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Harnessing IoT Solutions for Advanced Asset Tracking

Intelligent asset management via IoT can save time and costs, as well as facilitate useful data collection

by Bryan Witkowski
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Recently, Bryan Witkowski, head of product and strategy at MachineQ, a Comcast Company, explained how Internet of Things (IoT) technology, such as real-time asset tracking solutions, is helping to improve operations, help save time, reduce costs, and generate valuable data that benefits many different functions and departments in the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries. In particular, real-time asset tracking solutions can help save time, reduce costs, and generate useful data that can benefit many different functions and departments.

Bryan Witkowski
Credit: Bryan Witkowski

Q. In what types of life sciences applications are you seeing use of IoT/asset tracking systems? Please give examples if possible.

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A. We’ve seen the biggest need for real-time location systems (RTLS) solutions for asset tracking in the life sciences industry. Within life sciences, there are three key groups that rely on IoT-enabled asset tracking solutions for operational efficiencies, to stay compliant with federal safety standards and regulations, and maximize employee productivity. Those groups—R&D, manufacturing, and facilities management teams—utilize asset tracking to obtain real-time location data for high-value, portable assets, equipment, and inventory to optimize equipment and space utilization, enhance maintenance and calibration schedules, and reduce capital expenditures.

For example, consider a scientist looking for a centrifuge or pipettes during the research process. Without an automated real-time asset tracking solution in place, that scientist would need to find the last known asset location in an enterprise resource planning system or spreadsheet and then search for it there. However, because asset location data isn’t updated in these systems frequently (often only quarterly), when the scientist gets to the last known location, the asset cannot be found. The scientist then begins tracking down the asset rather than spending time conducting research. This can lead to wasted time and money for staff and unnecessary replacement costs if the item cannot be located, which adds to capital expenses.

For manufacturing teams, asset tracking enables them to track materials and production resources throughout the manufacturing process, leading to maximum production value, enhanced workflows, and simplified processes for maintaining equipment.  Tracking the movement of these resources also provides insights into utilization leading to better resource planning.

Q. How does asset tracking fit in to processing equipment qualification/validation/record-keeping? What changes, if any, do you see in this area? 

A. One of the main benefits of asset tracking for enterprises is operational efficiencies to cut down on capital expenditures. With end-to-end visibility of equipment, companies can validate and expedite calibration schedules for equipment used in labs or manufacturing facilities. This holistic view reduces onsite time for third-party vendors who come in to service the equipment. It also democratizes equipment use across the enterprise, allowing for more sharing and less hoarding of equipment in limited supply. Plus, with better utilization data, it enables finance and procurement teams to proactively optimize budgets for purchasing equipment.

On the human resource side, the automation of tracking reduces the significant manual costs of managing locations in ERP or other tracking documents.   This reduces time spent on laborious data entry and reduces the need for periodic audits.

Regarding changes in asset tracking, cybersecurity remains a major focus for enterprises. As business leaders continue using asset tracking, we believe there will be a concerted effort to reduce the number of disparate systems in use. Additionally, we see growing favorability for a flexible network that doesn’t leverage the existing network infrastructure and can support multiple wireless and wired protocols, which can reduce the burden on IT teams and alleviate any new security concerns.

Q. What do you see as some best practices in asset tracking for pharma/biopharma equipment?

When it comes to asset tracking best practices, there are several worth noting. For many enterprises, the desire for an asset tracking solution is driven by the need to automate existing asset tracking processes for real-time and accurate visibility into their equipment. The outcome leads to making informed decisions based on data rather than assumptions, reducing human error and increasing staff productivity, and operational gains. As enterprises consider asset tracking solutions, here are some best practices to keep in mind. 

1. Identify what needs tracking and where

Take a holistic view into what you want to track, where you want to track it and the quantity, size, and value of assets involved. Understanding these requirements will help inform the best tag form factor and technology to use for your specific tracking needs. The ability to manage a wide array of equipment at scale and with a level of location specificity is complex with so many options in the market. Therefore, having specific use cases outlined with the details noted above will prove helpful when evaluating the most efficient and lowest-cost deployment vendor/solution provider.

2. Discern your starting point and end goal

The best-laid plans come from knowing what you want to obtain and identifying how to get there. For example, with a thorough understanding of current capital expenditure and operational expenditure tied to replacing equipment, unscheduled equipment order, and yearly calibration costs (both internal and external sources) will help enterprises set clear goals. Therefore, if an enterprise is looking for a reduction in spend—be it percent-based or dollar amount—having a clear picture of today’s expense can help identify where and how asset tracking can impact budget over a short and long-term period.

3. Break down silos and foster alignment

Asset tracking solutions benefit the entire business and having buy-in from other departments and offering transparency into desired goals will be hugely beneficial. For example, let’s say the R&D team defines the business case for asset tracking. This purchase will impact in-house IT teams who will want to understand how it impacts the existing network infrastructure and any security concerns that may arise. It will also impact facilities and building services who are responsible for the physical space and how/where IoT hardware will be placed. And it benefits finance teams because it can help with budgeting and cost allocations. With an inclusive and transparent approach, enterprises will see less friction from the onset.

Bryan Witkowski is the head of product, strategy, and business development at MachineQ, an enterprise IoT company within Comcast. Bryan and his team are responsible for defining the company strategy by analyzing and evaluating potential areas of growth and development through new solution offerings and partners.