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Big Data will drive the industrial Internet

"The world is on the threshold of a new era of innovation and change with the rise of the industrial Internet"

The conversation around big data has largely focused on clickstream data, sentiment analysis and consumer targeting. But behind the scenes, the capabilities enabled by machine-to-machine communication and advanced analytics stand poised to dramatically change the world around us.

Case in point: General Electric (GE) and its vision of the "Industrial Internet," which it suggests may bring about as profound a change to the way we live our lives as the Industrial Revolution and the more recent Internet Revolution.

"The world is on the threshold of a new era of innovation and change with the rise of the industrial Internet," Peter C. Evans, director of Global Strategy and Analytics at GE, and Marco Annunziata, chief economist and executive director of Global Market Insight at GE, writes in a GE whitepaper, Industrial Internet: Pushing the Boundaries of Minds and Machines.

[Related: 10 Hot Big Data Startups to Watch]

"It is taking place through the convergence of the global industrial system with the power of advanced computing, analytics, low-cost sensing and new levels of connectivity permitted by the Internet. The deeper meshing of the digital world with the world of machines holds the potential to bring about profound transformation to global industry, and in turn to many aspects of daily life, including the way many of us do our jobs," Evans says. "These innovations promise to bring greater speed and efficiency to industries as diverse as aviation, rail transportation, power generation, oil and gas development and healthcare delivery."

The Industrial Internet: Intelligent Machines, Advanced Analytics and People

It starts, they say, with embedding sensors and other advanced instrumentation in the machines all around us, enabling collection and analysis of data that can be used to improve machine performance and the efficiency of the systems and networks that link them.

[Related: The Rise of the Data Visualization Expert]

According to Wipro Technologies, and IT, consulting and outsourcing company, a Boeing 737 engine generates 10 terabytes of data every 30 minutes in flight.

"A six hours flight from New York to LA on a twin-engine aircraft produces a 240-terabyte mountain of data," writes Paul Mathai, applied research lead, Manufacturing & Hi-Tech, at Wipro. "The data can be analyzed to reveal every aspect of the engine's performance and health."

[Related: Federal Government Wrestles With Big Data and Sequestration]

As GE's Evans and Annunziata point out, there are approximately 20,000 commercial aircraft operating in the aviation industry--43,000 commercial jet engines in service.

"Imagine the efficiencies in engine maintenance, fuel consumption, crew allocation and scheduling when 'intelligent aircraft' can communicate with operators," they write. "That's just today. In the next 15 years, another 30,000 jet engines will likely go into service as the global demand for air service continues to expand."

Just a One-Percent Savings Could Be Enormous

The potential gains in efficiency from harnessing this data are enormous. In commercial aviation, even a one percent improvement in fuel savings could yield a savings of $30 billion over 15 years. And it's not just the aviation industry that stands to gain. Evans and Annunziata note that a one percent efficiency improvement in the global gas-fired power plant fleet could yield a $66 billion savings in fuel consumption. A one percent reduction in process inefficiencies in the global healthcare industry could yield more than $63 billion in health care savings.

GE Unveils Industrial Big Data Management and Analytics Suite

This week, GE Intelligent Platforms took a step toward realizing the company's vision of the industrial Internet with the release of its new Proficy Monitoring & Analysis software suite, an integrated solution for industrial big data management and analytics.

GE says the suite can be used remotely to monitor one plant or all of a company's global operations, providing information to increase equipment availability, reduce unplanned downtime, improve yield, reduce variability and reduce maintenance costs and inventory.

The six-product suite consists of four current products and two new products:

  • Proficy Historian, GE's flagship data collection software.
  • Proficy Historian Analysis, for data mining and visualization.
  • Proficy SmartSignal, for predictive analytics for condition-based monitoring.
  • Proficy CSense, for troubleshooting process problems, monitoring process health and creating close loop process optimization.
  • Proficy Historian HD, a new product that allows storage of massively large data sets in a Hadoop cluster.
  • Proficy Knowledge Center, a new console that ties the solution together with process visibility, asset health assessment and process optimization.

Brian Courtney, general manager of GE Intelligent Platforms' Industrial Data Intelligence Software group, says that Proficy Historian HD is the first solution to combine industrial time-series data and analytics with elastic capacity creating a big data solution built on Hadoop that can reduce data storage costs by as much as 85 percent. This, he says, is the first step toward realizing GE's vision for the industrial Internet.

"GE manages 5 TB of new time-series data per day," Courtney says. "Our experience in big data and analytics that maximize equipment and process performance mitigates the risk for other companies. We use the software ourselves in our own Monitoring & Diagnostics centers to manage trillions of dollars in asset value. Today, in the GE Industrial Performance and Reliability Center, GE engineers monitor thousands of mission critical assets for our customers to ensure uptime, asset reliability overall production throughput."

Proficy Knowledge Center, on the other hand, is a model-driven, browser-based visualization application that tightly couples an asset data model with historical time-series data. This supports unified views of process health and equipment health for increasing productivity and decision making.

Improving Process Health Translates to Bottom Line Savings

Courtney says that the first thing the suite helps customers do is understand their asset health. The system learns the normal behaviors and patterns of the equipment and is then capable of spotting any deviation from expected output--a good sign that something is wrong. Operators can then use the suite to troubleshoot problems before a minor problem becomes a major one.

Once the asset health is understood, the suite is designed help companies dig deeper into their process health--identifying unknown correlations in process variables that lead to suboptimal performance. This, in turn, allows companies to run equipment closer to maximum capability without overtaxing the system.

"Asset health gives us an additive advantage," Courtney explains. "Every minute a piece of equipment runs, that's an advantage that I wouldn't have gotten out of it before. The value of the process side is multiplicative. If you can get five percent more yield from your equipment every day, 365 days a year, that's a substantial savings that drops directly to your bottom line."

Small Changes Are Big on the Industrial Internet

"The compounding effects of even relatively small changes in efficiency across industries of massive global scale should not be ignored," Evans and Annunziata write:

"As we have noted, even a one percent reduction in costs can lead to significant dollar savings when rolled up across industries and geographies. If the cost savings and efficiency gains of the industrial Internet can boost U.S. productivity growth by 1 to 1.5 percentage points, the benefit in terms of economic growth could be substantial, potentially translating to a gain of 25 to 40 percent of current per capita GDP. The Internet Revolution boosted productivity growth by 1.5 percentage points for a decade--given the evidence detailed in this paper, we believe the industrial Internet has the potential to deliver similar gains and over a longer period."

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