Context-aware technologies: The next frontier in mobile asset management

Sheila Kennedy explores mobility in context.

By Sheila Kennedy

Context awareness is gaining ground in mobile processes, systems, and applications. Understanding the physical environment and business conditions affecting a task help to optimize its performance. New solutions for material and asset management support a more robust, dynamic knowledge base.

Materials handling

Shipping or receiving irreplaceable, high-value, or environmentally-sensitive goods requires multiple layers of intelligence. SenseAware powered by FedEx lets customers track the global positioning, safety, and integrity of a package and its contents during shipment or while in storage. The multisensor device collects and transmits data via a cellular module from inside packages, pallets, trailers, or warehouses using wireless communication. Near-real-time data is sent to an online application for monitoring and analysis.

“The multisensor device allows shippers to monitor not only the location of their package, but also the environmental conditions inside the package, such as temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, shock, and exposure to light," says Chris Swearingen, manager of global supply chain solutions and market development at FedEx. "It utilizes geofences, which allow customers to assign an approved area for package movement and receive alerts if the package moves outside of the boundaries."

For autonomous transport vehicles, creating visibility is critical to success. Seegrid Supervisor is a web-based application that connects, monitors, and controls Seegrid vision-guided vehicles (VGVs). The software provides live status and location information of the VGV fleet, and acts as an automated traffic cop by granting or withholding access to congested or restricted areas. Configurable rules allow for custom notifications and commands, and dispatch rules and routes can be established. The software can be integrated with external control devices and work management or manufacturing execution software.

“Seegrid Supervisor shows multiple views of the current status of the VGV fleet, from plant-wide maps to context-specific views at a single work cell. The goal is to keep production moving, and to present just what's needed to the floor operators so they can keep focus on their own work,” says Jeff Christensen, vice president of products at Seegrid.

The Egemin Transport Intelligent Control Center (E’tricc) is Egemin Automation’s automated guided vehicle (AGV) management software. E’tricc offers centralized or decentralized traffic control, dynamic routing to avoid collisions and bottlenecks, and dynamic job scheduling to assign work to the best available AGV.

Mobile work

Smart handheld or wearable devices that have access to enterprise resource planning (ERP) and enterprise asset management (EAM) software bring essential intelligence to the field, warehouse, and plant floor. Providing remote access to information and enabling updates from the field is just the beginning.

“IFS believes strongly that context-aware mobile solutions are the next logical evolution in industrial-strength mobility,” says Rick Veague, CTO at IFS North America. “From simple things such as recording a nonconformance quality event or health and safety risk to complex things such as identifying field assets with outstanding maintenance demands,” he says, mobile solutions can help “drive real-time actionable activities, decision-making, and cost reduction.”

For electric utilities, restoring lost power is a critically time-sensitive task. PowerOn Response mobile software from GE’s Digital Energy business draws context from Big Data to accelerate repairs and improve grid resilience. Built on GE’s Predix platform, PowerOn Response integrates circuit assessment data with operational workflows so the repair crews and outage management system (OMS) users are better able to prioritize restoration activity. Field workers can access and analyze mass amounts of grid data on the fly from any common mobile device. Pre-loaded maps of electrical distribution networks improve damage visualization.

“Damage and losses resulting from power outages cost the global economy approximately $200 billion annually," says Keith Grassi, global product line leader for GE’s Digital Energy business. "GE Digital Energy’s PowerOn Response helps utilities address this problem by connecting the utility control room to workers in the field, allowing a simultaneous integration of field and OMS data to provide a clearer picture of where network damage exists.”

ChaiOne is addressing oil and gas industry pains with context-infused mobile software that helps lease operators and managers keep the wells pumping. ChaiOne's mobile app is designed for work scheduling, monitoring, navigation, recordkeeping, and team collaboration. A large map view pinpoints locations of wells and personnel. Integration with SCADA adds production monitoring capability.