GE Nurtures Its Industrial Internet Ecosystem

Oct. 6, 2015
With several partnerships announced and highlighted throughout the week of its Minds + Machines conference in San Francisco, GE demonstrated the idea of generativity—putting down a rich soil and letting the rest of the world add to it.

Bill Joy’s Law states that there are always more smart people outside of your organization than inside it. GE is grasping hold of this idea, fostering a variety of partnerships to help it maximize its Industrial Internet ecosystem. During GE Minds + Machines in San Francisco last week, executives spoke repeatedly of the ecosystem being fostered, and several announcements were made about new partnerships.

From big partners like Cisco to small startups like Bit Stew and Maana, they’re all geared around leveraging the expertise and know-how throughout the ecosystem to further GE’s vision of the Industrial Internet and the power that can be harnessed through manufacturing data.

During a general session at the conference, Mickey McManus, chairman and principle of Maya Design, a design consultancy and technology research lab, described the concept that GE is fostering as generativity. “Generativity is a powerful way you can put down some rich soil and the rest of the world adds to that soil. If you can harness this idea of generativity, you don’t have to do all the work. But you do have to provide a rich soil,” he explained. “Generativity allows innovators to become farmers of ideas, plant seeds and nurture wildflowers from the ecosystem.”

Executives for a closing panel discussion also talked about the need for more cooperation. “We have to accept that it is an ecosystem of partners. There is no one company large or small that’s going to dominate,” said Bob Sell, group chief executive of Accenture. Companies will even need to embrace the idea of working together with “frenemies,” he added, pointing to, “in some cases, competitive capabilities that in a strange way become complementary.”

Here is a sampling of some of the activity that GE is nurturing with various partners in the Internet of Things (IoT) space:

PTC’s IIoT environment

“In this space, you can’t do it all,” said Jennifer Bennett, general manager of manufacturing software for GE. “In the past, maybe we tried to do it all. But now we recognize this is a new world. You need to find the right partners.”

Part of that is letting each partner focus on its core capabilities. “You’ve got to have context, seeing what their core strength is that they’re bringing to the table,” Bennett said. “Then we can leverage our core strength.”

For PTC, some of those core strengths are its abilities in product lifecycle management (PLM), data mashup and providing an infrastructure for application development, Bennett said. Based in Needham, Mass., with some 6,000 employees around the world, PTC provides products and services for computer-aided design (CAD), PLM, application lifecycle management (ALM), service lifecycle management (SLM) and the Internet of Things (IoT). ThingWorx is a complete IoT Platform that includes connectivity, device cloud, business logic, Big Data analytics and remote service applications.

The two companies will create a GE-branded solution that combines GE’s manufacturing portfolio with PTC’s ThingWorx Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) application enablement environment. The end result, which will be implemented within GE’s internal manufacturing plants as part of its Brilliant Factory initiative, will include role-based manufacturing dashboards along with powerful analytics to provide access to actionable data. GE and PTC will work together to certify ThingWorx for GE’s Predix ecosystem.

GE’s partnership with PTC is built around getting data out of silos, mashing up data from all different sources, according to Bennett. This is vital, particularly as manufacturing becomes more data-driven, she said. “We can’t be stuck in silos anymore. It’s like having blinders on.”

Maana’s search engine

Maana is tackling those data silos from another angle, pioneering semantic search technology for industrial Big Data. GE is an early investor in Maana, which is focused on bringing together and making sense of data currently locked behind applications or log files, or data generated by machinery and sensors. Like something akin to what search engines like Google provide for the Internet, Maana is looking to be the search engine for the Industrial Internet.

Babur Ozden, Maana’s co-founder and CEO, likened manufacturing’s silos to those “billions of data silos called websites,” which wouldn’t survive without search engines leading consumers to them. “If there’s going to be an Industrial Internet, it must have peace with its data,” he said. “Data should never be getting in the way; should never be the reason why things don’t get done.”

Part of the power of the Internet, Ozden pointed out, is that a website is searchable within 48 hours of it going live. Likewise, data—gathered internally and externally, regardless of its format—should be very quickly searchable, usable and consumable, he said. Maana integrates data from multiple disparate sources and turns it into meaningful knowledge that can be interactively explored and used to improve operations. In essence, Maana aims to crawl countless numbers of data silos, regardless of the types of data, and be the relevant search engine for industry.

A key difference between what Maana and Google set out to achieve, however, is that data is often not text-based, requiring Maana to hide the complexity of the data structure—look for relevant information, build a knowledge structure—to make it easier for users to interact with the knowledge. “If this is not happening, we can’t talk of the Internet of Industrial Things,” Ozden said. “Data needs to be flowing with ease.”

Where traditionally manufacturers must look at each data silo individually to see what they can learn from each, Maana provides a more holistic view of the assets and infrastructure from multiple sources simultaneously. For example, working with a large U.S. oil and gas company, Maana’s technology helps a well planner assess current wells or decide where to drill the next well by pulling in data from WellView (a de facto standard in the industry), sensors, geological information, historical risk assessments and more through searches that let him gather knowledge as needed. He could compare work shift data with kicks (unwanted events), for example, or look at the geology of the earth at that kick depth.

