This blog first appeared on ARC Advisory Group's Manufacturing Operations Technology Viewpoints

Over 2,500 persons attended GE Minds + Machines in San Francisco, CA November 15-16, 2016 where they were treated to a plethora of new products, industry applications, and case studies.  GE’s Predix operating system for the industrial internet served as the common denominator.  In addition, the company announced a number of new acquisitions and partner programs, including the recent creation of GE and Baker Hughes’ New Full stream Digital Industrial Services Company and acquisition of Meridium.  Attendees also heard from many of GE’s senior executives, including Chairman/CEO Jeff Immelt; Vice Chair Beth Comstock; and Chief Digital Officer and CEO of GE Digital Bill Ruh.

Products unveiled at Minds + Machines include the Predix System software architecture and services designed to make machines function as intelligent assets to bring visibility, control and analytic insights to industrial infrastructure and operations. This new set of components run on multiple operating systems, devices, and form factors ranging from sensors and controllers to gateways, server appliances, and the cloud, making Predix a distributed system for “edge-to-cloud” offerings. ARC presented The Power of the Industrial Edge to reinforce GE’s Predix edge computing and analytics capabilities.  This strategy reinforces GE’s approach to the edge and incorporates other GE devices, such as Field Agent, a component of GE’s Industrial Internet Control System (IICS).  This connects machines to the cloud, bringing computing to the edge with what GE estimates is 100 times the computing power of a standard control system.

A number of industry-specific solutions were introduced. GE Oil & Gas launched Predictive Corrosion Management, a new Asset Performance Management (APM) solution that provides continuous inspection data and cloud-based analytics of pipe conditions.  This can help operators manage corrosion-related risk, improve uptime, and minimize the total cost of operations. Predictive Corrosion Management couples GE’s Rightrax PM ultrasonic sensors with the Predix operating system to enable “digital inspection.” GE Oil & Gas also release a white paper entitled Asset Performance Management Overcomes Challenges in the Oil & Gas Industry focused on asset management challenges in the oil & gas industry, how data and analytics help improve asset management in upstream oil & gas, cloud adoption in upstream oil & gas, and a detailed list of recommendations for how oil & gas companies can deploy and leverage APM.  GE Oil & Gas has assembled a comprehensive set of APM capabilities and solutions powered by Predix for the oil & gas industry based on the requirements identified in this white paper.

Additional APM applications introduced include GE Energy Connections’ new Digital Substation, which extends the maintenance optimization benefits of GE’s APM software to the electric grid. Eight percent of all generated electricity never reaches its intended customer due to grid outages, so GE’s Digital Substation is designed to help enhance the reliability of a critical element of electrical grids and help optimize the total use of assets. In addition, Current, powered by GE, introduced a new solution for digital energy management, designed to analyze and help optimize energy use and operational efficiency use across lighting, HVAC and other systems. Customers use the solution to see exactly where and when energy is being used in real time. The software allows its customers to do historic and predictive and prescriptive analytics.

GE Power also introduced a new release of its Digital Power Plant software for gas, steam, and nuclear plants. This solution features new tools that GE estimates can help its customers reduce unplanned downtime by up to 5 percent, reduce false positive alerts by up to 75 percent, and reduce operations and maintenance costs by up to 25 percent. It also includes software that provides power producers with plant operating capacity information.  Energy traders can use this information to generate incremental revenues.  Also, GE Renewable Energy introduced the Digital Hydro Plant, a suite of apps combining both software and hardware solutions that complements GE’s Digital Wind Farm, Digital Power Plant for Gas, and Digital Power Plant for Steam.  These tools are designed to help its customers enhance power generation reliability, efficiency, cybersecurity, and profitability.  GE estimates this can help reduce maintenance costs by up to 10 percent, increase plant availability by as much as 1 percent, and boost revenues by up to 3 percent.

The company also announced a number of acquisitions at Minds + Machines. ServiceMax, a provider of cloud-based field service management (FSM) solutions, was acquired for $915 million and is expected to be finalized in January 2017.  ServiceMax’s platform applications include inventory and parts logistics, scheduling and workforce optimization, and work order management.  With this acquisition, GE plans to add analytics and insights into the ServiceMax logistics, workforce optimization, and deployment models. GE estimates there is an opportunity to improve service productivity by $25 billion through the use of analytical tools. Coupled with the recent acquisition of Meridium, GE Digital will add to its suite of applications for asset management.

Also announced at Minds + Machines were the acquisitions of Bit Stew Systems and Wise.io. Bit Stew applies its machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to automate data modeling, mapping, and ingestion. This acquisition will help GE Digital provide a solution to organize large amounts of data through data organization at either the edge or data source asset.  Wise.io, a machine learning and intelligent systems company, will help GE Digital to accelerate development of advanced machine learning and data science offerings in the Predix platform. These acquisitions will provide GE with additional industrial machine learning capabilities.  This is critical to GE’s development of Digital Twin solutions and data-intensive industrial computing challenges. Running on Predix, Digital Twins are virtual twins of an industrial asset. Twins continuously collect data from physical and virtual sensors and employ advanced machine learning techniques to analyze the data to gain insights about performance and operations.

Finally, the company announced a number of new partnerships at Minds + Machines. GE Digial and SAP are partnering to strengthen the integration between Predix and SAP's HANA Cloud Platform. The companies intend to collaborate in asset management, including SAP’s Asset Intelligence Network, and explore and design use cases to enable the ‘Things to Outcomes” vision in the oil & gas industry, whose customers will be the first users. SAP and GE are both members of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC).  Also, PTC and GE Digital plans to expand their strategic alliance. Specifically, the companies will pursue a “ThingWorx for Predix” technology suite to enable joint customers to develop custom applications that run on Predix. Additionally, PTC intends to sell ThingWorx coupled with GE’s Predix technology, and GE intends to sell ‘ThingWorx for Predix’ together with Predix solutions. PTC’s ThingWorx application enablement tools allow for drag-and-drop development of IIoT solutions that incorporate industrial automation connectivity, machine learning and predictive analytics, remote service, and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).

In Summary, Minds + Machines demonstrated how GE has reinvented itself as a predominantly digital industrial company.  It did this by developing its Predix operating system for the Industrial Internet, Brilliant Manufacturing Suite, portfolio of products and vertical industry solutions, ecosystem of developers and partnerships, and strategic acquisitions that support GE’s own digital transformation. 

GE’s singular focus starts at its Chairman/CEO Jeff Immelt, who left no doubt about the company’s commitment to digital transformation.  Each subsequent Minds + Machines brings additional real-world examples of Predix applications deployed in a variety of industries, such as APM in oil & gas applications.  ARC looks forward to following GE’s progress with its digital transformation in 2017 and seeing additional new products, solutions, apps, developers, case studies, acquisitions and partnerships at Minds + Machines in 2017.

Check out a complete wrap-up of Minds + Machines

About the author

Craig Resnick

ARC Advisory Group

Craig Resnick covers the PLC, PAC, HMI, OIT and Industrial PC markets as well as the Packaging, Plastics and Rubber Industries for ARC.  He is the primary analyst for many of ARC’s Automation Supplier and Financial Service clients.  Craig’s focus areas also include Production Management, OEE, HMI Software, Automation Platforms, and Embedded Systems.  Craig has 30 years’ experience in sales, marketing, product development, and project management in the industrial market, gained with major suppliers of PLCs, process control systems, power transmission equipment, and field devices.  Craig is a graduate of Northeastern University with an MBA and BS in Electrical Engineering.

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