Tech Partnerships and Upgrades Drive GE’s Digital Direction

Partnerships with Apple and Microsoft, as well as enhancements to its edge, field service and asset performance management, and digital twin analytics technology highlighted GE’s 2017 Minds + Machines.

GE’s 2016 Minds + Machines event focused on explaining the company’s intentions around its Predix platform and the direction GE was taking with it last fall, specifically around the application of asset analytics and the digital twin to improve industrial operations. Announcements made at the 2017 event represented a natural next step in terms of how these technology developments are steering the company strategically and how Predix is being applied to assets in a variety of industries. Accompanying the highlights of GE’s developing strategy around Predix were new partnership and product update announcements.

Following are brief descriptions of the principal announcements made at the event:

  • Expansion of Predix Edge capabilities to help run analytics as close to the source of data as possible. Enhancements announced include: Predix Edge Manager, which can support up to 200,000 connected devices from a single console; Predix Machine, which enables microservice-based applications to run at the edge on a user's virtualized data center infrastructure or on server-class hardware (Predix Machine also supports Predix Edge Manager, which was previously available only as a cloud service); and Predix complex event processing (CEP), which allows for faster, more efficient, low-latency analytics and other event processing.
     
  • Predix platform combined with Microsoft Azure will be available in North America starting in Q4 2017 and expanding globally in 2018. GE says this partnership “helps businesses better connect their information technology (IT) systems with their operational technology (OT) by bringing a company’s systems – and data – together in a shared environment. At the event, Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, said when it comes to making the leap to digitization, it’s important for industrial companies to realize that data feedback loops are “a means to an end for improved outcomes.” He pointed out “these loops are “not just for use as a system of record-keeping for assets, because it [improvement] doesn't end at the assets. It extends to predictive maintenance and field services. This means that core processes around assets need to be in feedback loop too."
     
  • GE and Apple announced they will bring Predix to Apple’s iPhone and iPad tablets. The Predix-iOS software development kit includes tools that software developers can use to write industrial apps that run on Apple’s iOS operating system. GE has already developed an iOS app called Asset Performance Management Cases. The app tracks data streaming from sensors inside a power plant and helps operators determine whether a machine part, such as a bearing, can remain in service and when it needs to be replaced. GE employees and customers can download the app through the Apple app store. Kevin Ichhpurani, GE Digital’s executive vice president, said Predix on iOS will make it easier for factory workers and engineers to collaborate no matter where they are. “Colleagues can look remotely at a machine and analyze the last action taken, study notes and look at images,” he said. “Instant communication via iOS, including FaceTime video chat, can help industrial companies avoid expensive unplanned outages and utilize workers better.” As part of the partnership, GE will make iPhones and iPads the preferred mobile devices for their workers around the world and offer Macs as an option. Apple will also use Predix as its analytics platform.
     
  • Enhanced Field Service Management (FSM) capabilities for GE Digital’s ServiceMax via integration of the Apache Spark AI (artificial intelligence) engine to improve service time estimates. Service providers can also now share FSM data with third-party mobile applications installed on the same device. GE says these new capabilities are aimed at improving first-time fix rates. In his presentation at Minds + Machines, Dave Yarnold, CEO of ServiceMax, noted that the largest companies in the 10 biggest industrial verticals have $23 trillion in revenues, with $1.4 trillion of that coming from service operations. Greater use of field service technology in this space “could mean a $500 billion bottom line impact from productivity improvements and new revenue streams,” he said. Joining Yarnold on stage at Minds + Machines, Don Davis of medical product supplier BD, said that using ServiceMax FSM enabled BD to bring standardization to its eight different instances of SAP. Using FSM, “we’ve been able to develop 14 KPIs for our service operations,” he said.
     
  • Predix Studio was officially introduced at the Minds + Machines 2017 event with a release date expected in early 2018. This software is designed to help users—not just skilled software developers—build and scale their own industrial applications in a low-code environment to extend the Asset Performance Management (APM) suite. GE explains that Predix Studio delivers its capabilities using a mix of AI and machine learning to automate the heavy lifting of creating Industrial IoT apps, thereby opening app development to a broad array of end users.
     
  • The Digital Twin Analytics Workbench applies a library of algorithms and templates to make it faster and easier for companies to build their own digital twins on Predix. GE used its own experience in managing industrial assets to generate hundreds of millions of hours of machine data to develop this digital twin library. The Analytics Workbench is currently available as a technology preview, but it can be used to augment existing digital twins with new data streams. An example highlighted at Minds + Machines showed how power producers using drones to inspect wind turbine blades, pipelines or fuel reserves can integrate visual inspection data into the digital twins they already use to manage power generation assets and grid infrastructure. The Analytics Workbench also helps users implement machine learning capabilities that allow those models to improve themselves over time.
     
  • Operations Performance Management (OPM)—a complementary application to the Predix Asset Performance Management software—is designed to help industrial companies increase revenue and margins, optimize the throughput of industrial processes and make their sites more profitable. OPM uses real-time and historical data, along with advanced analytics, to help customers make better operational decisions. The software provides an early warning if industrial processes deviate from plan, and gives operators the information and time needed to troubleshoot operational issues to take preventative actions and meet business goals. OPM software will initially be targeted at the mining industry and expand to additional industries early next year.
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