GE – ‘Uber of the candle’ – targets developers in $220bn IIoT...
GE - ‘Uber of the candle’ – targets developers in $220bn IIoT push
GE - ‘Uber of the candle’ – targets developers in $220bn IIoT push

GE – ‘Uber of the candle’ – targets developers in $220bn IIoT push

GE Digital is bidding for Industrial Internet domination through app developers, start-ups and an open ecosystem. IoB found out more.

PARIS, FRANCE – General Electric (GE) may be 124 years-old, but the industrial giant has been enjoying a (digital) renaissance of late.

Best known for power generation – through everything from lightbulbs to electric locomotives – GE has reinvented itself more latterly as a technology company, offering its platform-as-a-service (PaaS) Predix solutions to clients operating heavy machinery in power, water, oil, gas and aviation. This has led some experts to say that GE is leading the Industrial Internet charge, generating new revenues for itself and helping clients become more efficient and profitable.

However, as I discovered at the Paris opening of a new GE center last week, the giant – poetically described as the ‘Uber of the candle’ by Vincent Champain, GM Europe Foundry, GE Digital – isn’t stopping there. As you’ll discover below:

  • GE is partnering with start-ups and accelerator programs to drive industrial innovation
  • The firm is looking to establish Digital Foundries overseas to improve customer relationships, bring new products to life, and drive the growing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market
  • 16,000 developers are working on Predix applications, despite the platform only launching in February
  • Aviation, oil and gas and energy are early adopters of IIoT

Late trains, big brains: The Digital Foundry

Irony is a wonderful thing and so it was that the Eurostar train IoB was travelling on was delayed by electricity issues. Not ideal when you’re meeting one of the world’s biggest power suppliers.

Not to be deterred, the train crawled on to meet GE Digital – the business unit dedicated to software and analytics – and check-out its new Digital Foundry.

Based in the historic Le Centorial in the French capital, GE Digital told IoB that the Foundry, which launched last month, is for “co-creation, partnering with customers, and really understanding their problems and how to enable them to use Predix, or to make their own apps.”

In short, the Foundry marks GE’s ambition to act as a facilitator for the Industrial Internet, with company representatives speaking of their desire to “drive an open ecosystem.”

The centre, which aims to employ as many as 250 people, including engineers and data scientists, is an open and creative environment, with areas to innovate and employ ‘design thinking’. One of the best demos on display here was a Virtual Reality (VR) section, utilizing Samsung’s Gear VR headset, with GE saying that its engineers are already using VR to draw-up plant plans and designs.

GE Digital hopes to launch other foundries across the globe

This centre will be the first of many, with GE looking to establish its presence in Europe.

“The first place we’ll look to expand is Germany; obviously, there’s a market there in terms of the Industrial Internet,” explained Mike Karim, general manager of global foundries and readiness at GE Digital. “As time goes by, and we continue to refine this…then we’ll expand to other countries.”

The GE digital revolution

Karim says that GE’s own digital transformation came about from a willingness to ‘contemporize’ itself, an agenda that was driven down by the chairman.

“We do a lot with big machines and that also gives us a large service revenue stream. So, we thought ‘what if five men in a garage made a turbine or aircraft engine 2-3 percent more efficient?’ That would certainly disintermediate us from our customers.”

This transformation started with GE innovating inside-out; ‘GE for GE’ saw the adoption of cloud technologies and edge-to-edge devices at its Foundry in San Ramon, California (there are also foundries in Shanghai, China and others to open in Boston, Singapore, Munich and Saudi Arabia).

This challenge wasn’t necessarily easy – Karim explained that the big American company wasn’t very ‘tech-savvy’. However, through using the open-source Hadoop and unstructured data, Karim said that GE started to look at what more could be learnt from heavy machinery, such as the performance of aircraft engines operating in ‘hot and harsh’ environments.

“We started to realize analytics was a key differentiator of what we could do.”

This digital transformation saw GE develop new tools, algorithms and collect new data, efforts which eventually resulted in what Karim calls “$300-400 million of productivity” in the first year of the ‘GE for GE’ program.

Karim says as of today GE is “halfway through its own personal journey,” with developing the technology and ecosystem the next steps. To date, he says GE has invested $1 billion in its Industrial Internet efforts.

The next two phases are ‘GE for customers’ and ‘GE for the world’, with the former about enabling customers to make their own IIoT apps…based on Predix, of course.

Karim described how the Industrial Internet is a $220 billion market, and described how GE holds the advantage of newer market entrants like Oracle and SAP with HANA.

“We actually build these assets; we hold that as a true value proposition.”

Champain also talked up the importance of the platform – and giving ownership to the client. “Our model is simple, sell the platform, and give you data, which is opposite to free and selling the data.”

Predix was released last year, while Asset Performance Management (a suite of cloud-based software and service solutions that work across all equipment, and based on Predix) is available now. Brilliant Manufacturing is a software suite for analyzing and aggregating data, and was launched at the firm’s Minds + Machines conference last year.

Predix gets vertical

In a panel discussion at the event, Karim, Champain and Dr Robert Plana, director of innovation and ecosystem at GE Digital, described how Predix is being used across verticals.

They said some firms are using the solution for basic, ‘binary’ things, such as if something is working or not, to the complex, like finding out exact trading prices on the commodities exchange.

Early adopters have largely come from energy suppliers. Karim says, as an example, that GE Digital works with renewable wind farm operators and – through the power of Predix, APM and mathematics – they can improve the efficiency of blade rotation, thus saving 4 percent of average wind farm costs over a year. He says this could result in anywhere from “$2m to tens of millions” in efficiency savings.

IoB software editor Adrian Bridgwater goes hands-on with Samsung’s VR headset

He added that Predix is also helping airlines save costs.

“It’s all about driving productivity and efficiency,” he told IoB. “For the most part, wind farms tend to be where we’ve penetrated most. We see oil and gas as the next big thing.”

Start-ups and hackathons

GE also announced it was joining forces with accelerator NUMA to foster the Industrial Internet ecosystem.

As a result of the collaboration, the duo has launched a competition that is open to independent start-ups and developers based in Europe to develop Predix-based apps for five specific industrial challenges. Up to five applicant teams will be selected from all applicants, and these will be selected, coached and mentored by GE Digital and NUMA.

Some of this innovation was on-show at Le Centorial during our visit, with university teams taking part in a 48-hour hackathon to develop apps based on Predix. Students were using tech like Intel’s IoT module Edison and a start-up IoT prototype kit (containing various sensors, a power adapter, a processor and an accelerometer), and showcasing how IIoT could be used for various scenarios, including improving the provision of healthcare.

“Our competition is about solving complex industrial problems and offers start-ups a unique opportunity to access the promising Industrial Internet market, whose volume is twice that of the consumer internet market,” added Champain.

Disclaimer: GE Digital covered the train fare for IoB to attend this event