The future is now – especially in the world of manufacturing and industry, where innovations in robotics, advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, and more, are poised to transform plant operations and efficiencies. While advances are coming on stream at a rapid rate, a recent study by the Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network reveals many companies are lagging in Internet of Things (IoT) readiness.
In Asia, interest in IoT tech is high, and more than 8,400 attendees, from 40 nations, visited the recent 2017 Manufacturing Technology Asia (MTA) conference in Singapore, to learn about the latest IoT solutions, and how they will transform manufacturing and industrial operations in the next five-10 years.
GE was among the more than 300 companies represented at MTA 2017. GE’s digital industrial solutions, and the outcomes they deliver, were showcased at an exhibition booth and a presentation session at the event. GE also joined 24 other Singapore-based companies, and Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, in a signing ceremony to demonstrate a collective commitment to investing and developing advanced manufacturing in the city state.
A GE Reports reporter was also present at MTA 2017, listening to some of the keynote speeches and capturing some of the key trends, and messages expressed over the four-day event. They include:
The 50 billion machinery/equipment connection opportunity & challenge
The digital industrial opportunity is tremendous. With industrial internet, 50 billion connected things are sending off data, or reading a response from an algorithm, that says here’s a better way to perform whatever role you’re performing. But while a fast-growing number of Asian companies are installing new technologies to realize these benefits, others are unsure about where to start – a common message was “it’s one thing to say we need to be digitally enabled, it’s another to say how do we do that in the context of our business priorities and budgets.”
Machines + People together drive change and improvements
Many speakers explained that in terms of first steps, companies should install technologies to “better listen” to existing systems and data communicating in their plants. These systems enable engineers and maintenance staff to form an understanding of the variability of that data to optimize operations. This ‘base’ information can then be used to determine the best places to apply automation, or advance automation from an existing state, or install next generation sensors and technology to help companies start faster with lower risk.
And it’s not all change management of people or technology, it’s the combination of both. Technology helps people understand the value of data, then empowers them to ask for more, and in doing so, further advances the team and operations – over time, it become an iterative process between people, and technology, that drives an organisation.
Maximising big data
Big data is not taking all data, moving it to the cloud, and analysing. This is incredibly expensive in terms of learning what to do, sorting data, and how best to use it.
It’s more effective to put a component to the capability of technology at the plant to listen to the control and automation systems, accumulate a certain amount of data, then in coordination with the cloud, decide what data is best to move to the cloud.
Industrial internet operating platforms, like GE’s Predix offering, serve this need by facilitating a bi-directional flow of data between what happens locally, and in the cloud. Through this, the system can adapt, take more of some data, and less of others, to pass that back to the local machine to ask for specific data from the control system for closer analysis and review. This approach has security embedded in it, at the system level at the plant, and at the cloud, to enable saving just the right amount of data, at the right time, to improve processes. GE engineers call this the ‘little brain, big brain’ concept – the little brain operates locally, the big brain functions in the cloud.
While digital analysis tools, operating platforms, and predictive maintenance apps grab a lot of attention, customers also want information about quantifiable outcomes that will improve their ‘bottom line’ or other productivity benchmarks. In Brazil, for example, Vale Fertilizantes (VF), a major fertiliser manufacturer reduced plant downtime by implementing GE Digital’s Asset Performance Management solution to better detect, and correct asset issues throughout their facilities.
Enhanced analysis and installation of predictive maintenance solutions helped VF avoid 25 days of lost production per year, which resulted in a savings of $1.4 million. In addition, production volumes increased from 200,000 to 212,000 tons, while the company’s revenue increased by $1.275 million.
A confluence of influences will drive the new industrial revolution
Factory automation is a piece of the puzzle. The quantum leap doesn’t come just from the cloud, factory automation, or from people using data – it comes from augmenting the intelligence of people by using all these things. It’s about developing human expertise to better marry the data and technology – that’s when we create the kind of outcomes that can deliver a true revolution.