Whether you call it the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, or the Industrial Internet, it’s all about connecting machines, processes and people wherever they may be. As one of the principal protagonists of Industrial Internet, GE has been very vocal about how this initiative will transform industry.
Speaking with Rich Carpenter, GE’s chief technology strategist, while attending the ARC Forum earlier this month, he stressed that the Industrial Internet is no longer “an if … we’re well into it already.” He added that, even though “we’re already five years into it, we’re just at the beginning of this.”
The primary area of focus for GE in these early days of the Industrial Internet is asset management.
“It’s important to bring insight into equipment function so that users can take proactive action to prevent failures in real time and avoid having to react in real time,” said Carpenter, explaining GE’s reason for focusing on assets at the outset. “Using asset analytics for operational efficiencies not only allows for greater uptime and productivity, but also introduces new profit opportunities via cloud computing. It can be a business model transformation for OEMs.”
Further explaining GE’s stance on asset performance strategy, Carpenter noted that it’s not “always about the value of an asset, but the economic impact of that asset upstream or downstream. Knowing this helps prioritize asset management. Then you can establish connectivity to monitor and analyze the asset’s data for diagnosis, decision, and action. After that, you can review the performance data following your actions and reassess strategy.”
A key technology recently introduced by GE to facilitate its asset management strategy is Predix. According to GE, Predix is a “first-of-its-kind industrial-strength software platform that provides a standard and secure way to connect machines, industrial big data and people. Predix combines technologies for distributed computing and analytics, asset management, machine-to-machine communication and mobility that can run on-premise or in the cloud.”
Predix can handle petabytes of data across an enterprise, said Carpenter. “It sits above connected assets and data and can feed into a historian, business intelligence software, systems such as GE’s Proficy Knowledge Center for asset fleet management, or GE’s Industrial Performance and Reliability Center (IPRC) service for remote monitoring of critical assets.
Technologies like Predix and all the systems connected to it are “an area where research still matters,” Carpenter said, noting that GE is investing $1 billion into its San Ramon, Calif., center focused on software and analytics development.
Carpenter added that research underway at the GE Software Center in San Ramon is leading to the creation of new competencies and expertise at GE around:
- Platform development for cloud, big data, mobile access, and security;
- User experience, scalable architectures, data science, and engineering;
- Machine learning, predictive analytics, model based optimization and control, physics and expert-based modeling; and
- Sensor and image analytics.
The most recent technology news to come from GE on the asset management front is the release of its IPRC Field Agent—an industrial PC equipped with wireless or wired network connectivity. According to GE, “a TCP/IP connection and IP address are all that are required to securely connect assets in the field with Proficy SmartSignal and GE’s Industrial Performance & Reliability Center (IPRC). Data scientists in the IPRC can monitor machines around the world to optimize their health and operational performance, reducing or eliminating unexpected shutdowns and prevent catastrophic failure.”
An IPRC subscription provides for collection and transmission of alerts triggered by predefined thresholds based on time-sensitive data trends such as temperature, speed, pressure, and flow readings. A secure plant historian database continuously relays critical data to the GE secure hosting facility where it can be accessed and analyzed by the GE Customer Reliability Team.
To date, GE claims that the IPRC team has preempted more than 10,000 events for customers in oil & gas, mining, transportation and other industries.
As evidence of dramatic reductions in production downtime and improved equipment health and maintenance mounts around the deployment of Internet-connected asset management technologies, the remaining hurdle for many companies will be moving past common apprehensions about data ownership.
“Engineers concern about data is often fear driven,” Carpenter said. “They fear that something will be found and think that management will assume that they, as engineers, should have already known about it. This attitude in industry needs to change so that engineers feel that discovery is not a bad thing for them, but good for the business.”