Fluid Power Journal

Leaping into Digital Asset Tracking

By Nicole Forbes, Strategy and Business Development Manager, Fluid Conveyance, Danfoss

Imagine walking into your local library and being directed to a card catalog to find the book you’re after. Or watching your doctor page through paper files to determine when you’re due for a procedure or vaccine. The delight of nostalgia might soon degenerate to frustration as a process that should have taken seconds eats into your day.

Such systems might seem ancient in today’s digital world. In reality, they’re similar to, if not more advanced than, some of the processes we still rely on in hydraulics. Consider hose replacement, for example. Typically, it involves an end user bringing a hose assembly to a distributor and waiting for a bill of materials to be correctly identified. It’s not just a hassle; while the hose is in the distributor’s hands, the machine isn’t operating. In addition, an identical replacement isn’t always a guarantee!

Out with the old

Some companies have turned to tracking methods like paper-based systems or simple software solutions to overcome these challenges. But these measures can be time consuming, and they have their limitations. First, it’s not easy to organize, store, and gain insights from volumes of physical records. There’s ample room for human error and misplaced documentation. These systems also don’t automate preventative maintenance processes. If inspections are missed and a hose fails, not only is a safety hazard created, but the end user might face downtime, lost profits, and fines. 

Thankfully, there are more efficient and reliable methods available to manage and track assets.  

In with the new

Hydraulic asset tracking systems allow users to label important parts and track them via a centralized digital system. Key documents such as certifications and bills of material can be electronically attached to physical products, making time spent chasing paperwork a thing of the past. Big data reporting capabilities simplify preventative maintenance and the discovery and diagnosis of issues. For example, if a system tells a user a certain hose has been replaced multiple times in a 12-month period due to wear, it may indicate that a more abrasion-resistant material is warranted. The simple scan of a barcode unlocks more information about a hose assembly than a physical inspection could yield.

Asset tracking isn’t a new technology, but recent advancements have made such systems more robust and easier to adopt, with preloaded product specifications, simple user interfaces, customizable labels, and more cost-effective fee structures. 

Take the leap

So, why the holdout? Certainly there’s an argument to be made about time commitment. It’s true that setting up templates takes time. Once complete, however, tracking becomes easier and faster than other methods. The initial time investment pays dividends in the long run. If cost is a factor, try comparing systems with different pricing models, such as one-time fee, annual subscription, or per-license charge.

We’re in the midst of an inevitable transition to digital tracking systems, making it imperative to diligently weigh objections against the risk of losing business opportunities. We’re already seeing OEMs require asset-tracking capabilities on projects they put out for bid. We also see asset tracking being closely tied to e-commerce and thoroughly integrated into numerous aspects of manufacturing, assembly, and testing processes.

The entire industry benefits from digitizing asset tracking. End users can enhance safety through automated maintenance alerts. They also benefit financially by increasing uptime. Distributors remain competitive simply by having such a system, and they see financial benefits through the ease of ordering replacement parts. Each entity improves their customer experience through seamless information sharing.

Into the future

In a digital age in which we expect instant information from the machines and products around us, hydraulic components should be no exception. The advent of Industry 4.0 and digitally trackable assets allow distributors, OEMs, and end users to experience a fully connected environment. We live and breathe these benefits in our daily lives. Our refrigerators tell us when we need more milk. Our mobile phones tell us when to leave for an appointment. It’s time to bring hydraulic asset tracking into the digital age. Only then can we maximize application performance, reliability, and safety.

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