BLE Beacons; Emerging Technology for Business

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Beacons

BLE beaconing technology is used for “locationing” or tracking an object’s location and/or movements. Basically, a BLE beacon is a type of active RFID, transmitting a unique ID (or signal) at regular intervals. For the most part, BLE beacons are one-way communication devices; from the beacon out to Bluetooth enabled devices that are "listening" for the signal.

What is Active RFID?

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" . . . the term “active” means a transponder has a power source. This is usually a battery, but energy can also be captured from light via photovoltaic cells or other sources. An active tag can, therefore, broadcast its own signal, like a cell phone. Because an active tag has its own source of power to broadcast a signal, it has a longer read range than most passive tags.”  Source: RFID Journal

 

While other technologies such as Wi-Fi and NFC perform similarly, BLE beaconing technology is a good choice for a number of reasons:

  • Power Consumption – Bluetooth LE, as the name hints, has low energy requirements. (It can last up to 3 years on a single coin cell battery).
  • Low Cost – BLE is 60-80% cheaper than traditional Bluetooth.
  • Application – BLE is ideal for simple applications requiring small periodic transfers of data. Classic Bluetooth is preferred for more complex applications requiring consistent communication and more data throughput.  Source: iBeacon.com

BLE technology has been around since 1994, but started to gain wider appeal in 2013 when Apple did two things:

  • Introduced the iBeacon specification which set a standard for beaconing technology
  • Began building beaconing functionality into their devices

Primarily beaconing technology has been used in retail, and still is, customizing shopping experiences with in-store promotions, product information and the like. However, in these instances consumers must "opt-in" to receive the benefits of the technology.

Since 2013 the technology has evolved; with beacons becoming significantly smaller and in more varied form factors. Today, BLE beaconing is emerging as a viable technology for a growing list of industries including, manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, and entertainment. As reported by Forbes in a Sept. 2015 article, applications as varied as replacing hotel room keys with beacons to Major League Baseball using the technology to reach out to fans in the stadium with offers for seat upgrades and the like were being tested or were already in use.

So what are the possibilities for using beaconing technology in manufacturing? Just about everyone these days has a Bluetooth enabled device in form of a cell phone. Beyond that, many organizations have already invested in enterprise grade Bluetooth devices for data collection, meaning the "receiving device' is already in place . . . no opt-in required! We see great potential.

As mentioned previously, beaconing technology is used to track movement of an item, thus making work-in-process an obvious candidate for BLE beaconing. Today, BLE beacons are commonly put on reusable totes to track items through manufacturing. Similarly, BLE beacons are being used for order fulfillment to validate order picking and shipping to ensure each order is being loaded to the right pallet, dock door, truck etc.

Hardware (APs) are starting to include both 802.11xx and Bluetooth antennae. Software companies that are working in the IoT space are also including BLE capability in their systems.

The technology is continuously evolving and as it does, we'll keep you up to date!

 

 

Receiving Best Practices

"In today’s world of increasing customer expectations and delivery requirements, a distribution center’s overall velocity can impact how well they survive in their local markets."

In "Receiving Best Practices" written by Kevin Ledversis, Newcastle Systems, Inc. and Derek Browning, LeanCor, the authors discuss the key principles to decreasing bottlenecks and increasing velocity in the DC. 

The need to increase efficiency (or velocity) in distribution centers is due in large part to the growing expectation that order-to-shipment time is now measured in hours not days.  

"Process improvements should be targeted at minimizing the wastes of the warehouse, namely excess motion and transportation that occurs when work-stations are not where they should be or materials are not stored or received as they should be."

With labor being one of the highest expenses in a warehouse operation, streamlining human processes is key to velocity. One way to do that is by using mobile powered carts which allow the work station to be brought to the point-of-need.

"By minimizing unnecessary “touches” and the number of steps that workers have to take on the warehouse floor, shippers can essentially double workforce productivity while also eliminating costly waste. It’s really simple math."

 

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Optimizing Performance of UHF RFID

In manufacturing and warehousing EPC Gen2 tags have become the standard. These Ultra High Frequency or UHF tags are a good choice for these environments for a number of reasons:  

  • EPC Gen2 provides a wide variety of read ranges   
  • EPC Gen2 can be encoded and printed on a standard RFID equipped printer
  • EPC Gen2 is relatively inexpensive

Optimizing UHF Tag Performance

A number of factors affect tag performance, especially in these environments. But as long as you know what to look for and plan accordingly, RFID delivers many benefits.  

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Tag Size and Read Distance

Tag size and read distance are directly related.  Generally speaking, the size of the tag affects the size of the antenna which in turn affects read distance. So identifying tag size and desired read distance at the onset of the project is a must.

