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Real-time production monitoring with MES and RTLS

Production flow management consists of organising the flow of materials and resources during a manufacturing process in order to optimise the production performance of a plant. Being able to locate equipment, goods and people precisely inside a plant has become one of the main challenges for manufacturers seeking to optimize their operational efficiency. One of the solutions implemented so far is MES (Manufacturing Execution System): software application that allows the management of increasingly complex situations and flows, and to be as close as possible to reality by collecting production data in real time. Providing complete traceability of manufacturing information, the role of this technology is to supervise machines and operators. One of the main difficulties in the deployment of MES solutions is to guarantee the perfect match between the “physical” and the “digital”.

blue and yellow metal industrial machine

RTLS (Real-Time Location System) technology allows to gain efficiency based on the automatic and continuous retrieval of the positions of objects or people that matter for the production. The manufacturing process can then be controlled from the data transmitted in real time. In addition to this location information, it is possible to digitally exchange information directly with the users in the field, without the need for a printed document or a workstation. This wireless network is created by placing radio antennas (also called anchors or beacons depending on the radio technology: UWB, BLE, WiFi, RFID…) at key points in and around an installation. These antennas exchange short distance radio signals with radio tags, themselves associated with the equipment, goods or people to be geolocated. The data is sent back to a server which then calculates the real time positions using a triangulation type algorithm, received signal strength (RSSI), time difference of arrival (TDOA), etc. This calculation is performed by the localisation engine, which is part of the RTLS software. 

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Recently, hybrid RTLS and MES solutions have been developed to cover a wider range of use cases and to automate processes. The scheduling of tasks and the reaction to hazards can thus be carried out with up-to-date information and by anticipating the course of the next actions. For example, an operator can decide to move on to the next production order because he is informed that the part that was originally planned is still on the other side of the factory: the positions of all relevant objects can be visualized in real time on different terminals, which allows quick decisions to be made. The combination of location data and operational information ensures complete process transparency and identifies untapped optimization potential in the production lines.

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