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Changing the face of industry with connectivity

2017.11.23 By Justin Springham, Mobile World Live & Linda Xu

The Industrial Internet holds the power to revolutionize enterprises across the entire spectrum of industry, boosting productivity, improving manufacturing techniques, and reducing downtime for companies of all sizes.

With such a radical transformation already underway across many sectors, it’s important that industrial enterprises stay ahead of the curve to remain competitive in tomorrow’s business world – both improving processes to keep expenses down and enhancing customer offerings.

US conglomerate General Electric (GE), which now offers far more than the electricity company it was originally known for, began examining the use of software and analytics as part of its own digitization and productivity initiatives in 2011 – and now offers similar innovations to its industrial customers. It also works in partnership with a range of vendors, including Huawei, to deploy services to businesses outside of its core customer base.

Abhi Kunte, VP of Strategic Technology Alliances for GE Digital, explained in details how the company had changed the way it worked across the globe and now focuses on exporting its business model. “We’ve gone through a significant amount of change,” he said, adding, “We’ve changed the culture of the company, changed the business model inside the company and changed how we operate across the globe.”

The company reported productivity savings of US$730 million in 2016 alone, thanks to digitizing its own processes and introducing new automation technologies. It saw reduced downtime for its systems, lower maintenance costs, and higher throughput from machines – driving higher levels of operations efficiency.

“Our first steps towards digital transformation were to automate and digitize our own equipment and start looking at the data we’d been collecting. Understanding the information is the first step to being able to proactively manage equipment and reduce downtime,” Kunte added. “We applied analytics data and studied insights that we’ve never had before about industrial equipment – how it behaves, how it operates, and what the signs are that could tell us a little bit earlier than normal when things are going to fail.” 

Cross-industry delivery

GE Digital has now delivered Industrial Internet solutions to many of its long-standing customers around the world, with many reporting a significant improvement in operational performance and – as a result – margins.

Notable early successes were made in the oil and gas, aviation, transportation and power generation industries. “We have customers in the power industry that are starting to see anywhere from a 5 to 15 percent increase in throughput out of their wind farms with zero extra capital investment. This is all driven by software and analytics,” Kunte said. “We have [another] customer already seeing roughly US$5 million worth of savings every year in their manufacturing plant.” 

Working with its partners, GE also expanded the use of this technology into new sectors and markets. One of many examples is a project created in association with Huawei for urban mobility customer Schindler. Huawei and GE are working together to help Schindler monitor the performance of elevators and develop predictive maintenance services on more than 1 million assets operated globally. 

Lifting business performance

Thanks to the innovations created and rolled-out by GE and Huawei, Schindler is already reporting reduced maintenance costs and lower levels of downtime for the company’s elevators and escalators.

Kunte explained the service allows Schindler to “understand when and where things are going to fail and be able to proactively go and fix things.” Constant monitoring also allows the company to avoid unnecessary costs by sending engineers on maintenance visits to units that are already working well, he added. Huawei and GE announced their collaboration at trade show Hannover Messe 2017. The companies are currently in the process of a market-by-market rollout of the elevator management technology for Schindler. The partners developed the solution to connect devices on the edge to the cloud backend, in turn allowing them to run detailed analytics and derive the full benefits of Industrial Internet technology.

GE and Huawei are now set to work on projects for customers in a number of sectors and in markets around the world. “We’re very excited to partner with Huawei around the Industrial Internet of Things market going forward. We look forward to bringing our joint solutions to market utilising edge technology,” Kunte said. As part of their ongoing partnership, GE will join Huawei in developing a range of emerging technologies including IoT, 5G, and the Industrial Internet to allow companies to enjoy further efficiencies in their business.

Industrial Internet opportunities

The Industrial Internet is potentially a much greater market opportunity than the consumer IoT market, according to GE, as companies across a range of sectors have the potential to derive a range of benefits around software and analytics.

Kunte explained: “Internet of Things is a very common term nowadays and primarily when people talk about it they’re referring to the consumer market. Personal devices, cellular phones and fitness equipment are all part of this IoT definition. From our perspective, those things are great and cool, but they don’t really move the needle.”

“When talking about the Industrial Internet, we’re talking about what we like to call The Internet of Very Important Things. The consumer Internet is fantastic, but industrial is where the real money is.” GE’s vision of the Industrial Internet is a network of connected assets, data, analytics and people across the world. 

Driving the world economy

GE figures suggest that the wide-scale adoption of Industrial Internet applications over the coming years could add between US$10 trillion and US$15 trillion to annual global GDP – equivalent to the entire output of the US doubled and spread across the rest of the world. 

In addition to the use cases outlined by Kunte, GE’s wide-ranging report on the potential of the Industrial Internet highlights the ability of analytics software to transform industries by connect, pulling and analysing data from locomotives, power plants, jet engines and other industrial facilities. 

Predictions of rapid cross-sector growth fit with forecasts in July 2017 from UK-based specialist analyst firm Visiongain. The research company expects global Industrial IoT spending – defined along similar lines to GE’s Industrial Internet use cases – to reach US$224.8 billion in 2017, with companies across the world looking to gain a competitive advantage by adopting new technologies before their rivals. “The current development and deployment of IoT initiatives could create a new golden era in the global economy,” reported Visiongain in documents accompanying the report.

“IoT has the potential to increase productivity, disrupt industrial production and change our life as we know it, just as with the earlier technological revolutions. The reason for this is simple: almost every single industry is looking forward and trying to understand how IoT will transform the world. Some governments also hold an interest in the development of IoT.” 

Partner up for success

To make a success of the Industrial Internet and derive the full benefits of digitalization, companies need to strike partnerships with connectivity experts and those with robust infrastructure to support services already in place. 

Although each company has specific requirements relevant to its industry, there are many elements common across sectors. Selecting a partner with experience in helping other companies transform their business is vital and can offer a much greater chance of successfully deploying these technologies. 

Ensuring that the end-to-end process of industrial transformation is performed smoothly with minimal disruption to ongoing activities and maximising final results is central to any deployment. The Industrial Internet provides a unique opportunity for businesses across manufacturing, logistics, power and many other traditional sectors. Early adopters of next-generation technologies can put themselves at a competitive advantage by lowering running costs and increasing operations efficiency – improving margins and offering improved customer service. 

Depending on the nature of the business, this can offer increased uptime in service-based industries or boost throughput in factory settings. The benefits are vast and differ from company to company, but there are few businesses that can afford to ignore the Industrial Internet revolution. It is not just a play for disruptors, as many of the world’s largest companies are already improving processes using new technologies. It’s important to act fast before competitors both large and small seize the advantage – and market share – for themselves.

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