The reader and number of antennas attached to the reader can enhance signal strength/read distance, but only to a certain extent. Doing the math upfront is an important piece of the puzzle to ensure optimum performance of your RFID system.

Environment

Environment is a very important factor to consider in tag selection. Both the general environment in which the tag resides, as well as the item being tagged; both its surface and where applicable what’s inside the item being tagged, are all factors that need to be taken into consideration in tag selection.

General Environment 

Manufacturing and DCs can be tricky environments for RFID use. In manufacturing, electrical noise from machinery, lighting and the like can interfere with RFID signals. In warehouse environments, metal surfaces (shelving, metal items, machinery, etc.) can affect the RFID signal, as can the density of the product on the shelves and the continually shifting configuration of any warehouse. Testing is always the answer to making the right choice and should be as close to what you anticipate real conditions will be (labels, reader, label placement, antenna placement etc.) to get the most accurate results. 
 

What’s Being Tagged

There’s very little that can’t be tagged, but some surfaces are harder to tag then others. Tagging metals can be problematic as metal reflects the signal and can short out the antenna. A layer of insulation between the tag and metal surface is the remedy. There are tags specifically made to be put on metal surfaces. However, the Zebra Silverline product is the only RFID tag for metal surfaces that can be printed on demand.   

What’s Inside What’s Being Tagged

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Liquids are known for being troublesome for RFID, as they can absorb the RFID signal. However, not all liquids are created equal when it comes to their difficulty factor. Take water and oil for example: they are at opposite ends of the scale . . . water having little to no effect on tag performance and oil being one of the most difficult substances to tag.  So what’s the difference?  It’s the amount of carbon in oil that affects RFID performance.  So if you’re talking salad dressing you’re okay, but motor oil (or any other carbon laden substance) that's another story.     

Tag Density

When mapping out your RFID strategy, the tag density or number of tags in a given area, should be part of the conversation. For example: When a large number of small,  individually tagged items are put in a larger container, it might be difficult to make sure each tag has been read. In cases like this, we recommend content is known in the supporting data.

Tag placement 

Where a tag is placed is also an important factor to consider. When tagging on the outside of an object, uniform placement is typically the best practice.  However, there are exceptions to this rule. Take for example cartons that are being palletized.  Depending on the carton size and/or the size of the pallet, cartons may not all be stacked in the same direction and could contain inner cartons. 

In many manufacturing use cases, the RFID tag is placed on the inside of an object or its packaging. This is especially true in automotive and aerospace manufacturing where suppliers have a requirement to track sub-assemblies and placing the tag on the outside of the part is not an option. The material and density of the object will affect the performance of the tag, so testing is always recommended.

Other factors including tag size, reader strength and tag density will also figure into the equation when determining tag placement.

Test, test, test! It's all about fine tuning the solution for optimum performance.

Technology Connects Mobile Healthcare Workforce

"Clinical Smartphones" Enhance Patient Care

"The Connected Clinician: Revolutionizing Acute Care Nursing" published by Honeywell, outlines how technology is enhancing patient care and safety.

Connecting clinicians with information anytime, anywhere is key.  Mobile devices, or "clinical smartphones" are making that happen in the following ways:

  • Connecting clinicians to their care team - "The connection to the care team is one of the most important connections in modern patient care."
  • Connecting clinicians to patients and their data - clinical smartphones make information instantly available and eliminate the need to find a PC or WoW cart to look-up information
  • Faster, more effective responses for greater patient satisfaction - "The single most important factor in patient satisfaction scores is a patient's belief that their nurse is there for them and in contact with them."
  • Connecting clinicians to the internet-of-things - with information at their finger tips, it's common for a nurse to have up to 10 apps on their smart phone to look up things like drug interaction information.

Honeywell CT50h "Clinical Smartphone"

Learn about the Dolphin CT50h, Honeywell's "clinical smartphone".

Auto Dimensioning is Revolutionizing Warehousing

Auto Dimensioning 

Auto dimensioning technology is changing warehousing from receiving to shipping. At receiving by automatically capturing the size of an object to optimize warehouse space and configuration.  At shipping, by quickly and accurately taking the size and weight of an object. 

Newcastle Systems, our hardware partner, has a mobile auto dimensioning solution.

The Power to Dimension Product Anywhere in Your Warehouse from Newcastle Systems

Volume, not weight, has always been the limiting resource in storage and distribution, but – because scales are inexpensive and fast – weight has been used as an inexact stand-in. Now that dimensioning equipment is reaching new levels of efficiency, volume can be managed directly and accurately, bringing savings to warehouses, DCs, and logistics operators.

