A powerful, deep and far-reaching transformation is underway in industry. It is fundamentally changing the way we work, operate, and interact with machines. It is making our machines "brilliant," with newfound abilities to become predictive, responsive and social, and enhancing their ability to communicate seamlessly with each other and with operators. GE has a long history of bringing intelligence to the operation of devices and machines. Safety assurance, performance, and optimization have been delivered by GE at or above the level of the individual asset, from the days of early steam turbines over 100 years ago to current applications such as advanced modular avionics and grid energy management systems. For Industrial machines, this has been accomplished by using a control system that can sense the state or condition of the machine, compute or calculate an appropriate response, and take action to change the behavior of the machine through use of actuators or manipulators.

The vision of the Industrial Internet is to interconnect brilliant machines, analytics and people in a way that enables operations and asset optimization with benefits ranging from higher utilization of networked systems such as railways and electric power grids, to pushing the performance of individual assets through predictive analytics that more accurately learn how equipment degrades. Predix™, GE's software platform for the Industrial Internet, and GE Predictivity™ solutions are key building blocks of this vision.

With the advent of cloud based intelligence reaching down to the device level it makes it possible to create a different, new type of control system, one defined by software. GE is hard at work developing these new "software-defined control systems" that feature common hardware, communications, configuration tools and user experience that can be seamlessly interconnected to build a full range of system capabilities. It is these control systems that will provide the brilliant edge of the Industrial Internet by orchestrating the machine applications, consolidating data with machine sensors and actuators, transforming it into intelligence, and taking action on the asset.

The software-defined control systems are Predix-enabled and will interface with cloud based analytics. They will enable connected machines across multiple industries to talk the same language, understand their health condition, and learn to become more aggressive with their performance over time, while always ensuring safe and secure performance. GE is actively adopting and leading the definition of industry-wide accepted standards and practices for scalable interoperability[1] while ensuring security of the critical infrastructure that the control systems support.

Imagine the benefits of a jet engine that not only controls and optimizes its own functions, but also predicts its maintenance needs, communicates with other machines on the aircraft, communicates across the customer's fleet of aircraft, and optimizes operations. A significant part of this vision is already being enabled through the Predictivity solution, Intelligent Operations, created by Taleris, a joint venture with GE and Accenture. It is able to provide capabilities across all airframes and systems. On top of that, the GE Predictivity™ solution, Flight Efficiency services, transforms data into actionable insights that improve flight paths and operations.

GE has been focused on building out the key technology elements required to realize software-defined control systems. These technologies that must be built out are highlighted in Figure 1 and detailed in the paragraphs.

Industrial & harsh environment hardware platform

Throughout its 122 years, GE has developed a broad and deep experience operating across many industries, ranging from benign industrial applications to those that must survive the harshest environments (see Figure 2). From high temperature electronics that survive in the extreme temperatures of down-hole oil and gas drilling environments, to avionics systems that can robustly survive direct lightning strikes, GE has an extensive set of technologies and demonstrated capabilities that thrive in harsh environments. This experience will be leveraged to ensure GE's software-defined control systems will be available to accommodate virtually any industrial application.

Software-defined, flexible and robust control systems

Predix's software-defined machine (SDM) infrastructure will be used on the control systems, allowing the provisioning and upgrade of machine applications, and the delivery of automated intelligence to the equipment they are running. Much the same way cell-phone functionality has evolved from the single voice communication role to the flexible personal computing and social interaction platforms they provide today, controls will evolve through SDM to extend beyond their initial singular function, unlocking new opportunities for end users to enhance the value they extract from these systems. The machine applications that will run on the software-defined control systems, combined with secure communications, will allow machines to be responsive, predictive, and social.

Standards-based and secure communications

GE's next-generation of control systems and edge devices will embed metadata, complex objects, and enable secure communications from the sensor through to the supervisory controls layer (SCADA) and ultimately to cloud-based services. These features will allow users to build automation into the system and remove complexity that today hinders productivity. GE controllers will realize an industrial version of "plug & play," with flat communication structures that will allow unparalleled access to data and knowledge at all levels (asset, plant, fleet, network, and across industries). This capability will allow optimization of the network productivity and performance.

Next-generation user experience and development/configuration tools

Users will interact with machines in new and more meaningful ways through software-defined control systems with modern multi-device, multi-location, collaborative engagement between humans and machines. GE is leveraging deep domain expertise, to create rich, highly effective user interfaces for integrators, operators, maintainers, and asset managers that will be context aware, delivering the right content to the right person on the right device at the right time. User interaction with the control system becomes a seamless extension of managing and optimizing the customer enterprise, reflecting the need for simpler, more flexible—yet comprehensive—situational awareness across increasingly complex systems.

GE is creating a new generation of user tools for creating and capturing traditional and model-based control systems. Just as programmers once captured software in assembly language and have now migrated to high-level languages like C, and in the era of the Internet to even more abstract languages like Java, controls programming in the Industrial Internet needs to be at a higher-level of abstraction. In order to be scalable, control systems need to be able to be designed, built, and commissioned in less time with less people. GE's control systems will build upon the IEC 61131-3 traditional programming languages while introducing additional object-oriented programming concepts to the user that helps them to build their control solution more efficiently.

Summary

GE is investing heavily in advancing the Industrial Internet to interconnect brilliant machines with analytics and people around the world, unlocking a new set of performance opportunities that manifest themselves at the fleet (or systems of systems) level of equipment and asset classes. Supporting this vision, GE is also building software-defined control systems with common hardware, communications, configuration tools and user experience that can be flexibly leveraged across multiple industries, ranging from simple industrial automation applications to those demanding operation in the harshest environments.

Learn more about PredictivityPredix, and software-defined machines.