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Controls convergence to enhance customer value

18 February 2014

Bernie Anger, general manager, Control & Communication Systems at GE Intelligent Platforms, explains the rationale behind the company’s recent announcement relating to the consolidation of its control platforms to enable the Industrial Internet.

Automation is an integral part of how the engineering teams at GE extract the best performance from the assets our company provides to customers in a broad range of infrastructure industries, from energy to O&G, mining, water & wastewater and transportation. 

For decades, our company has relied on tight collaboration between our global research centers, our automation platform teams and our equipment engineering teams to advance the state-of-the-art in the industries in which we participate. For GE Intelligent Platforms, having GE as a customer provides us with a unique test-bed for developing best-of-breed mission-critical solutions. 

The advent of the Industrial Internet represents the next horizon of opportunity to create value through automation. As we define it, the Industrial Internet brings together ‘Big Iron’ with ‘Big Data’ to create brilliant machines that raise the bar on performance and deliver a new level of customer experience while allowing us to offer an array of new services.

As we evaluated what it would take to build the controls platform for the Industrial Internet, it became evident that convergence of our controls platforms across the company was critical. Only a convergence approach based on standards would create the type of interoperability, expandability, security, performance and speed of delivery we were seeking.

Interoperability on an Ethernet backbone
GE as long long relied on Ethernet as a foundational element for our controls architecture, often in combination with proprietary standards, for performance reasons. Given the exponential speed at which the global network backbone continues to evolve, in looking at a converged platform, we chose to rely on industry standards to future-proof our platform and provide our customers – both internal and external – with improved interoperability and a broader array of support tools.

Our choice of standards starts with PROFINET at the I/O level and FOUNDATION Fieldbus at the intelligent instrument level. We find that both these standards deliver a high level of performance and reliability and have a rich ecosystem of content and tool providers. 

For controller-to-plant and controller-to-cloud connectivity, we chose OPCUA. We find it to be uniquely qualified for the realities of a highly distributed Industrial Internet world, particularly in terms of security and data discovery in a platform-agnostic way. 

Beyond interoperability 
Predix is GE’s software platform for the Industrial Internet. It enables asset and operations optimisation by providing a standard way to run industrial-scale analytics and connect machines, data, and people. Deployed on machines, on-premise, or in the cloud, Predix combines a stack of technologies for distributed computing and big data analytics, asset management, machine-to-machine communication, and mobility. 

Our goal is to combine the capabilities of the Predix platform on-machine with the capabilities of traditional control systems in a scalable way. To achieve this, we are embedding OPCUA connectivity into Predix, so every OPCUA enabled controller can become a node in a Predix network. As a next step, we are taking advantage of the high level of computing power available in latest-generation processors to provide real-time virtualisation in our controls platform, allowing the Predix engine and a more traditional control engine to work side-by-side on the same physical control hardware. 

Connecting machines, insights and people
Beyond serving internal GE customers, GE Intelligent Platforms aims to connect customers in ways that create new value.

For our OEM customers, controls convergence creates new opportunities for them to get closer to their customers. We think of this relationship paradigm in terms of owning, sharing and selling data. When OEM’s ‘own’ the data from the fleet of machines they have deployed, they can use it to accelerate the development cycle of their next generation product while optimising for the functionality their customers value most. 

‘Sharing’ the data from a high-performance control system enables OEM’s to diagnose issues faster in support of their customers, providing a better customer experience.

Finally, connected OEM’s are in a unique position to sell the value of data by providing a variety of technology enabled services such as preventative maintenance programs and consumable replenishment programs.

‘Own’, ‘Share’ and ‘Sell’ value extraction can be enabled by a platform designed for the Industrial Internet, and by a team committed to help customers realise that value. At GE Intelligent Platforms, we have made enabling this new and exciting form of value creation our mission.


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