The Atlas Series Mobile Dimensioning Stations™ 

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were designed to enable quick and accurate dimensioning directly at your product location. The rugged Atlas Series consists of 30” and 48” long workstations that hold and power the QubeVu DimStation™ and other hardware including scales, laptops/thin clients, and printers up to 12+ hours at a time or 24/7 operation.

Features:

  • Enhance speed and data capture for the optimization of warehouse space, trailer/truckloads and identifying best packaging solutions
  • Decrease shipping charges & costly charge backs
  • Dimension directly at product location; increase productivity up to 50% by eliminating costly motion, touches and transportation waste
  • Reduce operator fatigue and potential injury as carrying/moving parcels to fixed station is eliminated
  • With multiple units, quickly process increased volume due to business growth, seasonal peaks & more
  • Workstation can also accommodate most other dimensioning units on the market

Atlas Series Auto Dimensioning Stations Data Sheet

QubeVu DimStation Data Sheet

 

 

 

What do Barcoding and the Olympics have in Common?

Technology of Course!

So many amazing moments at the Olympics! We sure enjoyed the games! And behind the many inspired performances were an intertwined combination of talent, training and technology.

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Take speed skating for example; for years Under Armour has been fine-tuning the “technology” behind the body suits speed skaters wear. It’s all about reducing the amount of air resistance and making the skater more aerodynamic. The combination of unique materials and their precise construction, makes a difference. And in a sport where a fraction of a second can be the difference between gold and silver, even the slightest advantage is important.    

Similarities can be drawn with automated data collection though time savings with barcodes are typically measured in minutes rather than fractions of a second. However, the desired goal for both speed skating and automated data collection is to streamline the activity to get the maximum result.

The Business Process Analysis

One of the tools ADI use to uncover inefficiencies is the Business Process Analysis or BPA.  A Business Process Analysis is a methodology used by Adaptive Data to get to know your business. We: 

  1. Review your business processes
  2. Document the current state
  3. Identify areas of inefficiency
  4. Suggest potential time-saving solutions by using barcode and/or RFID 

What to Expect from a BPA

The BPA entails us physically coming to your facility, rolling up our sleeves and diving into the daily operations of your organization. 

  • We observe your workflows

  • We talk to your employees

  • And we ask a lot of questions

Why?  First and foremost, we want to understand your culture and priorities to insure we work within those boundaries. Secondly, we want to thoroughly understand how things work now, keeping an eye out for opportunities to reduce cost and improve efficiency in your organization.  Specifically, we are looking for Non-Value Added Labor (NVAL) activities.  

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Productivity Killers

The old adage 'time is money" holds true. So uncovering and eliminating NVAL activities is a priority. What is NVAL? Non-Value Added Labor is any activity performed that does not add value to, reduce the cost of or improve in anyway the products and/or services you provide.

We put NLAL into 2 categories:

1. Time spent manually collecting and handling data

Examples include:

  • Time spent handwriting log sheets, forms, spreadsheets and the like for any area of your organization including: production receipts, inventory movement, scheduling, job tracking etc
  • Time spent collecting, translating, and key entering the data from log sheets, forms spreadsheets and the like   
  • Time spent clarifying data                                           

Shaving time off any process means you have to minimize errors. Errors are a productivity killer and data that is key entered is a major source of errors. A highly skilled key entry operator will make one key error in every 400 strokes, and that’s if the data being entered is clearly readable.

2. Time spent validating data and correcting mistakes

Examples include:

  • Time spent searching for inventory
  • Time spent expediting orders to make up for yesterday’s mistakes
  • Time spent hunting down order status 

Consider this scenario:
A customer places an order for 2 widgets which your system says are in stock.  But when you go to pull the order, the inventory is not there. The next day you have to expedite the order to fulfill the customer’s request.  

The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. Like errors, these types of activities are productivity killers. 

Evaluating current processes is the first and most important step in a BPA. Documentation and analysis follow and finally a solution or solutions are presented.  

Is Non-Value Added Labor killing productivity in your organization? Give us a call to find out!

 

Uncertainty in the Paper Market

Supply and Demand are Causing Uncertainty

The once relatively stable paper market, is no more. This is due in large part to two unrelated, yet significant factors, that are disrupting the paper market worldwide. 

Direct Thermal Paper Shortage

An interruption in the production of thermal paper is causing worldwide concern. Connect Chemical, the world’s largest supplier of Leuco Dye, is shutting down their plant in China due to environmental concerns. The plant supplies approximately 50% of the worldwide supply of Leuco Dye, an activation ingredient used in the making of thermal paper. The shutdown will significantly limit the supply of thermal paper for the foreseeable future, resulting in potential material allocation and inevitable price increases on direct thermal label stocks and receipt paper.

