General Electric five years ago launched a software platform intended to create applications that could take their cues from sensor-equipped turbines. The idea was that companies could improve productivity by reducing manual check-ups and save millions of dollars in operational costs by anticipating when their planes, trains and other heavy equipment would require maintenance.
Fast forward to today and Predix, as the distributed OS is known, may become for the industrial internet of things (IoT) what Microsoft Windows became for personal computers if GE has its way. The Predix ecosystem includes nearly 20,000 third-party developers while revenues associated with Predix and other software from GE Digital’s business will increase 20 percent to $6 billion in 2016, GE announced at a customer event yesterday.
"This idea of combining machine data with analytics and enterprise data is where the next level of productivity from companies is going to come from," says GE CIO Jim Fowler, adding that BP, Exelon Maersk Drilling have begun using Predix to reduce maintenance costs and unplanned downtime.
Analytics on the edge
At its annual Minds + Machines event, GE introduced the Predix Edge System, which is designed to help industrial companies host apps and data on machines and edge devices, including anything from medical devices to controllers to network gateways and routers. This strategy incorporates GE devices, such as Field Agent, a component of GE’s Industrial Internet Control System, which connects thousands of machines to the cloud.
Another app, currently being tested by Walgreens and McDonald’s, analyzes and optimizes energy use across anything from lighting to HVAC systems. GE also unveiled a Predix app that’s built to provides continuous inspection data and analytics of pipe conditions via ultrasonic sensors.
Predix may form the heart of GE Digital’s software strategy but it has a supporting cast. GE also relies on Digital Twins, essentially virtual models to gain insights about performance and operation.
One Digital Twin includes a model of an aircraft engine, which includes data about its specifications, test data from the manufacturing line, as well as data about how the product operates in the field. GE’s Global Research Center hosts more than 300 such Twins that pull data from product lifecycle management systems, machine data and ERP systems.
Collectively, Twins form a manufacturing record GE calls a Digital Thread, which can alert companies to how much the engine has deteriorated after each operation. “The Digital Thread is what connects [Digital Twins] together under a serial number to make sure there is a lifeline to that number,” Fowler says.
Acquisitions drive digital business
While efforts initially focused on organic growth, GE Digital of late has been acquiring companies that specialize in cloud and analytics tool. The unit in September paid $495 million for Meridium, a maker of asset performance management software.
On Monday, GE agreed to pay $915 million for ServiceMax, a provider of field service management that runs in the cloud. Yesterday, GE Digital acquired Bit Stew intended to help GE to organize large amounts of data at the source of the data, such as a turbine or drilling system.
GE Digital yesterday also acquired Wise.io, which makes advanced machine learning and data science software designed toenable engineers to ingest data from machines to find patterns and potentially predict new outcomes. Fowler says that incorporating machine-learning capabilities will enable Predix to pull data off of machines in a manufacturing plant to anticipate changes to quality, cycle times or inventory problems. “We let the asset drive that value equation for us,” Fowler says.
GE also announced a program dedicated to independent software vendors (ISVs), aimed at driving awareness and adoption of the Predix platform. ISV partners, which includes inaugural members such as Box, Pitney Bowes and Ericsson, will be able to use Predix to build maintenance, content development and asset management apps. The ISV program supplements GE’s Digital Alliance program, whose 270 partners include AT&T, Intel and Microsoft.
Fowler says the focus is on driving better execution for customers in 2017.
“We’ve got to go do what we’re saying we’re going to do for these customers and we’ve got to get their productivity and their benefits across the finish line,” Fowler says. “The proof is going to be in the customers’ outcome."