Bluetooth beacon technology could drive the next wave of asset management innovation, according to a prominent industry executive.

Antony Bourne is the global industry director for IFS, a global software company specialising in ERP, asset management and service management solutions. He told IoT Hub that there was growing interest in beacon technology from machinery manufacturers.

According to the Bourne, incorporating location awareness through the installation of beacons on equipment will ensure that only relevant information about nearby assets are presented to users, such as field service technicians and factory floor managers. This in turn will drive efficiency and process optimisation in areas such as maintenance, construction, and warehouse management, among others.

“From a machinery manufacturing point of view, the beacons would be placed on the products themselves, then when there is a case for someone to go out and service these machines out in the field, the technician would be told which machines are in their vicinity and also be able to check vital measurements, such as running hours or software versions,” he said.

Bourne said that the drive towards equipping factory machinery with beacon technology stems from a growing concern in the manufacturers that secondary sources of income must be identified, outside of the simple sale of equipment to customers.

The industry sees the ability to provide intelligent insight and data-driven device management services for its products as a way to maintain profitability, he said.

“Machinery manufacturers are looking at how they can do things outside of their traditional production processes to survive, and providing value-added services through the use of beacons, sensors and analytics of their products is seen as a way to ensure continued revenue."

Why beacons?

IFS Labs is the company’s development think tank, and has recently initiated a project aimed at enabling context-aware asset and equipment data capture through the use of smart devices and beacon technology.

It hopes to leverage wireless sensors mounted on equipment which then broadcast their locations, allowing service technicians to know where assets are and learn more about those assets.

Bourne said that IFS Labs had experimented with a number of other technologies to provide similar functionality, but limitations within those technologies led to beacons being used.

“We’ve done various things with near-field communications (NFC) previously to see how that technology could be used, but one of the drawbacks of NFC was that you had to be very close to the equipment to receive the information about it,” he explained.

“With beacons now having a range upwards of 50 metres, it gives you more flexibility.”

He also said that RFID was considered but not chosen due to the extra hardware requirements, whereas Bluetooth technology is near-ubiquitous on the smartphones and tablets that are typically used by field service technicians.

Beacon evolution underway

Bourne said that IFS Labs are working on not only implementing beacons for location awareness, but incorporating data collection for asset management purposes, whether that be by the beacons themselves, or by communicating with sensors already installed on equipment.

“By using beacons to obtain more information about the machines themselves, it gives you added benefits, such as facilitating predictive maintenance,” he said.

“This initiative is just the stepping stone. Once we have beacon technology in place and has been proven useful for our customers, we can then take the next stage of beacon development.

“It opens the door to manufacturers that want to provide service or service contracts to its customers to maximise their potential, and by using beacons and IoT, they can provide greater amounts of information and add value to those relationships.”