Visybl: Asset Tracking for the Modern Supply Chain

Every company has not one, but three, supply chains. The physical, that deals with the movement of goods. The financial, that deals with the payment for goods and services rendered. And, finally, the information, that controls the flow of the goods and money by way of messages between parties. While SI, and most Supply Management blogs, focus on the optimization of the information transfer and the financial costs, if the physical chain doesn’t flow as expected, the financial costs can skyrocket and the information can disappear.

For the physical supply chain to flow smoothly, there are two requirements. One, the obvious, goods have to flow from A to B as required to meet organizational and end customer needs. Two, the resources necessary to process those goods, both in terms of people and physical assets, need to be available and accounted for. This is often overlooked. If a forklift is needed at the warehouse to unload a shipment, and all of a sudden the forklift is not there, that’s a problem. If a raw material or chemical shipment has to be inspected for purity, and all of a sudden the mass spectrometer goes missing, problem. And so on.

So, today, we’re going to discuss a company that helps you keep track of those assets necessary to keep the physical supply chain flowing in a relatively new way, but at a very low cost compared to traditional methods. Traditional methods for tracking goods in the supply chain typically revolve around RFID, which requires each good to be tagged (which is not a problem, as RFID chips cost pennies) and requires readers at each waypoint, and GPS tracking. While RFID is great for tracking movement of goods, as someone just needs to scan the pallets at each waypoint, its poor for tracking goods in a warehouse as you need readers at least every 30 feet (as the max read distance of a Gen2 tag is a mere 12 meters). And while handheld readers are cheap, high-end UHF readers can cost up to 2K, with each antennae up to $200.

GPS tracking is not a good solution for individual good tracking either. GPS tracking requires a GPS device that can upload location data through a cellular network connection. And while you can bulk buy basic GPS units these days for $10 or less, each requires its own SIM card, and while SIM cards are also cheap, cellular providers charge a hefty price for access to their networks (relatively speaking), even if you buy in bulk. You’re easily spending over $100 (or $1,000, depending on where and the resiliency and battery lifespan of the GPS unit you need) a year to track an asset, so while this is very reasonable for tracking a truck carrying $100,000 (or more) of cargo, not so much for a $5,000 workstation that you’d rather not see carried out the door. Especially if you have 100 that you’d like to track and monitor and the odds of more than a couple being carried off are low.

That’s where Visybl comes in. Using Bluetooth Low Energy technology, it has developed low cost beacons that transmit an identifier and temperature that can be picked up by modern smartphones (that support Bluetooth LE) and local wi-fi enabled cloud-nodes that continually monitor their presence. And since Bluetooth has a range that is 10 times that of Gen2 RFID, an organization can not only monitor a wider area with less units (up to a factor of 10, depending on building layout), but do so at a considerably lower cost as these bluetooth LE wi-fi nodes don’t cost much more than a high-end router (which is around $200).

Moreover, since Visybl sells asset monitoring as an integrated hardware / software service, where you can track all assets through the interface in real time and get alerted when they leave or enter an area (and if temperature goes beyond an accepted norm), the only upfront cost is the cloud nodes. By adopting low-cost technology, they provide all of the standard beacons (and replacements on failure) free. And the cost is very affordable. Pricing starts at 2.95/month/asset (beacon) for the full service with considerable discounts at the 100, 1000, and 10000 level. This not only makes monitoring of lower cost assets (such as workstations, warehouse equipment, etc.) even in the $1000 range affordable (as it would generally be in the 1% per year or less range of asset cost at high volume levels), but advantageous as a company that was on-the-ball would be able to use this to negotiate lower insurance rates as the insurers that cover supply chain and physical assets like to see asset monitoring as part of the company’s operations.

However, insurance savings are not the only ROI of the Visybl solution. There are also considerable savings associated with:

  • manpower savings in auditsyou know which assets are on your premises, and where they are within 300 feet (which is the limit of Bluetooth range), and, since most buildings will have walls, floors, etc. that limit range, within 150 feet
  • manpower savings in asset location whenever a low-use asset is needed, there is always time spent looking for it, especially in MRO – many people fail to realize how much time is lost looking for even 300 hundred assets over the course of a year — if it’s an hour per asset, that’s almost 8 weeks of lost productivity
  • un-utilized or under-utilized asset identificationif an asset never moves from the range of its primary node, and that primary node is in storage, then the asset is not being utilized and should be evaluated for sale or replacement

The web-based solution is very easy to use, allows tags with associated asset details to be bulk uploaded in a spreadsheet, and supports map-based display if you store assets across different geographic locations. Beacons and nodes can be added, configured, and re-configured as needed (if you change the position of a node or reassign the beacon to a replacement asset), and the alerts easily customized to your needs. Plus, the technology has the advantage that all beacons can be read by all nodes, so if you and your supplier, that you lend assets to for special projects, both use Visybl, you will not only be alerted when the asset leaves your premises, but when it enters the supplier’s premises — no need for RFID. (And since the beacons only transmit an id and signal, there is absolutely no privacy concerns — only Visybl and the owner of the tag know who owns the tag and what is attached to.) [Or, if an asset walks out the door and ends up near a location with a cloud node, you'll at least have an approximate location to give to the authorities and insurance company when you file your report and claim.]

Visybl also offers an API that allows the data to be pulled directly into your inventory or asset management application, and even supports Amazon echo for simple status queries. It’s a great low-cost asset monitoring solution whose value increases as more customers adopt it, and it will do great things towards pushing monitoring technology costs down across the supply chain.

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