GE Looks to the Future and Sees a Cloud

Nov. 20, 2014
Immelt's message: Get with the program or get left behind.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt's message to the more than 600 attendees of the GE Intelligent Platforms User Summit, Oct. 27-30 in Orlando, Florida, was both exciting and blunt. He predicted a possible future that's bright and glowing for manufacturers, but one with challenges that will have to be faced sooner rather than later and is coming on fast.

He said that whatever it thinks it is now, every industrial company will soon be a software and data analytics company or risk competitive irrelevance. The advent of the cloud, the Internet of Things, pervasive sensing and the deluge of data that these advances bring means every company has to master that data and use it to its advantage because the companies that do so will leave the laggards in the dust.

Immelt admitted that even GE—with some 400 plants and factories and an annual manufacturing spend of $63 billion—can't build out the industrial Internet on its own. Collaboration and co-innovation will be needed to realize its promise.

Clearly, Immelt believes industry must adapt the Internet to its own needs, even as the need for industrial domain expertise remains front and center. "Machines still matter, but they're surrounded by analytics, services and information," he said.

As an enabler of business outcomes, however, "the industrial Internet is real—it's not a cartoon and it's not PowerPoint," Immelt stressed.

Companies that can harness the triple potential of smarter machines; the enabling power of sensors, services and connectivity; and industrial big data and analytics can help themselves (and their customers) optimize assets and operations, and realize the power of "the 1%," which is company shorthand for incremental improvements that pay off big. For example, a 1% improvement in fuel efficiency of the global airline fleet is worth $3 billion. "Small changes can be worth tens of billions of dollars," Immelt said.

Other speakers reinforced the urgency of being prepared for this wave of technological change. "Over my career, I've witnessed three or four major shifts in automation," said Bernie Anger, general manager of GE Intelligent Platforms, in an address on the second day of the meeting. "Right now, we're witnessing the next huge wave of change and innovation. This wave of industrial Internet and cloud-assisted automation is as big as HMIs and PLCs were."

He added, "Hardware matters, but it matters differently than it did in the past. Hardware is the edge of the industrial Internet." Software, meanwhile, is at its core. The new software, computing and communications capability now available mean that, "Every notion we've had about how much something costs and how long it takes to do it are absolutely false," he added.

The rest of the GE Intelligent Platfors User Summit backed up these heady predictions with some new offerings. The Predix software platform is a way for GE to develop industrial Internet solutions that close the gap between operations technology, such as PLCs, gateways and SCADA, and business systems, including ERP, CRM and supply chain systems.

In addition, GE's Proficy Monitoring and Analysis Suite (PMAS) is an integrated stack of industrial, data-management and analytics software coupled with industry-specific solutions and cloud services. It comprises solutions that match neatly with the points on GE's Industrial Internet Maturity Model—connect, monitor, analyze, predict and optimize.

Also, Proficy Historian and Historian HD provide the abilities to connect and monitor. "Historian can be deployed in a machine control and HMI SCADA all the way up to the cloud," explained David Bell, commercial leader, GE Intelligent Platforms. "It scales in all of those levels. We're employing some visualization technology from the Predix platform, and it's based on HTML5 web technologies. This allows users to have the web browser automatically adjust to their displays."

Analysis capabilities come from Proficy Historian Analysis, the companion product to Historian, which has been fully migrated to the Predix visualization platform in HTML5. This allows browser-based access to data for ad-hoc analysis, and Proficy Knowledge Center, which expands on the capabilities in Historian Analysis to be more of a fleet management solution.

It integrates with the Industrial Performance and Reliability Center (IPRC), a GE monitoring center in Lisle, Illinois, where analysts using Proficy SmartSignal can keep predictive tabs on equipment on a user's behalf. Proficy SmartSignal detects the very early signs of deterioration and failure, allowing more proactive maintenance strategies.

Optimization is enabled by Proficy CSense. From managing and analyzing data to visualization and workflow, users can take data and do something with it. PMAS supports APM through M&D, predictive maintenance and, above all, operations intelligence.