Vision-enhanced robots that can halt their movement on a factory line if they sense an obstruction. Smarter real-time condition monitoring systems that can alert you that a fleet vehicle is going to need service soon because it’s been slogging through lousy weather. Sensors and drone-enabled digital photography that combine to create a rich facility data history that can help a utility company, for example, spot an emerging structural problem at a substation before it can turn into a catastrophe.
It’s not science fiction, and it’s not a vision of the manufacturing and materials movement environment 20 years from now. It’s what context-aware technology – tech that detects and records details about the environment in which an asset is operating – looks like today. And it’s what industry giants like Caterpillar and Boeing are investing in heavily in their efforts to slash inefficiencies and remain as competitive as possible.
“The technology is there,” says Rick Veague, CTO at IFS North America. “This isn’t stuff that people are dreaming up right now. It exists; it’s real; it’s usable.”
And yet for a large swath of discrete manufacturing organizations, context-aware technologies aren’t in use – yet. That’s a problem, says Veague, because an asset “doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it exists in some context.”