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Digital Winds and Data Farms


| March 29, 2016, 7:55 PM IST

GE Step Ahead - Digital Winds and Data Farms

If only machines could talk. And listen. And see.

An oil rig would be a different place altogether if a machine part could alert the plant supervisor that it may need some maintenance a little early than before this year. An assembly-line operator would be endowed with the power of making decisions at a crucial time if the casting and forging tool-area could pour in core-real-time progress. Even the safety and control department firemen would breathe a sigh of relief when they have instant-alarm dashboards apprising them of second-to-second updates on every machinery part, small and big, all across the factory. Imagine the relief of aircraft engineers, if the plane could ‘talk’ to them about how much ATF it consumed while flying through a particular path or some weather conditions, and what could be the best route for resource optimization.

This is not an imaginary scenario anymore though. This digitized future is a becoming a reality steadily. So are seemingly impossible areas like – predictive maintenance, maximum capacity utilization, asset lifecycle optimization, augmenting factory productivity and pre-emptive safety controls, are becoming part and parcel of the industrial landscape.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here.

This new force is changing everything about humankind – the way we work, consume, grow, make, dispose, talk, operate, live and of course, how our cities, factories and plants look like.

If the first industrial revolution was about steam or water, the second about electricity, the third about electronics and automation; this one is about the word ‘digital’ in all its manifestations.

This revolution is both exponential as well as unprecedented in its scope and impact.

The Future of Jobs’, by the World Economic Forum indicates well that disruption is already underway and now the Fourth Industrial Revolution is making us all reflect on existing models, skill-sets, redundancy areas and the new data-is-the-new-oil world in a radical way.

Like WEF’s crystal ball, Ovum had predicted that modernization of IT platforms is going to bridge that disconnect from the IT stone-age equipment to the modern real-time Industrial Internet. After all, why should some assets, people and equipments get left behind in this new data-fuelled world?

More so, when Industrial Internet is taking centre-stage?

Industrial Internet in Full Blossom

These are times when no one needs to stay on the fringes, and specially machines or factories. These are times when data is empowering latent areas of business, economy and civilization. In fact, Gartner had predicted that by 2016 over 6.4 billion Industrial Internet devices could be in use, a number that can jump to 20.8 billion by 2020.

This not only means more connected devices but also more data, more information and consequentially, more intelligence that will pour in for hitherto untouched areas like wind farms and shop-floor. In the Industrial Internet Global Forecast, the Industrial Internet market has been forecasted to reach $319.62 Billion at a CAGR of 8.15% from 2014 to 2020.

This market would open fresh possibilities that were  unthinkable just a couple of years back. Factory-workers and supervisors having eyes, ears in form of sensors all around the machine-footprints; and then using this powerful and actionable data to their advantage, that is the big change just around the corner.

The growth is echoed in many forecasts consistently, and McKinsey Global Institute has also hinted how this new age of data would lean as much towards supply side or heavy-scale sectors as it has done towards the consumer side. Its report, ‘The Internet of Things: Mapping the value beyond the hype’, pointed that out of the potential Industrial Internet impact of $4 trillion to $11 trillion a year in 2025, some $1 to 3 trillion could roughly be sliced towards factories (operations management, predictive maintenance).

In the plant asset management (PAM) market for instance, Frost & Sullivan handpicks Industry 4.0, Smart Manufacturing, and applications of Industrial Internet technologies as the ones that will revolutionize operations and maintenance, and cost-effective connectivity of a wide variety of asset classes soon.

So, yes, soon enough, the non-consumer side of the world too will see everything connected and conversing together, be it entire fleets of trucks, delivery locations, warehouse, driver monitoring systems, chillers to stock control systems, backup generators, turbines, locomotives, jet engines, entire cities, full-fledged croplands and more, as Forrester analysts gaze forward.

And we need developers on the cloud to build applications for this new canvas – spread across aviation, agriculture, health care, manufacturing and transportation. May be that’s what GE has been poignantly attempting with Predix and Dojo.

So far, 2,000 GE software engineers have built apps on the platform..

After all, without a common thread that can stitch everything smoothly together, the promising Industrial Internet market numbers would stay just some numerals staring from a sheet. There is a dire need for the right apps and the right engines to power those apps if Industrial Internet indeed, has to deliver on its immense potential. There is a gap yawning to be filled – that of a purpose-built platform for industrial big data and analytics.

Because a well-greased Industrial Internet is precisely what the big world around us needs now.

Harvesting Industrial Internet

Right use of smart devices, intelligent systems, data-engines, robots, self-learning machines and network systems can not only automate tasks at lower costs, but also iron out conventional problems and accomplish quality outcomes.

Take for instance the case of the Digital Wind Farm launched on GE’s Predix platform. Herein, wind turbines are monitored on a real-time basis through a plentitude of sensors. In fact, the real time wind mill has a digital clone, which mimics the performance of the windmill in digital landscape. The Digital Wind Farm is a great example of how the real and digital worlds are converging in an industrial context.

The journey seems ripe but to harvest these latent opportunities well, the world would need a an experienced hand to take care of pitfalls like data integration, device connectivity and at the same handle the sheer volume, velocity as well as variety of plug-and-play data.

That is the possibility of Industry 4.0, a revolution powered by the Industrial Internet.


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