Internet of Business caught up with Deborah Sherry, chief commercial officer and general manager at GE Digital Europe, a driving force behind the 125-year old company’s industrial IoT (IIoT) operations in the region.
GE Digital, the software arm of 125-year-old industrial giant General Electric (GE), is on a mission to help companies from automotive manufacturers to food and beverage makers become more productive, more efficient and to identify new revenue streams through the company’s IoT ‘operating system’, Predix.
The Predix platform provides a standard reference architecture for businesses, on which they can build IoT applications. And it will soon have its own app store as well, according to Deborah Sherry, chief commercial officer and general manager of GE Digital Europe.
That could help tackle patchy region-to-region uptake of IIoT, Sherry told Internet of Business. Right now, she said, “there is unevenness around the world. You find that some companies have factories in Europe that are state-of-the-art, but in North America, the same company’s factories are not.”
In general, she added, “Europe and North America are ahead of the curve, but you can find companies embracing technologies everywhere.
“The world is still fairly early-stage for anybody to have embraced everything they need to from a technology point of view, in terms of what we at GE would call being a truly digital industrial, where you’ve actually digitized and gathered the data on every part that you can, so you’re managing as efficiently as possible. But you’ll find that some factories have picked up more than others.”
The next big thing
As industrials do progress with IIoT, though, which technologies will come to the fore? For Sherry, it’s predictive maintenance and augmented reality.
“Asset performance management – basically predictive maintenance – is early stage,” Sherry said, “but there’s a lot more that we can do at scale and I think that’s one of the next major waves, because that hits every sector of industry: you can monitor your engines, you can monitor your manufacturing equipment, you can monitor your wind turbines.
“And I think the other piece of that is definitely augmented reality software. For example, you can monitor your plant, your turbine, or whatever you want to attach up to that, and predict what needs maintenance. Then through the augmented reality software, you can hone into the three possible causes of that, actually visualize it, know where to go to physically do it, so you’re sending the right type of engineer, to the right place, at the right time, before you have an outage that costs you money.
“So those are the two super-critical game changers for every type of industrial out there because their applicability is so broad.”
“Immense” productivity gains
According to Sherry, industrial companies need greater education on how employees must change their working practices in the IIoT age. Articulating business cases and calculating return on investment also needs more work. However, she’s broadly confident that companies are making progress, in terms of developing a better broader understanding of the technology.
“I’m confident that we will get there, because when you see the productivity gains, it’s immense.
“We’ve watched global productivity slide in the last five years. Despite the unbelievable technological advancements we’ve seen in some consumer markets, it hasn’t actually generated extra growth. But when you see what you can deliver plant by plant, factory by factory, industry by industry, I’m sure that as soon that we hit critical mass, everybody will be trying to figure it out.”
Led by early adopters and government encouragement for and support of industrial programs,Sherry says people will “understand we need to do this. This is the next wave of economic growth for our societies.”
Will IIoT pay off? “It always does”
Without being drawn on a date for when fully digital plants will become commonplace, Sherry indicated it would be a program for factories over the next decade.
“But we’re seeing a critical mass of uptake, it’s accelerating now, and I think the next five years are going to see masses of productivity gain across every sector.”
With its hands in many sectors, from aviation and automotive to the chemicals and food and beverage sectors, GE Digital’s is a voice to take seriously when it comes to industrial IoT.
GE Digital has helped facilities like Grove City, a locomotive manufacturing plant, reduce machinery downtime by between 10 and 20 percent. And in its own business – GE operates over 550 manufacturing sites around the world – it is deploying its own industrial platform in each location. Last year the company delivered $730 million in productivity savings, and it is targeting $1 billion in additional gains this year and in the coming years to 2020.
“We’ve never seen a case where we or our clients have invested [in IIoT] and haven’t had massive payback. So, the message to folks out there when they’re nervous is, ‘Will it pay off? It always does’,” says Sherry.
“And whether you do it with us or [with] others in the world, everybody should be investing this way, because this is how we’re going to drive productivity gains in industry.”