General Electric Keeps on Practicing What They Preach!

I’m beginning to sound like a schill (no, not a typo, just a bad joke: short for [Curt] Schilling, the former Red Sox pitcher — sorry, I can’t get those guys out of my head today…) for GE, but it’s hard to argue with their impressive record of walking their talk about the “Industrial Internet,” their marketing term for the subset of the Internet of Things dealing with the industrial sector.

The latest evidence? A report today in the NYTimes‘ “Bits” blog that GE has just announced “14 more products that combine industrial equipment, Internet-linked sensors and software to monitor performance and analyze big streams of data. G.E. had previously announced 10 similar industrial products.”

Equally impressive, the Industrial Age behemoth turned nimble IoT leader said that by next year, almost all industrial products it makes will have built-in sensors and Big Data software to analyze the huge data streams those sensors will create.

Right now I’m writing an e-book on IoT strategy for C-level executives (not sure if I can disclose the customer — it’s a big one!) and GE VP of Global Software William Ruh, used the news to fire a shot across the bow at companies that are slow to realize a fundamental paradigm shift in manufacturing, product design and maintenance is well underway:

““Everyone wants prediction about performance, and better asset management… The ideas of speed, of information velocity, is what will differentiate the winners from the losers.”

You in the corner office: got your attention?

Equally important, given my insistence that the IoT is all about collaboration, GE simultaneously announced partnerships with Cisco, AT&T and Intel. It had already inked deals with Accenture and Amazon’s cloud subsidiary and has also invested in  Pivotal, an Industrial Internet app creator.

Smart companies will follow GE’s lead in radically reforming the product design process to capitalize on the rapid feedback on performance that the Industrial Internet products’ built-in sensors yield. According to Ruh, they’re switching to an iterative design process, with rapid changes based on data from the field:

“… G.E. is adopting practices like releasing stripped-down products quickly, monitoring usage and rapidly changing designs depending on how things are used by customers. These approaches follow the ‘lean start-up’ style at many software-intensive Internet companies.

“’We’re getting these offerings done in three, six, nine months,’ he said. ‘It used to take three years.’” (my emphasis)

That change is definitely going to make it into my e-book! Brilliant example of how the IoT, by allowing companies to think in terms of systems dynamics, especially feedback loops, will have profound impacts on the design and manufacturing processes, integrating them as never before (oh, and don’t forget, the data from the built-in sensors will also allow companies to start marketing services — such as leasing jet turbines, with the lease cost based on the actual amount of thrust the engines create)!

Combined, that’s definitely a paradigm shift!

Oh, I almost forgot. Here’s a brief rundown of the products themselves and the industries served. They are clustered under the Predictivity name, and are powered by Predix, a new IoT platform:

  • The Drilling iBox System (oil and gas)
  • Reliability Max (oil and gas
  • Field 360 (oil and gas)
  • System 1 Evolution (oil and gas)
  • Non-destructive Testing Remote collaboration (oil and gas)
  • LifeMax Advantage (power and water)
  • Rail Connect 360 Monitoring and Diagnostics (transportation)
  • ShipperConnect (transportation)
  • Flight Efficiency Services (aviation)
  • Hot SimSuite (healthcare)
  • Cloud Imaging (healthcare)
  • Grid IQ Insight (energy management)
  • Proficy MaxxMine (energy management)

Given the diversity of industries the Predictivity products serve and GE’s global clout, I predict this level of commitment will radically accelerate the IoT’s adoption by big business, as well as accelerating the payback in terms of lower operating, energy and maintenance costs, and reduced environmental impacts.

Will GE’s competitors in these sectors get on board, or will they be left in the dust?

 

Essential Truths of the IoT: Listen to the Things

No, “Listen to the Things” isn’t some sort of zen lesson, although it could be!

It is one of my occasional series of “Essential Truths of the IoT“: fundamental underlying principles that are essential to understanding the true nature of the Internet of Things as a fundamental paradigm shift.

Sensor-equipped GE power turbine

I think particularly of General Electric when I think of this fundamental principle, because GE is turning “listening to things” into major innovations in product design that, in turn, are leading to new ways of marketing their products and new revenue streams.

For example, not only is GE able to optimize production of the advanced cell-phone tower batteries at its state-of-the-art factory in Schenectady, NY because of 10,000 sensors on the assembly line, but also the batteries themselves include built-in sensors that allow GE to monitor their condition.

