GE Digital is betting big on the power of data science and the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform industries of every sector.
In July the General Electric subsidiary hosted a data science event at its digital foundry in Paris that brought together data scientists, academics and industry representatives as a statement of intent in its drive towards the digital industrial era.
"The economic weight of the industrial internet is as big as the consumer internet, but not everybody knows this, and you really see that the academic community is starting to understand this," Vincent Champain, GM of the European Foundry of GE Digital told Computerworld UK.
"Computer science is now connecting with industry and not in a specific case, but really becoming mainstream, because now with cheap sensors [and] cheap computation, people have been able to gather huge stacks of data and the key now is to find the needles of value in those stacks of data."
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Champain says that every company and sector invested in industrial data innovation is exploring a combination of advanced data science and the power of cloud computing with agile methods to roll out apps at high speed and low cost.
First though, he says it is important to note that the type of data scientist required for industrial applications differs from those traditionally working in the consumer space.
"It's the real person mastering the law of physics around how assets behave," says Champain. "Compared to the consumer space, physics plays a huge role and knowing the machine, knowing the physics, thermodynamics, and the chemical reaction is key to bring performance."
How IoT is transforming the industrial world
Investors and the media tend to focus on the more domestic, consumer Internet of Things, but as machinery becomes intelligent the spending in that segment could soon be dwarfed by that of Industrial IoT (IIoT). Accenture estimates that it could add $14.2 trillion (£10.9 trillion) to the global economy by 2030.
IIoT is also known as the Industrial Internet, a term coined by General Electric (GE) in 2012. The American industrial conglomerate claims that this market could be worth $225 billion (£172 trillion) by 2020, by providing customers with the capability to autonomously monitor processes and make real-time adjustments.
GE has backed up its bold predictions with actions. In 2015 it founded GE Digital to drive its Industrial Internet business and released a cloud-based IoT operating platform called Predix that customers can use to develop apps that drive efficiencies by analysing real-time operational data.
Companies will spend €250 billion on IoT in 2020, according to research by Boston Consulting Group. GE Digital has developed a number of data-driven applications that will be competing for this investment.
The Predix platform allows customers to analyse the productivity of equipment and drive efficiencies through maximising energy use and revealing additional available capacity and potential defects, such as corrosion in industrial pipe systems.
"You can send robots who take kilometres and kilometres of pictures of pipelines and then this artificial intelligence will tell you precisely at which kilometre, metre and centimetre you potentially have a problem," says Champain. "That's huge. Huge impact and it can really avoid catastrophes."
Other aspects of industry that can benefit from IIoT optimisation include inventory and supply chain management, remote monitoring of utilities with sensors, predicting equipment break downs, demand response, and tracking product orders and vehicles.
GE aren't the only company tackling this area though. Microsoft is working with rival airline engine maker Rolls Royce to predict when engines will require maintenance, using its Azure suite of cloud tools to monitor engine health.
GE plans of playing a leading role in IIoT
GE is also using the technology to transform its own business. In 2016, the company made $730 million (£559 million) of productivity savings through apps that range from utilising machine learning to understand signals from equipment, to cutting the amount of scrap material generated in the tube cutting process in half.
The company and IIoT could also benefit from having political support in high places. The GE Digital centre was inaugurated in 2016 by a young minister of economy called Emmanuel Macron.
"He grew bigger, and we did too," said Champain. "He's really pushing this and he really understands what's happening in the service space."
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