Beacon Based Tool Tracking: Mixed Signals?
These days, with Bluetooth and GPS technology, regardless of what you’re concerned with losing, it seems “there’s a tracker for that.” Whether it’s your keys, your car, or even your kids (yes, that’s right), just attach a beacon, and you can track anything. It stands to reason, then, if you need to track your tools, you ought to consider a beacon based tool tracker. With all the attention beacon tool tracking is getting right now, it’s certainly worth discussing the capabilities as well as the challenges of the technology.
First things first
First, let’s clarify the basics: Bluetooth vs. GPS. Simply put, the difference between Bluetooth and GPS technology comes down to how the beacon signal gets from the beacon back to you in the office. Bluetooth uses a nearby phone to pass the signal from a tool to a phone and then up to the Cloud and back to you. GPS beacons bypass the phone and send a signal directly through a telecom network up to the Cloud.
It’s important to note that many of the “Bluetooth GPS” beacons aren’t true GPS. Often, the beacon relies on an expanding user network to help pinpoint the location of an item. In other words, the user won’t get a notification unless another person in the network walks near the lost or missing tool. (You can distinguish a true GPS solution by the monthly or annual data plan required for the beacon. Since a true GPS beacon doesn’t involve using a phone to pass information, it requires its own data plan for the beacon in order to access the telecom network directly.)
Range in Real Life
When talking about a product designed to find tools that may be 100 miles away (or more), range is an important factor in the conversation. Generally, Bluetooth is used to locate the beacon attached to a tool within up to 100 feet of your phone location. GPS satellites can locate a beacon further away, regardless of whether there is a phone nearby. But, whether the tool tracking system uses GPS or Bluetooth, both rely on getting an unobstructed signal out.
Have you ever had satellite radio in your truck? Then you know: things often do get between the unit and the satellite, so a lost signal is a frustrating reality. Despite the reassurances from beacon based tool tracking companies, GPS signal obstruction issues often happen when a tool is left inside a building or under a structure — or under a pile of debris in a truck. (Which, unfortunately, is when we could use the most help from a tracker.)
Bluetooth isn’t necessarily immune to these obstruction challenges either. According to the educational website, Classroom, “In the case of Bluetooth signals, the worst culprits are metal objects like filing cabinets, metal doors, refrigerators and even metal studs in walls. Plaster, concrete and bulletproof glass aren’t as bad as metal, but can still interfere with Bluetooth signals, particularly if the objects are thick and the Bluetooth signal is weak.” Half of that list sounds like daily life on a jobsite, so again: isn’t that when we could use the most tool tracking assistance?
A Strategic Solution
In light of the challenges and growing pains of beacon technology, a better solution for your business may be a tool tracking app that assigns accountability to a person who “signs out” a particular tool. This kind of app doesn’t rely on beacons to track tools, but rather shifts the responsibility to the person last assigned to the tools. An app like ShareMyToolbox creates a “catalog” of tools and assigns the tool to an employee who “accepts” it in the app. His/her responsibility for the tool is easy for everyone to see and, once the tool is returned to the warehouse, the name of the borrower is removed as the responsible party.
Think about it: when a member of your team knows there’s a digital record of who has a particular tool, they won’t leave it lying among piles of debris on a remote job location. Instead, he/she will be more compelled to return it to the inventory that you’re managing.
Thankfully, the range and reliability of beacon based tool trackers is bound to improve in time. With an accountability-based solution like ShareMyToolbox already in place, when the beacon technology has had time to improve, a beacon tool tracker could be used to add extra security for a few important tools. The result: a full, well-rounded strategy for maintaining and tracking your tool inventory.
If you’d like to learn more about modern tool tracking solutions that work to improve operations and your bottom line, check out ShareMyToolbox at Tool Tracking, https://www.sharemytoolbox.com/tool-tracking, or call 866.768.8665.
Read our GPS Tool Tracking Guide for more information on various beacon technologies.
Just getting started? Read our article on “Walking before you run with Tool Tracking”.