Thinking in terms of “listening to things” has revolutionized the very way GE markets its jet engines. Some of its new engines contain 20 sensors, which can generate up to a were 20 sensors that monitor the engine’s performance, generating up to a terrabyte of information on a cross-country flight. That allows the airline user to do “predictive maintenance,” which uses actual data on the actual engine — not just some recommended service interval for engines in general, to determine when that specific engine needs maintenance for best performance.

It also gives GE the option of leasing the engine instead of selling it, with the actual price of the lease again dependent on the actual usage of that particular engine, rather than some arbitrary average.

The customer also benefits — as does the global environment. GE calculates that if “an average-sized airline used F&CS  (Fuel and Carbon Solution to achieve a 2% improvement in fuel consumption, it would be equivalent to removing more than 10,000 cars from our roads.”

Here’s the problem — and the opportunity. We’re used to “dumb things” that were inscrutable — you couldn’t “listen” to how they were actually operating if your life depended on it. As a result, we don’t automatically see the opportunities to redesign products to include sensors that will automatically report real-time data about their operating state and possible problems. To capitalize on this “Essential Truth” of the IoT we will have to start asking a new question:

what things that are part of our intrastructure and/or our products
can be redesigned so we can “listen” to them — and 
learn from them?

It’s Official: Tom Friedman Anoints the IoT; Plus Jobs Issue Is Raised!

Posted on 16th September 2013 in 3-D printing, Internet of Things, M2M, maintenance, manufacturing, services

OK, the Internet of Things is officially a Big Thing: Tom “World is Flat” Friedman wrote about it in the Sunday NY Times.

Friedman, searching for evidence of American “exceptionalism” in a bleak landscape of Capitol Hill paralysis, etc. zeroed in on GE’s “Industrial Internet” initiatives as a ray of hope. As he wrote,

“I wanted to see what new technologies, and therefore business models — and therefore jobs — it might be spawning that public policy, and education policy, might enhance. I have no idea whether or how G.E. will profit from any of these breakthroughs, but I saw the outlines there of three radically new business trends that the United States should want to dominate.”

One of those themes was how 3-D printing could streamline the design and production process.

The second, which I wrote about earlier, was the concept of crowdsourcing design, in particular the contest GE held to design a new jet turbine mount (more about that later!!!).

Finally, Friedman zeroed in on the IoT, specifically widespread use of sensors:

“Lastly, we are on the cusp of what G.E. calls ‘the Industrial Internet’ or the ‘Internet of Things’ — meaning that every major part of a G.E. jet engine, locomotive or turbine is now equipped with online sensors that constantly measure and broadcast every aspect of performance. Computers capture all this big data and use it to improve everything from the flight path to energy efficiency.”

He gave several examples, such as wind turbines and hospital beds, where data from sensors can help to optimize efficiency and cut operating costs. He pointed out that the data allows GE to create new services “… that offer not just to manage an airline’s or railroad’s engines, but how fast all its planes or trains go, how flight and train schedules are coordinated and even how its equipment is parked to get optimal performance and energy efficiency (aside to marketing managers: what kinds of services would the IoT allow you to introduce, perhaps replacing actual sales of products with leases based on use? Think about it!).

Friedman concludes, “Watch this space, even if Washington doesn’t: When everything and everyone becomes connected, and complexity is free and innovation is both dirt-cheap and can come from anywhere, the world of work changes.”

Indeed! Nice to have someone with Friedman’s clout recognizing the IoT is a paradigm shift!

MEANWHILE: Make certain to read the comments following the column. They are primarily negative, and zero in on one thing: the IoT’s threat to jobs. In particular, the critics focused on the GE engine mount design contest.  One was particularly pointed:

“According to CNNMoney, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt pocketed $25.8 million in total compensation in 2012. That’s about $20,000 every hour and a half. How come 8 geniuses cost only 90 minutes of CEO time?”

You’ve gotta agree, $20,000 ($7,000 to the winner) is a pretty paltry sum considering what GE gets in return, and given readers’ suspicions that companies may let go their salaried designers and instead exploit freelancers (I’ve thought the same about some of the incentives offered by Innocentive member companies for some of the crowdsourcing projects that they’ve offered), you can bet that there will be more criticisms in the future if this becomes a common practice.

The IoT will undoubtably result in loss of some jobs — disruptive technologies do that — although optimists say they will create jobs as well. But if companies don’t want to reap a lot of criticism for their IoT initiatives, they’d better put some thought into the job creation aspect as well!

 

Why collaboration must replace zero-sum game for IoT profitability

Posted on 3rd September 2013 in collaboration, Essential Truths, Internet of Things, strategy

I guest blogged today @ INEX Advisors today on one of my favorite Internet of Things principles: how thinking collaboratively has to replace I-win-you-lose-zero-sum-game thinking if companies want to really profit from the IoT.

