exercise
- Organizations save money by consistently keeping their assets in good shape
Would you like to explore how modern technologies like GoCodes software are automating and streamlining essential aspects of routine asset inspections? Talk to us right away, no matter your industry!