The Rising Cost of Paper

In 2011, pulp and paper prices hit a 30-year high. Since then, the paper market has continued its upward trend and four short years later, pulp and paper prices were at record highs again. According to IBISWorld, this inflationary trend will continue. They are forecasting “the price of wood pulp to rise even further at an annualized rate of 5.1% in the two years to 2019”.

Surprisingly, three positive economic indicators are contributing to the rising cost of paper:

  1. Stable unemployment and increased confidence in the economy is leading to a rise in consumer spending. This growth in demand for discretionary and non-discretionary goods are often packaged with paper-based product, contributing to an increase in demand.
  2. Related to the rise in consumer spending, is the growth of e-commerce. This trend was validated by the estimated $6.6 billion spent this year on Cyber Monday and likely those on-line purchases were packaged and shipped using paper-based products.
  3. Growth in industrial production, by both existing and new businesses, is driving demand up for paper-based packaging products used in the production and wide-spread distribution of these products.

ADI is working closely with our paper coaters and convertors to maintain label pricing levels and will raise pricing only when it is absolutely necessary.

3 Things to Know About Scanning Barcodes with Your Smart Phone

3 Things to Know About Scanning Barcodes with Your Smart Phone

In 2017, the number of cell phones being used worldwide is estimated to be 4.77 billion which means that just about everyone has a low-cost, high-resolution digital camera at their fingertips. With that said, you might be thinking “Why not use something I already own for barcode scanning”?

Honeywell Goes Green with Battery-Free, Wireless Imager

Honeywell Goes Green with Battery-Free, Wireless Imager

With Earth Day on April 22nd, we thought we'd take a look at the newest battery-free scanner from Honeywell . . .  introducing the Xenon 1902g-bf. This image scanner has really gotten our attention! And PerformanceConvenience & Versatility are just 3 reasons why! 

The OS Landscape for Enterprise Mobility

The OS Landscape for Enterprise Mobility

The likelihood of your mobile devices running on either Windows CE or Windows Mobile is a pretty sure thing.  And much like death and taxes, the other sure thing is MicroSoft is ending support of both versions in 2020. 

ADI Celebrates 15 Years of Technology

ADI Celebrates 15 Years of Technology

February marks a milestone for Adaptive Data . . . our 15th anniversary, though unofficially we've been around for longer than that.  ADI takes a fun look at technology; past present and future and weighs in how the Internet of Things is a game changer.

Protecting Pets with RFID

Why RFID?

In August many of us celebrate National Dog Day to honor our four-legged friends. Technology continues to merge with almost every aspects of our lives and that includes our pets. To be exact, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is the technology used in micro-chipping our pets. The specific technology used is Passive RFID, which is relatively inexpensive. Other advantages of Passive RFID are its lifespan (around 25 years) and its size (about the size of a grain of rice), making inserting the microchip a very simple procedure that doesn't require anesthesia.  

Passive vs Active RFID

Two basic and very different types of RFID exist, both with unique advantages and disadvantages.

  • Passive RFID - A Passive RFID tag does not have a power source within the tag, but instead relies on the RFID reader for power. Because of this simple fact, Passive RFID tags are very inexpensive, making it affordable to tag down to the item level of more than just high-value items.
  • Active RFID - On the other hand, an Active RFID tag has a battery within the tag itself, making them considerably more expensive than Passive RFID tags. On the up-side, however, Active RFID tags have very long read ranges.

Which type of RFID is right for you? To learn more go to our Solution Page or Contact Us.

 

Barcode Label Printing Automates an Unlikely Venue

Barcode Printing Automates Church Raffle

For many of us the weekends are a time to push away from our desks for a few days.  But on at least one weekend a year, ADI sales rep Mike Barker takes his knowledge of label printing systems into the weekend for his church’s festival. 

The festival at St. John’s is the largest public event in the city of West Chester, Ohio with crowds topping 30,000 visitors over the 3-day event.  Mike is using barcode printing to automate ticket purchases for the basket raffle which has grown to more than 90 baskets.

An Evolving Print Solution

St. John’s festival has been going on for over 20 years, but it wasn’t until 12 years ago that automating the ticket process began.  “Lazy Label” was created, which printed contact information on a laser label that was then adhered to the raffle ticket. “Nobody wants to write their name and phone number hundreds of times” says Mike.  This first step in automation added a “convenience factor” and buyers were more than willing to pay the $1 premium for this service.    

