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Formation of Digital Unit Highlights Clear Industrial IoT Leadership at GE Minds+Machines Conference

October 08, 2015  | Subscribers Only

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Event Review

GE Using Internal Assets as Showcase for “Brilliant Factories” and “Digital Twin”

GE announced aggressive plans to turn approximately 100 of its 400 manufacturing facilities into “brilliant factories” – in which factory equipment are equipped with sensors that enable real-time information sharing and decision making to avoid unplanned downtime.  As part of the “brilliant” concept, GE will increasingly interlink its supply chain, distribution networks and service units as part of a broader intelligent ecosystem.  The company expects to drive a 20% gain in product performance by deploying brilliant factories, resulting in an additional $2B in productivity by 2020.

One key component of the brilliant factory is GE’s embrace of the “digital twin” concept, in which physical products increasingly have a digital corollary, which enables much greater ability to optimize performance, increase useful lives, and optimize maintenance.  On maintenance, GE benefits in two ways, first and foremost by identifying warning signs of future maintenance requirements to eliminate unplanned downtime, but also by avoiding unnecessary maintenance by monitoring equipment performance and analyzing sensor data to postpone maintenance on components that are functioning adequately.  One example of this concept is in “digital power plant,” where GE sells its HA gas turbine along with Predix analytics and a suite of applications to enhance asset optimization.  The company estimates that by using the “digital twin” concept it can squeeze out between $50M and $230M in additional value with each turbine it deploys.

Relentless Push in Industrial IoT Resulting in Measurable ROI

The ability to provide bona fide and measurable ROI is a key part of the GE IIoT story.  The Minds+Machines conference provided a tremendous showcase for GE and its customers to document – and more importantly quantify – the benefits of the Predix platform.

A few examples:

  • David Graham, Deputy COO for the City of San Diego, identified a 60% energy reduction and $250K in annual cost savings the city saved by deploying a suite of GE intelligent street lights, sensors and wireless adaptive controls.  The company is now piloting a GE parking optimization application based on the same infrastructure.
  • Frank Carabone, Assistant VP of railway freight company CSX, estimated that deploying GE’s “Trip Optimizer” solution, which applies analytics and sensors to drive real-time decisions about rail routing, traffic, and speed, has resulted in a savings of 11.8M gallons of annual fuel consumption.
  • Clift Pompee, Manager of Information & Analytics for Duke Power, estimated that deploying GE’s “digital power plant” solution resulted in operations optimization that translated into a savings of $2M/year in a single plant.


New Focus Shifting from Internal to External with Formation of GE Digital and Rollout of Predix Cloud

In order to drive the home its sharpened focus on software, analytics and services, GE announced a significant restructuring of its operations.  The company’s newly formed digital unit, headed by Chief Digital Officer Bill Ruh, combines software, analytics, IT and industrial security operations, along with approximately 30,000 employees.  The move is designed to accelerate GE’s aggressive move into a unit that it expects to generate revenue of $6B in 2015, increasing to $15B by 2020.

A centerpiece of the move to digital is GE’s rollout of Predix Cloud, a platform-as-a-service offering optimized for machine data and the Industrial Internet.  The Predix Cloud uses the Pivotal Cloud Foundry platform for application development.  Pivotal is a joint venture of VMWare and its majority shareholder EMC; GE purchased a 10% equity stake in Pivotal two years ago for $105M.

Built to be able to scale to accommodate what will eventually be trillions of data points coming from billions of sensors and gateways, Predix Cloud offers a number of components and features:

  • Asset connectivity-as-a-service for a broad array of sensors, gateways, and increasingly, software-defined machines
  • Massive scalability to address storage, analytics and management across billions of devices in real-time (in GE parlance Predix Cloud is built to accommodate the three Vs – “variety, volume, and velocity” – required in industrial data)
  • Industrial-grade security and compliance, leveraging GE’s deep industry-specific OT credentials
  • A walled-garden approach to the cloud that ensures that the proper ecosystem players are allowed to play
  • Interoperability with a variety of applications and services running in private, public, or hybrid clouds or in enterprise data centers.  GE believes that interoperability is a key source of added value in the Industrial Internet that is not yet well understood.

Getting Buy-In from Application Developers is a Major Priority for Predix Cloud

As part of its external efforts, GE will be fostering the development of a robust community of application developers eager to build on the Predix platform.  The company’s aggressive outreach efforts call for the addition of 20K developers on the platform in the next year, growing to 100K developers by 2020.  Thus far GE’s initiatives have been quite successful – its Predix Accelerator program has already expanded to include partnerships with Accenture, Boeing, BP, Cisco, Columbia Pipeline Group, Genpact, Infosys, Intel and PTC.

To jumpstart this effort, GE has devoted 2,000 software engineers to the Predix platform; and introduced a catalog of approximately 25 “starter packs” in order to enable developers to gain a comfort level with the Predix platform and help speed time-to-market.  Most of these initial applications are GE-developed, though a handful are from third parties.  As usage of the platform grows, GE expects developers to build a more robust GE “app store” over time.  However, the initial roster, which include a reference app and a dashboard seed as well as apps focused on edge software and services, data management, security, and analytics, represents a solid initial offering, which the company hopes to expand to have 100 apps available for developers by the end of 2016.

GE will be completing the rollout of Predix Cloud to its internal divisions by the end of this year, with plans to open the platform to external customers early next year.

Enhanced Partnerships and Collaborations Key to GE’s Continued Success

GE used the Minds+Machines conference to announce and/or expand on a number of key strategic partnerships:

  • GE and a key infrastructure partner, Cisco, rolled out a set of best practices for deploying GE’s Brilliant Manufacturing Suite within a Cisco IT environment.  The architecture, not surprisingly, provides a blueprint for combining GE’s digital assets with Cisco’s software-defined infrastructure, including ruggedized Industrial Ethernet switches, WiFi access points, firewalls and identity service engines.  Cisco also is eager to highlight its roster of systems integrator and VAR partners which are well versed in deploying Cisco gear in industrial settings.   Cisco will be working closely with GE as it converts 100 of its roughly 400 manufacturing facilities to “brilliant” facilities over the next three years.  Cisco had previously begun selling Predix-ready Cisco routers optimized for harsh environments such as oil/gas facilities.
  • GE also added PTC as a partner on its Brilliant Manufacturing Suite initiative.  The two companies will offer a joint solution that combines GE’s manufacturing solutions with PTC’s ThingWorx application enablement platform, which will be used to integrate data from a variety of sources to create front end dashboards.   While at first blush PTC might appear to compete with GE in some areas, the mutual collaboration appears designed to take advantage of PTC’s deep relationships with non-GE manufacturers, which GE believes is “low hanging fruit” in terms of the need for operational optimization.  As part of the venture, GE will also certify ThingWorx as part of the Predix partner ecosystem.
  • Several months prior to the event, GE significantly expanded its roster of CSP partners, signing a deal enabling China Telecom to build a data platform using the Predix cloud platform.   The new partnership coincides with China Telecom’s aggressive plans, announced in May, to invest heavily in online platforms to foster intelligent and expand cloud services in a number of key verticals, including healthcare, education and transportation & logistics.  GE also has CSP partnerships with AT&T and Verizon in the U.S. and SoftBank in Japan.

Takeaway:  Pivot to a New GE Well Underway but Collaborations and Partnerships Remain Vital

Using its own product lines as its best case studies, GE demonstrated the most comprehensive view yet for how the IIoT is already improving...

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