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Putting the 'Act' in IIOT: GE Digital CTO Talks Operational Expertise

Eddie Amos, chief technology officer, shares what's around the corner for the company and its customers as technology continues to shake things up.

Industrial IoT is a whopping $6.8 trillion opportunity over the next 10 years, and GE Digital aims to capture a chunk of it. With more than 1,000 customers on its Predix platform and a 100% YoY growth in Predix orders, it is transforming how machines from jet engines to wind turbines are designed, built, maintained, and serviced.

GE Digital’s chief technology officer, Eddie Amos, spoke with Gargi Chakrabarty, content director for IndustryWeek sister publication Icons of Infrastructure, about what’s around the corner for the company and its customers as technology continues to shake things up. Here are edited excerpts.

Icons: In 2018, you expect 3 major technological trends: Industrial IOT partnering with operational expertise, Big Data using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for actionable insights, and Augmented Reality becoming mainstream. Do you see GE Digital as a major player in any one or all of these technologies?

Amos: All three are important, but certainly one will rise faster to the top. Subject matter expertise is Bucket 1. Being able to automate a lot of that to make apps smarter is Bucket 2. Augmented Reality is Bucket 3. When we think about IIOT and partnerships, it’s not just with third parties but with our customers, working them to gain their insights, working with them to understand their unique problems to better understand the outcomes, which is paramount. With IIOT, there are certain assumptions on how you ingest, analyze, and act on data. The “act” part is very important, and that’s when we bring on the subject matter experts. If you are working at, say, a refinery and thinking about likely algorithms to use the equipment at maximum rates, you need the expertise. There are a whole set of individuals close to retirements. When we make things from an IOT perspective, we think about how to make organizations smarter to make sure we are capturing knowledge from older workers and transferring to newer workers. We build more smarts into equipment to capture everything from codes to recommendations to outlining better strategies for our customers. With machine learning and AI, we have them baked into apps to make them smarter. For instance, Wise.io, which GE Digital acquired in 2016, is using AI-ML at our Monitoring and Diagnostics Center in Atlanta where we are tracking a third of world power supply. AR offers interesting capabilities in its ability to visualize various maintenance areas so you don’t have to take reams of training materials. For example, you could take a look at a particular pump and see the maintenance records within the visor itself. At GE, we spend thinking about how we can train the next generation of service engineers.

Icons: Advanced analytics is changing the way companies maintain and service equipment that most of us don’t fully appreciate. This must be having huge implications on, say how a company maintains jet engines to wind turbines?

Amos: Today, our customers on Predix platform have a 360-degree view of their connected assets and that helps them achieve better outcomes. In our world, it’s all about outcomes, say, how many times can this plane take-off and land, or how many barrels of oils can I produce, how much energy can I expect out of this wind turbine. We have to think about equipment, whether it’s a brownfield or greenfield facility, and see how we can extract the most value out of equipment and data to produce positive outcomes. For example, when we design, build, manufacture, service and operate a wind turbine in Greenville, South Carolina, we know everything that happens to that turbine. We know the metal parts, the workers putting it together, the test scenarios, the stress levels, the failure codes and the likely recommendations — because we designed it, we stressed it, we know what type of working conditions it will be. When the turbine is put into operation, we know the conditions for monitoring equipment. With our Asset Performance Management (APM) solutions, we have a holistic view where we could tell you very reliably when something is likely to fail based on the data and analytics. That’s when Field Service Management (FSM) solutions come in to make sure we have the right spares, the right technicians, the right expertise closer to that equipment at the right time. When you squint at the world 5 years from now and include additive manufacturing, you won’t have to maintain as many spare parts. If we know this equipment is likely to fail in the next 10 or 15 days, we send that information to the additive manufacturing component, have the spare part printed out and waiting for you at the site of the service. We are in a unique position because we have the entire life cycle of equipment from designing to decommissioning, and everything in between.

Icons: What challenges do companies face in the fast-evolving landscape?

Amos: Customers have different levels of maturity when it comes to digital transformation. Those low on the maturity curve may be running things just on a preventative maintenance schedule, like you change oil in your car every 3,000 miles. They could have manual processes, and their systems could be silo’ed. Those on the higher level of maturity tend to have integrated systems, they are looking at the next level and saying: “how do I keep this facility, say a refinery, going another 3 months without taking it down as gas or oil prices go up.” With customers, the challenges really depend on where they are on the spectrum. But every customer I talk to is interested in this space, they all are embracing digital transformation – figuring out how to turn maintenance from preventative to predictive and prognostic.

Icons: Let’s change gears and talk about business. You came with the Meridium acquisition couple years ago. ServiceMax and Wise.io were acquired around that time. Are you looking at any other strategic acquisitions to expand your current portfolio?

Amos: We have a fully complete product line today but we are always looking at what’s next and how we are going to extend. We spend a lot of time in the universities and research labs, we are always looking for new ways to improve and enhance what we have. If you are a hockey fan, you will be looking at where the hockey puck is. I’m already looking at where the hockey puck will be next. There are certain set of capabilities we need to bring into the mix over time, probably within the next 5 to 10 years, but we’re also looking at companies to fill those niches right now.

Icons: What’s the role of startups in driving new innovations across industrial organizations?

Amos: Startups offer incremental value. But compared to what they charge, their value, in my opinion, is very misleading. Unless you design, build, manufacture, service and operate equipment, you will give customers a limited point of view at a certain time, not the complete view. For example, one startup in the Chicago area, they worked with a heavy equipment manufacturer that recently ended its investment in the startup. Why? Because they were saying “give me your data, I’m going to have a data scientist work on certain algorithms and make that data better.” Sure, they could ingest data, they could run some analytics. But they had no idea about the failure codes, recommendations, no idea of strategy, of operational history of those components, of servicing data or the manufacturing components that went into the equipment.

Icons:  Let’s change gears and talk about business. You came with the Meridium acquisition couple years ago. ServiceMax and Wise.io were acquired around that time. Are you looking at any other strategic acquisitions to expand your current portfolio?

Amos: We have a fully complete product line today but we are always looking at what’s next and how we are going to extend. We spend a lot of time in the universities and research labs, we are always looking for new ways to improve and enhance what we have. If you are a hockey fan, you will be looking at where the hockey puck is. I’m already looking at where the hockey puck will be next. There are certain set of capabilities we need to bring into the mix over time, probably within the next 5 to 10 years, but we’re also looking at companies to fill those niches right now.

Icons: What’s the role of startups in driving new innovations across industrial organizations?

Amos: Startups offer incremental value. But compared to what they charge, their value, in my opinion, is very misleading. Unless you design, build, manufacture, service and operate equipment, you will give customers a limited point of view at a certain time, not the complete view. For example, one startup in the Chicago area, they worked with a heavy equipment manufacturer that recently ended its investment in the startup. Why? Because they were saying “give me your data, I’m going to have a data scientist work on certain algorithms and make that data better.” Sure, they could ingest data, they could run some analytics. But they had no idea about the failure codes, recommendations, no idea of strategy, of operational history of those components, of servicing data or the manufacturing components that went into the equipment.

Icons: Where do you see GE digital in 5 years?

Amos: The APM market has grown from $800 million 5 years ago to billions of dollars today. In this rapidly growing market, we are the top APM solution provider, according to Gartner’s Market Guide for Asset Performance Management. Same with the FSM market, ServiceMax is named a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for FSM, and we are only scratching the surface – there’s much opportunity in this field. In the next 5 years, we will make sure everything works seamlessly from “shop floor to top floor.”

This article originally appeared in Icons of Infrastructure.

 

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