RedLore UWB RTLS Solution Comes Without Wired Infrastructure

Published: December 13, 2023

The technology, now being tested by pharmaceutical companies, leverages battery-powered anchors and UWB tags for a low cost and easy installation

Several pharmaceutical companies are testing technology offering a real-time view into temperature sensitive products—including their cold storage and transportation.

The real-time location system (RTLS) provided by Canadian technology company RedLore manages automated data related to medication stored, frozen, thawed, shipped or received at production and storage sites. It does so with anchors and tags that require no wires for power or data transmission.

The pilot of a RTLS system consisting of battery-powered ultra-wide band (UWB), anchors and tags started three months ago and will end after the first quarter of 2024, after which the technology company plans to commercialize its solution.

Launched six years ago, RedLore offers cold chain and condition monitoring that started with a focus on the automotive industry, stated Niek Van Dierdonck, the company’s CEO and co-founder. The company aimed to offer inventory visibility for companies supplying parts to automotive manufacturers.

Solving Supply Changes in Automotive Industry

In the automotive world, Van Dierdonck recalls, “most challenges were not in the production itself but in tracking the material flow.”

Van Dierdonck recalled an instance when a car manufacturer demanded parts from its supplier within the next three hours. If the parts weren’t received, they would have to stop production. The supplier had already sent the parts but the customer claimed to have not received them and was prepared to issue a hefty, contractual-based fee.

To avoid that penalty, the auto parts maker employed a helicopter to get more parts to its customer’s production facility immediately, which was cheaper than paying the penalty.

While Van Dierdonck says this is an extreme example, the story signifies a problem that dogs much of the manufacturing world still—especially for those using manual methods of tracking goods.

Patented System that Eliminates Cabled Infrastructure

To offer a solution, Van Dierdonck and his co-founders launched RedLore.

Traditional UWB systems can locate goods at a sub-meter level but require installation with anchors wired for data and power.

“One of the major barriers to entry for RTLS—to really be ubiquitous in the market—is that it’s still complicated to install,” Van Dierdonck says.

So RedLore’s technology focuses on applications where the installation of a wired infrastructure for RTLS tracking is either cost prohibitive or is just operationally unfeasible. For instance, some sites are only available for maintenance and upgrades a few weeks out of the year.

How it Works

The technology company has patented its solution in which anchors follow a duty cycle: they wake up for 10 milliseconds, go back to sleep for 990 milliseconds, and then wake again. In that way they require less power than traditional RTLS anchors which are “always-on.”

The tags are designed to wake up periodically and identify the cadence at which the neighboring anchor is active or dormant. The tags then synchronize their transmissions with that cycle. This allows anchors to operate 10 years on a single battery charge.

When it comes to location accuracy, a typical network of anchors can locate tags within a sub-meter area, when installed every 2,000 square feet. For example, a 500,000 square foot facility might employ about 250 anchors.

Following Floor Plan to Install

To deploy, a company uploads its floor plan on RedLore’s hosted software that calculates where anchors should be installed. Workers use that floor plan as they attach anchors to the wall, with double sided tape or cable ties.

Tags are typically applied to assets, materials, or worn by staff members. The system begins collecting location data as soon as the tags are detected.

The anchors transmit tag data back to the server with a built-in cellular modem. RedLore’s Microsoft Azure-based software calculates locations as well as managing the anchor devices. A bout one third of RedLore’s customers currently use the system’s own dashboards as a cloud-based Software as a Service, (SaaS), while the other two-thirds integrate with their WMS or their ERP system.

Onboard Ships for Mustering

The RedLore technology is already in use to track individuals on board ships for military agencies, as well as for civilian industrial applications, to ensure the safety of personnel on vessels. By knowing who is where on the ship, leadership can ensure the security of each individual in the event of an emergency.

Such applications benefit from the ease of deployment, with anchors that can simply be attached to a wall.

“They don’t want to drill holes for wiring they don’t want to drill holes through steel bulkheads,” Van Dierdonck points out.

Manufacturing sites are gaining advantages by leveraging battery-powered, easy to install anchors. For instance, they can use the system to identify when a product under assembly is delayed at a specific workstation.

Pharmaceutical Trial Underway

The pharmaceutical piloting by RedLore is aimed at ensuring the status and proper handling of ingredients for clinical trials during the development and manufacture of drugs. Ingredients flow through several locations during their chain of custody as products are made.

The pharmaceutical companies wanted a holistic view into their production, based on where a product or material was, when and for how long. With the pilot, ingredients are tagged with UWB sensors and anchors are deployed in locations around two facilities. When the tagged products arrive at each of the two sites, the software tracks their movement.

Throughout shipping and storage, these drug ingredients must be frozen and then thawed before mixing, and temperatures must be closely managed. That means having anchors installed inside freezers and at the point at which thawing takes place. The system can not only warn the company when a product is too long in a specific area, but enables staff members to more quickly locate and transfer products in uncomfortable environments such as in freezers.

Personnel can use a retrieval function in the software to view what needs to be removed from the freezer, for instance, and quickly enter, select the item and leave. The software would then confirm that the right item had been removed.

Alternative to BLE

By employing batteries, the UWB solution from RedLore competes with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions which can accomplish battery powered RTLS that offer accuracy of five meters typically.

RedLore offers a solution comparable to a BLE based system based on Wirepas communication, says Van Dierdonck, but in some cases the granular location data provided by UWB is preferable. If a medical facility, for instance, wants to know what is in a specific or small room, 16 feet of location accuracy won’t be enough.

The company works with third party partners that make most of the hardware devices that its customers use, while the company installs its own firmware on those anchors and tags.

RedLore estimates that users of its technology gain an 85 percent reduction in deployment cost, because the installation and wiring isn’t required.

Key Takeaways:
  • Battery powered UWB RTLS solution from RedLore aims to eliminate the high cost and hassle of installing a wired infrastructure.
  • The technology is being piloted at a pharmaceutical manufacturing site to ensure the proper processes related to temperature sensitive ingredients.