An Internet for Industry

Expert Panel Sees Growing Benefits of Machine Connectivity and Collaboration.

By Jim Montague

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The gap between business-level IT computing and its counterparts on the plant floor is narrowing in many places, but there remain yawning canyons in others. Despite the challenges, the Industrial Internet is bringing the benefits of commercial connectivity and collaboration platforms to the realm of manufacturing. These gains were described by a panel of experts at GE Intelligent Platforms' Connected World event on October 15 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago. Their discussion, entitled "How Today's Connected World is Transforming Industry," was moderated by Chris Murphy of Information Week magazine.

"There are a lot of proprietary systems in the process world," explained Carlos Rojas, mobility director at Cisco. "And while Cisco runs on open standards, both sides can benefit the overall enterprise. Convergence is important and real, but it can't happen overnight. The industrial world doesn't fare well when IT says it's just going to come in and connect up everything. Engineers want to know how they're going to keep their world secure and safe, and this means identifying cyber security entry points."

Jay Neidermeyer, CIO at GE Aviation, reported that, "We build complex engines, and they're made by even more complex machines that have to be up and running, so we can make our deliveries on time. We're also learning to interrogate our enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and analyze supplier behaviors, so we can better anticipate when new shipments will be needed based on past needs. There are some big opportunities to be gained by making these connections."

Peter Hock, senior director of continuous improvement at ConAgra Foods, explained, "We see two main opportunities coming from connectivity. For instance, the moisture content in flour and other products varies by silo, and so there's a big opportunity if we can identify those variations earlier, and adjust our controls. In the past, there's been a lot of work creating data visibility for management, but there hasn't been enough done to put the right data in the hands of operators, who can do as much as management to add value to asset points in the production chain, such as by identifying poor performance during a shift instead of after. That's what we want to explore."

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Jody Markopoulos, CEO of GE Intelligent Platforms, added that, "There are multiple verticals involved here from water to oil and gas to food and beverage, and all kinds of different assets, devices and enterprises. Improved connectivity via the Industrial Internet, which connects brilliant machines, advanced analytics and working people, can better optimize their applications, and dramatically improve their productivity and efficiency by reducing problems like previously unplanned downtime. And, even though this can be done at many different levels, the underlying technologies and solutions are very similar."

Accomplishing this wide-ranging optimization requires users to serve three primary masters, according to Mike Milburn, operations vice president for Salesforce.com's service cloud. "You have to meet the needs of a lot of people, but then also maintain security and uptime, and serve large, medium and small users and systems all at the same time," explained Milburn.

"LinkedIn is layering more of the people component into machines," added Kevin Krantz, vice president of sales at LinkedIn. "We have the connectivity to make this doable today. Machines should be able to recommend to their users who can help solve a particular problem, find who has experience with its technology, and even help schedule maintenance and repairs for them."

Rojas stated that useful data is the biggest driver of optimization and new capabilities. "Operations managers securing insights into key performance metrics is what everyone huddles around, but there are hurdles that IT has to get over to reach these new levels of performance," said Rojas. "For example, in a recent Chilean mining application, the IT side knew it needed a backbone, and used Ethernet via a hardened network. It's not 100% adopted yet, and there are multiple parts to address, but they've already found many opportunities they hadn't seen before."

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