The Internet as we know it today is a pervasive computer network that serves 39 percent of the world’s population, or more than 2.7 billion people.
But another Internet, still-emerging, promises to make a dramatic difference by meshing the digital world with the world of industrial machines. It’s the Industrial Internet. This is a software-driven movement that will transform the global hardware industry by combining industrial systems with the power of advanced computing, visualization, analytics, low-cost sensing and new levels of connectivity enabled by the Internet. There is the potential to bring about profound transformation globally — improving industry and lives by connecting people and businesses to the nearly 50 billion machines and systems that move our world, and in turn generate massive value in asset and operational improvements.
In particular, the Industrial Internet brings the potential for significant change 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.
The key: software and analytics
Vital to this connected rail ecosystem are software and analytics that process data in real-time and provide actionable insights to plan and maximize business outcomes, operations and use of assets. For instance, applying advanced analytics to evaluate real-time locomotive health data helps deliver timely recommendations to the operating centers and maintenance shops, enabling mission success, reducing train delays and increasing asset availability.
The Industrial Internet starts with embedding sensors and other advanced instrumentation in an array of machines, from the simple to the highly complex. This helps collect and analyze vast amounts of health and performance data used to enhance machine performance and the efficiency of the systems and networks that link them.
Such improvements are realized via analytics capabilities that transform data into actionable insights delivered to the right people at the right time in useful and intuitive tools. Take, for example, GE Transportation’s Optimization Solutions business, which offers an integrated rail transportation software platform for enterprise-wide data integration and sharing, thus improving efficiencies across the rail supply chain from shipper to receiver.
Needed: enablers and catalysts
What is required is putting in place a set of key enablers and catalysts that comprise:
- A necessary sustained effort in technological innovation — along with the investment to deploy such inventiveness, which would include sensors, instrumentation and user-interface systems.
- A cyber security system and approaches to manage any vulnerability and protect critical and sensitive information and intellectual property.
- Connectivity between assets, operations, systems and people. Real-time data sharing across the rail network and integration with shipper logistics.
- Development of a talent pool that includes new cross-cutting roles evolving mechanical and industrial engineering into “digital-mechanical engineers,” data scientists that create analytic platforms and algorithms, cyber security specialists to protect data integrity of customers, and software talent to develop contemporary applications and systems.
Employees who get such training will help ensure that innovation triggers more jobs and higher productivity.
The Industrial Internet will continue to create advantage across the transportation industry. These advancements will lead to better, more efficient outcomes and solutions to meet the world’s toughest transportation challenges for customers and, in turn, the markets they serve.
Lorenzo Simonelli is president and CEO of GE Transportation, which, in the rail realm, manufactures freight and passenger locomotives and diesel engines, and develops signaling and software solutions. This post first appeared in Progressive Railroading.