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How GE software is making its mark on the Industrial Internet

Thor Olavsrud | June 22, 2016
GE is using digital models of individual industrial assets, fed with data from the Internet of Things and tuned with machine learning, to drive efficiency.

In 2011, Marc Andreessen famously asserted, "Software is eating the world." Jeff Immelt, CEO and chairman of General Electric (GE) took that to heart. He has made no bones about the fact that all industrial companies will have to become software and analytics companies.

As a result, GE has begun looking to Web 2.0 companies like Google and Amazon for inspiration.

"The digital transformation at GE has helped anticipate the needs of a technology-driven society, and it has been both rapid and dramatic," Colin Parris, vice president for Software Research, GE Global Research, wrote last week. "A few years ago, people compared us to other industrial conglomerates like Siemens and United Technologies. Now, as we declare GE will be a top 10 software company by 2020, we're being compared to the Internet and software giants that also have changed the way we live: Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Google."

The Industrial Internet is different

But Parris also notes that the Industrial Internet has different needs. Analytics in the consumer Internet, he says, are all about analyzing massive volumes of data to connect people and things. The data generated in the industrial space is orders of magnitude more massive, but the events that matter are actually few and far between.

"In the industrial space, the events that are important to me are failures," he tells CIO.com. "The valuable data that tells me about an event that I want to focus on so I'll never have it again in the industrial space is tiny.

For instance, in the course of a million flights using GE's jet engines, there might be 29 events that prompt an airline to bring a plane in for maintenance.

Finding those 29 events in a sea of data is no easy task, especially if you don't know where to look.

"If you don't know where to look, you'll get lost trying to find it and never achieve the outcome you or your customer is seeking," Parris says.

GE's answer is the Digital Twin. A Digital Twin is a digital model of a physical asset. The key, Parris notes, is that the digital model doesn't represents a fleet of assets. It is a one-to-one representation of a particular asset. Each jet engine on a plane and each wind turbine in a wind farm gets its own digital twin. Sensors on each asset feed the twin. Since many of these assets operate in conditions that are inimical to sensors — the temperature inside a jet engine's combustion chamber can reach 2,000 degrees Celsius — GE supplements physical sensors with virtual sensors.

 

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