Three years ago, the process was upgraded again to laser printed tags, eliminating the need for both a label and a ticket, but the process was still somewhat slow and the cost of the tag was expensive.  

Automation is Driving Ticket Sales

150 raffle tickets print in seconds!

The current solution, put in place last year, uses a four-inch wide industrial printer, printing a direct thermal tag.  Along with contact information, a barcode is also printed, allowing raffle winners to be validated by scanning the winning ticket. And with the addition of the barcode, it is much harder to counterfeit tickets, making the current printing solution fast, low-cost and secure.  

Expediting the process has increased ticket sales, which have steadily grown over the years. This year Mike estimates they will print 150,000 raffle tickets, validating that automation, even in a "non-traditional" application, leads to positive results.  

IT Policy for BYOD is Essential for Data Security

BYOD Policies are Becoming the Norm

So you've made the decision to allow your employees to bring their personal devices to work. You're in the majority!  According to Honeywell, embracing this policy is a "win-win proposition." 

The upside of a BYOD policy is twofold.  User's are familiar with their own devices and productivity typically increases, as little to no education is required to get up and running and device acquisition costs are lower.    

The downside, and it's a big one, can be comprised security if an IT policy specific to personal devices, is not put in place.  

BYOD Security  

The following is an except from an Application Brief recently published by Honeywell, discussing what a BYOD policy does in terms of IT security for your company.

"To keep your organization and its data safe, consider just a few of the many problems that a BYOD policy can help you mitigate:

  • A system for registering devices has to be in place; otherwise, unsecured devices might compromise your network.
  • Ultimately, users will be responsible for following the rules of securing their devices. You’ll have to monitor and enforce compliance.
  • Without proper safeguards, users might lose or unknowingly compromise your sensitive data, or they may introduce viruses that spread across your network.
  • You’ll need ways to prevent users from removing security controls or copying sensitive data from email, calendar and contact applications to other applications on the device or to another unregistered device."  

Sage advice!  Included in the application brief from Honeywell is a template for creating a BYOD policy for your organization. Read the full brief.

For more information on choosing rugged or consumer devices, read our blog from February 2015

Creating "Chain of Custody" with Barcoding

What is “Chain of Custody” and Why is it Important?

In the legal system, chain of custody is defined as “the chronological documentation or paper trail, showing the seizure, custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of physical or electronic evidence”. – Wikipedia 

Chain of custody ensures only authorized individuals come in contact with evidence, from beginning to end.  In a criminal case, where a defendant’s guilt or innocence is, in part, decided based on evidence, the importance of a tightly controlled chain of custody process cannot be overstated.    

Though the terminology is different, barcoding creates an automated "digital" trail, creating documentation on what something is , where it is or where it's been, who has it, where it's going etc. 

Automation is the Key to Success

Recently, ADI partnered with 2GO software to deliver "chain of custody" control for specimen tracking.  The application required tightly controlled documentation of a courier responsible for the daily pick-up, transport and delivery of lab specimens. Using Honeywell's Dolphin Black and 2Go’s Proof of Delivery software, ADI found the perfect solution.  Easily scalable and customizable, the POD software automates the courier process and with signature capture and GPS time-stamp features on the Dolphin Black, the solution provides complete visibility and traceability throughout the process.   

Going back to the definition of chain of custody, here are some of the features that provide checks and balances for each of these critical steps in the process.

Seizure (specimen pickup) – signature capture provides proof of when a specimen is picked up.  The time-stamp feature pinpoints the exact time the specimen was received.  The software also allows a photo to be taken of the item being tracked, linking the photo to the data, to show condition or other attirbutes of the item.

Additionally, the 2Go software can use GPS to map the most economical route for specimen pick-up.   

Custody - At any time, a driver’s whereabouts and the specimens in his custody can be monitored.

Control - Transaction history provides a documented history of where and when the specimen was transferred from one control point/person to another during the entire process, pickup to delivery.

Transfer - Signature is captured at the time the specimen is delivered to the designated final location, closing the loop on the process.

"Chain of Custody" in Your Business

Beyond this example for specimen tracking, chain of custody is used in a diverse number of ways.  Some examples are: file tracking for law firms, insurance and mortgage companies, tracking of high-end retail items such as jewelry and in manufacturing for tracking tooling and calibration devices to name a few.  Even in the art industry, chain of custody documentation can be used to augment “provenance” for a piece of artwork.  I’ll admit, some of these applications are more obscure than others, but all equally important to the people requiring chain of custody documentation.   

What do the terms Seizure, Custody, Control and Transfer translate to in your business?  Receipt, Inventory Move, WIP, Sale . . .

How could an automated "chain of custody" process help your business?