When Does Tracking Low-Value Assets Make Sense?

Andy Slote - Director of Customer Success for ObjectSpectrum

September 1, 2022

There’s a threshold for managing assets where it no longer makes sense to implement a tracking solution due to the cost exceeding the benefit. However, considering all the factors for a given use-case and making the right technology choices will often justify the expense for relatively low-value assets.

It’s essential to decide if precise, real-time tracking is necessary, where the location of an asset is continuously available (this is usually referred to as RTLS, which generally stands for some variation of “real-time location services”). A well-designed solution of this kind usually comes with the visualization needed to view where an asset is on a map or, for indoor environments, the position on a building layout or schematic. These solutions tend to be more expensive to implement, with a higher cost per asset being tracked.

Another type of implementation, known as serialization, senses when an asset moves or passes by a specific location rather than providing continuous tracking. As a result, the infrastructure and sensors are less costly, while potentially still providing significant benefits.

In many situations, as the price of a tracker or tag approaches an asset’s value, the decision may seem obvious–we’ll do our best to keep tabs on it and replace it if it’s lost. But there are other considerations when doing a cost/benefit analysis.

Something as simple as sensing the movement of an asset out of a storage location often provides information that translates to value. For example, detecting the removal from a cabinet can verify the use of a tool when a task requires it. In addition, monitoring how a job is progressing based on the duration of use, sequencing the use of multiple tools, and tracking when individual tasks and entire projects are complete is possible based on logging check-in and check-out. Alerts for potential inappropriate use can also be beneficial, like removing a tool from a cabinet outside of regular work hours, or by someone not trained or authorized to use a particular tool.

One of the most significant potential impacts on cost and productivity is employees’ time spent looking for misplaced items. Often the end of a workday includes returning tools to storage and verifying nothing is missing. At a predetermined time, like the end of a shift, an automated confirmation that all items are back on the shelf or notifications about missing ones can make this process more efficient.

Sometimes, tools left out can drastically impact the business by injuring people or damaging property. For example, in industries like aerospace, the concept of Foreign Object Damage (FOD) describes impacts on high-cost assets like jet engines which can be expensive and dangerous when someone leaves a tool in the wrong place. The cost of a tool becomes almost irrelevant when evaluating tracking solutions where these kinds of risks exist.

In addition to apps and online visualization, solutions can include audible alerts for situations requiring action or assistance finding something. In addition, lights can indicate “at a glance” status. For example, red lights on tool shelves when items are missing and green lights when everything is present automate verification. And when other personnel need to be alerted remotely, alerts by email, text messages, or smartphone apps are easily incorporated.

The technology solutions for these applications are numerous. As a result, costs vary widely depending on the environment, requirements, etc. In addition, both tracking and serialization approaches use various devices and connectivity options, which need a thorough evaluation to measure applicability and cost-effectiveness. The bottom line is that limiting the cost/benefit analysis to comparing the cost of the tracking technology to the cost of the asset often misses the overall business value of the solution.