A privately held company with offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and Bellevue, Wash., Maana crossed paths with GE about three years ago, Ozden said, at which point GE began investing in the company. Intel made an investment in 2013, and Chevron and ConocoPhillips were added as strategic investors last year. Maana’s search capabilities have been successfully tested through some of the largest players in several different industries, including oil and gas, manufacturing and healthcare.

Cisco’s IT networking

Also during the week, GE and Cisco announced their partnership to create best practices for deploying GE’s Brilliant Manufacturing Suite within a modern Cisco IT environment. The reference architecture will provide a blueprint for combining GE’s digital industrial strength with Cisco’s flexible and secure networking infrastructure in order to create a digital thread that will capture machine data on the factory floor.

“In order to start down the path to becoming a Brilliant Factory, the first step is to deploy a modern IT infrastructure,” said James Beilstein, CIO for advanced manufacturing deployment for GE’s manufacturing facilities worldwide. “This infrastructure will give our plants the flexibility and security needed to develop a digital thread from product design to shipping. Cisco is part of GE’s Brilliant Factory architecture.”

Demand is building for real-time insights across manufacturing systems, noted Kate Johnson, chief commercial officer for GE Digital. “Factory digitization capabilities are improving, and compute and connectivity prices are falling, but many companies are hamstrung by legacy IT infrastructure. Our joint GE-Cisco solution creates a state-of-the-art joint information and operations technology architecture necessary for machines to adapt, predict and diagnose their own failure, deployable in today’s real-world manufacturing environments.”

The latest announcement follows on from last year’s announcement that GE and Cisco would integrate GE’s Predix software on Cisco networking products to enable the collection and analysis of asset performance and operational data anywhere in the network. One of the first of these devices is a Predix-ready Cisco router in a ruggedized form factor for harsh environments such as oil and gas facilities.

Bit Stew’s IIoT platform

Both Cisco and GE are financially backing Canadian company Bit Stew Systems, which has a purpose-built platform for the Industrial Internet. GE led a $17.2 million Series B round of funding a few months ago, and at GE Minds + Machines, Bit Stew announced a new pilot program that integrates its MIx Core platform with a GE Oil & Gas software solution.

“With our trusted partners like GE, we are disrupting traditional approaches for integrating industrial data, leading to time-to-value benefit never seen before in the Industrial Internet,” said Alex Clark, founder and chief software architect for Bit Stew. “Instead of relying on software technologies and data architectural models unsuited for the massive scale of data streaming from industrial systems, we have created an industrial data library platform that scales to the data volumes found with Industrial Internet use cases and that rapidly dissolves the challenges of data integration.”

The two companies are working to harmonize Bit Stew’s technology with GE’s digital capabilities for the oil and gas market, commented Ashley Haynes-Gaspar, general manager, software and services at GE Measurement & Control. “With partners like Bit Stew, data integration will be a challenge of the past, allowing our customer engagements to go from what was weeks and months to days,” she said. “With their MIx Core platform immediately collecting and collating data, GE can focus on upgrading the findings, insights and applications that deliver better outcomes for our customers.”

Infosys’s IIC testbeds

“We’ve been thinking a lot in the past year about what the great platform of our time is all about,” said Vishal Sikka, CEO and managing director of Infosys, during a keynote at GE Minds + Machines. “It’s all about open platforms; open systems based on open sources.”

Infosys is collaborating with GE and others through the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), which recently approved two Infosys-led testbeds. The Asset Efficiency Testbed enables holistic monitoring, analysis and optimization of critical infrastructure assets. “All assets in the mechanical world can unleash unprecedented efficiency by digitizing them,” Sikka said. The first use case focuses on predictive maintenance for an industrial asset such as aircraft landing gear, which was showcased at the conference.

The Industrial Digital Thread Testbed aims to create more intelligent linkages between the three phases of manufacturing—design, production and field testing/service. By capturing, analyzing and relaying real-time sensory and historical data at each of these phases, the Industrial Digital Thread (IDT) will generate insights that can help field engineers and service teams identify the root cause of component failure easily, and provide faster corrections to flaws in design engineering and manufacturing operations.

The IDT is focused on bringing together two open-standard analytics platforms—GE’s Predix platform and the Infosys Information Platform (IIP). IDT will be implemented first as a pilot project at GE Aviation.

“We see brilliant manufacturing as the next wave of Industrial Internet innovation, following asset performance management,” said Bill Ruh, chief digital officer for GE Digital. “We are excited about our most recent collaboration with Infosys to advance these two areas and drive increased efficiency and productivity for industry.”

Testing the waters

Though there may be some overlap in the technologies that partnering companies bring to the table, they each have their particular strengths, noted Jim Walsh, president and general manager of GE Intelligent Platforms Software. In some cases, they might have capabilities that GE doesn’t have. In other cases, they might just be able to help GE get to where they’re going faster, he said.

Some may pan out. Some may not. In any case, to take advantage of the opportunities that rich data and analytics offer in industry, GE knows it doesn’t make sense to try to go it alone.

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