The Industry 4.0 Ecosystem is Expanding, Enabled by Location Technologies

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By Mark Qi | 1Q 2022 | IN-6465

Quuppa, a major high-precision Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) technology provider specializing in the Bluetooth Angle of Arrival (AoA) location, has announced they are joining the Ericsson Industry 4.0 alliance. Among existing members, the move should help position both Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and RTLS in general and a key part of the ecosystem.

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Quuppa Joins Ericsson's Industry 4.0 Ecosystem


Ericsson’s Industry 4.0 ecosystem is a partnership program aiming to accelerate Industry 4.0 adoption by connecting hardware, device, software, and service members together, all leveraging the cellular connectivity provided by Ericsson’s 4G and 5G private network offerings. In late February of 2022, citing the ability to offer joint systems based on Quuppa location and cellular connectivity, Quuppa announced that they had completed the requirements to partake in the ecosystem, joining Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) vendors Ubisense and Eliko as well as many other companies involved in the RTLS space such as: Zebra, Cisco, Siemens, GE, and HPE.

RTLS Gaining Momentum in Industry


RTLS has many potential applications for manufacturing and other industrial environments. Key use cases include tracking assets to prevent loss and theft, tracking location and maintenance of tools, safety compliance for workers, material flow analysis for inventory management, workflow analytics for space and process optimization, and automatic location-based system triggers using geofencing. These features help enterprises position themselves competitively for effective product workflows given an effective Return on Investment (ROI) is present. Industry 4.0 features take this concept further through digitization of industry which requires full visibility of the assets, tools, machines, and workers present, a requirement which can be effectively provided by RTLS solutions. Digital twins can be used to simulate, evaluate, and optimize new processes before they are deployed. Newer systems such as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) require full, real-time visibility to prevent collisions and route effectively with early support in RTLS solutions from Siemens and Intranav (now Inpixon).

Existing RTLS providers in the Ericsson Industry 4.0 Ecosystem such as Siemens and Eliko provide solutions using Ultra-Wide Band (UWB) positioning, typically regarded as having superior accuracy (sub-meter) compared to other RTLS technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Wi-Fi and active RFID as well as superior signal security and reliability. This is critical for industrial applications which could require high precision for manufacturing processes and are required to operate within environments with high levels of signal interference due to metals.

As a pioneer of BLE RTLS, specifically the more accurate Angle of Arrival (AoA) techniques, Quuppa’s technology aims to provide a foundational solution for positioning, able to provide sub-meter accuracy competitive with UWB-based systems while leveraging hardware which is cheaper and more power efficient. While UWB is typically considered the primary option for industrial RTLS, BLE is seeing increased momentum in the space. Quuppa themselves have noted key industry deployments such as with an inventory management system in the 166,000 sq. ft. Kloeckner Metals facility, which reported an ROI time of four months. Ubisense, who typically adopt UWB as part of their hardware offerings, introduced the UB-Tag, a hybrid UWB-BLE system in June 2021. Zebra Technologies offers an entire range of RTLS hardware, including both UWB and BLE, as well as Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID). Meanwhile, within the healthcare space, GE’s Encompass healthcare RTLS solution also uses Zebra Hardware. Outside of the Ericsson Industry 4.0 Ecosystem, large Chinese vendors such as Woxu Wireless and Tsingoal (BlueIOT) have introduced BLE support to either complement their UWB solutions or as an alternative solution.

Hybrid Solutions Can Harness a Growing Market Segment


In a recent ABI Research Industry Survey, 13% of respondents answered that they have already implemented an RTLS solution, with an additional 56% aiming to do so in the next five years as enterprises are increasingly looking towards the growing momentum of Industry 4.0 and the importance of RTLS within said ecosystem. As much of the potential for RTLS remains unseen, RTLS providers should identify Industry 4.0 application as a key vertical for market growth, and the Quuppa moves demonstrates that RTLS providers are looking expand awareness of their technology in segments which can effectively utilize it, while integrating within ecosystems important for interoperability and collaboration.

The move also highlights a focus on collaboration of technologies as opposed to competing ones. Central to the Ericsson Industry 4.0 Ecosystem is the use of private cellular networks based on 4G or 5G, where 3GPP Releases 16,17, and 18 support high-precision positioning as a solution to traditional RTLS solutions. However, the prevalence of RTLS vendors supporting UWB and BLE systems demonstrates that there is room for solutions that leverage multiple technologies. In the short term, expect to see RTLS deployments leverage existing RTLS technologies and use 5G for connectivity, as cited by Quuppa and seen in deployments such as with TRUMPF and Deutsche Telekom, and BlueIOT and Huawei’s Industry 4.0 warehouses. As Release 17 is finalized and compatible products reach the market in the coming years, we can expect positioning from multiple sources to become the norm. As we are seeing from UWB-BLE solutions today, hybrid solutions can leverage the advantages of multiple technologies, such as the reliability and accuracy of UWB and power efficiency and cost of BLE, while management software and location engines are able to produce better results by leveraging multiple sources of location data for redundancy and precision.