One of the earliest, game-changing inventions still used today, aside from Edison’s first successful trial of the light bulb in 1879, is the railway. Edison possessed an outstanding patent on the electric locomotive, leading GE to build its first electric locomotive prototype in 1895. Railways have stood the test of time, through economic turmoil and other more modern modes of transportation, even providing time travel in a famous modern pop culture film.

For you “Back to the Future” fans, the third installment takes Doc Brown back to the 1800s where he’s left behind by Marty and has no way back to the future when the flying DeLorean time machine is destroyed. So, he builds a steam locomotive into a time machine and returns to 1985 to pick up his dog, Einstein. Before embarking on another adventure with his wife and kids, Jules and Verne, he optimistically tells Marty and  has no way back to the future when the flying DeLorean time machine is destroyed. So, he builds a steam locomotive into a time machine and returns to 1985 to pick up his dog, Einstein. Before embarking on another adventure with his wife and kids, Jules and Verne, he optimistically tells Marty that their future “hasn’t been written yet,” and that they should “make it a good one.”

I recently sat down with Israel Alguindigue, CMO and software product management leader for the Global Services Organization at GE Transportation, to talk about what’s in store for transportation, like railways. Alguindigue rightly pointed out that a locomotive, as a highly instrumented machine is self-monitoring and constantly broadcasts its status and performance information.  Add to that all the locomotive information that we collect as we manufacture it, maintain it over time, overhaul it, and remanufacture its components. We know all there is to know about this incredible powerful and complex machine.  So what’s next?

Now with the Industrial Internet, we can put sensors and other advanced instrumentation in an array of machines, from the simple to the highly complex, to collect and analyze vast amounts of data in real time to get insights to do things we could never see before. Providing valuable insights to people as they’re doing their job can have a phenomenal impact on things that matter, like how to improve productivity in resources, how to get better fuel economy, how to operate the business more efficiently, how to prevent breakdowns, and most importantly, how to maintain it.

It’s about transforming the vast amount of data coming from machines to create new value and ultimately help people to do their jobs better. For instance, we can now evaluate real-time locomotive health data to help deliver timely recommendations to the operating centers and maintenance shops, enabling mission success, reducing train delays and increasing asset availability.

We are on the verge of a software explosion that will help to transform the world of transportation. Since our first electric locomotive prototype in 1895, we have helped to move the modern world, enabling people to live and work in new ways. Our next revolution will be brilliant transportation systems that can sense and respond to changes in real time.

Full Steam Ahead

GE Transportation President and CEO Lorenzo Simonelli recently published a compelling byline in “Progressive Railroading” regarding the benefits of the Industrial Internet to the railroad industry. A connected rail ecosystem has the ability to unlock new productivity through increased connectivity between systems, assets and the enterprise. Consider specifically what this Industrial Internet can do for the railroad industry:

  • Today, disconnected systems and processes, poor integration, legacy architecture and technology lead to higher costs, low asset utilization and capacity constraints. As a result of system connectivity and network-wide visibility brought on by the Industrial Internet, railroads can now streamline their operations and increase network velocity.
  • Data gaps limit visibility and automation. Now it will be possible to analyze critical end-to-end information in real-time and plan and optimize business outcomes.
  • A rail car spends as much as two-thirds of total transit time sitting idle. Better integration and visibility within the yards, and between yards and the mainline network will enable better planning and management of yard operations reducing dwell time and increasing utilization.

This is critical because with the Industrial Internet, railroads can realize major efficiencies. An improvement of just 1 percent in the North American rail industry’s operating ratio could yield $600 million or more in annual savings.

Software is truly coming into its own with the Industrial Internet. It is changing not only what we sell, but also how we make things, who we are, and most importantly, how we engage with customers. And that is an incredible future that I bet Doc Brown did not see coming!

About the author

Bill Ruh

Chief Digital Officer, GE and CEO, GE Digital

Bill Ruh is the chief executive officer for GE Digital as well as the senior vice president and chief digital officer (CDO) for GE. Bill is responsible for global IT as well as creating GE’s Digital Thread, a next-generation system for streamlining design, manufacturing, and support processes. He joined GE in 2011 to establish its Industrial Internet strategy and to lead the convergence of the physical and digital worlds within GE globally. Previously, Bill was vice president at Cisco, where he held global responsibility for developing advanced services and solutions. A 30-year veteran of the software and Internet industries, he has held executive management positions at Software AG, Inc., The Advisory Board, The MITRE Corporation, and Concept 5 Technologies. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from California State University, Fullerton.