For years, pipeline companies, utilities and other infrastructure intensive businesses sent workers to personally inspect critical infrastructure to avoid downtime. It was a costly and time-consuming approach.
“The ‘Stone Age’ of infrastructure inspections saw workers walking the line, or flying in helicopters to look for problems,” says Gytis Barzdukas, GE Digital’s head of product management for Predix, the company’s cloud-based platform-as-a-service.
Then came the drones, which can cover more ground at lower cost. But even after the drones transmit the images of transmission towers and power lines, it still needs to be processed to assess maintenance needs. That’s why at Minds + Machines GE introduced the next era of inspection technology: a drone loaded with Predix.
Such a drone, Barzdukas says, would allow a utility company, for example, to get cameras much closer than helicopters to take photos of the smallest bearings, connectors, or links on power transmission towers — and then perform a real-time assessment of its maintenance record.
Perhaps the equipment is giving off more heat than it should or the ambient environment is somehow irregular. “We can send out a signal immediately to get a repair crew out there,” he says. The software can also automatically put in service requests if equipment needs repairs.
That’s just one way that Predix is transforming equipment inspection. But the platform doesn’t have to be loaded to reduce the cost of inspection and unplanned downtime.
A Predix-based app called Field Vision, which was demonstration at Minds+Machines, works with mobile devices, such as tablets, and is loaded with historical data about the equipment that an individual field inspector might need. The software can prescriptively provide notifications, based on that data, about maintenance that needs to be done. The app can also connect to the company’s ERP system and order parts if necessary.
Predix is equipment agnostic, capable of collecting performance data from machinery produced by any manufacturer, and the participation of more developers furthers its capabilities and simplify development. “We’ve got companies like Decisyon, who has a visual tool that lets you connect several Predix micro-services together and build an application, so you don’t need to be hardcore developer,” he says.
Barzdukas says that comparable to the iOS platform for consumer apps, Predix is where third-party developers and their customers can find technology that GE might not have — but its customers can use. He says there is more development ahead for Predix, in particular to build on the role analytics play in assessing the performance of equipment.
“We’re going to be streamlining a lot of the work around that and providing a much more robust environment for data scientists in 2017,” Barzdukas says.
Check out the demo in our Minds + Machines keynote on Nov. 16.