As before, I cited GE as one of the few big companies that’s seizing a strategic advantage in the IoT world by practicing this approach.

GE Crowdsourcing Design For 3-D Printing Project

OK, I admit to losing all sense of objectivity on this one! After all, it hits all my sweet spots:

  • Internet of Things (AKA General Electric’s “Internet of Things”)
  • 3-D printing
  • crowdsourcing/collaboration.

As I wrote earlier, about GE’s collaboration with Electric Imp and Quirky, this exemplar of Industrial Age might (what could be more powerful than a GE locomotive???) really seems to get it that the Internet of Things is as much about new attitudes of collaboration and sharing data as it is about Internet technology.

GE jet engine mount

So it’s no surprise that Industry Week reports on a new GE initiative, soliciting crowdsourced designs for a new jet engine bracket that will be produced through 3-D printing.

As Christine Furstoss, technical director of Manufacturing and Material Technologies at GE Global Research, explains:

“‘For any industry to be successful, you really need to develop communities or ecosystems of partners and thought leaders…

‘No sustainable, established industry technology exists without multiple players, multiple styles of thought, multiple ways of growing … We feel like one of the best ways to stimulate that, to find the newest and best ideas, is to start with open collaboration.'”

Bravo!

Contrast that attitude with what is still all too prevalent, as summarized by Paul Horn, former senior vp of research at IBM:

“Horn remembers a time before open innovation — a competitive, suspicious era when innovative and great, transformative ideas were only allowed to grow in a tightly sealed vacuum.

‘When we built the Almaden Laboratory at IBM in the early 1980s, we put it south of Silicon Valley on purpose,’ he recalls. ‘In those days, our biggest fear was the leaking of intellectual property out into the valley.'”

I suspect that one of the biggest obstacles to full realization of the IoT’s promise will be the difficulty of leaving that old zero-sum game, my-gain-is-your-loss mentality behind!

I wasn’t aware that this latest competition, to design a 3-D printed bracket strong enough to support a jet engine on a commercial plane, is part of a 2-year crowdsourcing initiative, with approximately $20 million in prizes for products, designs and processes, especially in 3-D printing:

“‘We’re trying to find thought leaders in this area — people who may know through a technique they’ve devised or a piece of software that they’ve found or just their own experiences what is the best way to design with additive for real industrial parts,’ Furstoss explains. ‘We’re really at the birth of industrial additive technology. This is a way for us to build support for that community of makers.'”

Furstoss says the crowdsourcing competitions are no knock on GE’s own 50,000 engineers: “‘We have a platform in place that can put a student in his dorm on the same plane as our engineers,’ she says. ‘We’re making sure that people who may have ideas, may have skills, may have things to offer have an opportunity to bring them forward, no matter who they are.'”

It’s that kind of openness to not only new technologies, but also new management practices, that will give GE a huge head start over competitors that have yet to come to grips with the new reality: the Internet of Things!

 

GE Eggminder: could this simple product build IoT awareness?

Posted on 17th July 2013 in home automation, Internet of Things

As someone who spends much of his time introducing the Internet of Things to people who’ve never heard of it, much less thought about how it might improve their lives, I think there might be something to the logic of this Fast Company article about the GE Eggminder.

The article points out that the IoT still provokes blank stares from most people, a fact that those of us who are immersed in it every day may tend to forget. As the subhead said, “EGG MINDER MIGHT BE DUMB PRODUCT DESIGN, BUT AS A PIECE OF MASS COMMUNICATION ABOUT WEB-CONNECTED PRODUCTS, IT JUST MIGHT BE GENIUS.”

GE Eggminder

The Eggminder doesn’t do much — tells you, via the app, how many eggs you have left in your fridge, but it’s the kind of simple-to-understand example of the kinds of connectivity possible through the IoT that is likely to make a lot of people say “Now I get it!”

It’s not life-changing, as the article points out, and maybe even dumb: “(How dumb? To quote Quirky’s own product evaluation video, ‘it’s a pain in the ass,’ ‘superfluous,’ ‘really silly,’ and ‘the height of laziness.’).  BTW: am I right in guessing that this might have been one of the award winners in the contest that GE, Quirky and Electric Imp held to find fast-to-market IoT products. which I praised as an example of the kind of collaboration it will take to capitalize on the IoT?

My personal favorites in terms of IoT products that are easy to understand are the SmartSlippers that can alert a caregiver when a frail senior is likely to fall, or the onesie that alerts parents that their baby has stopped breathing — in time to avoid SIDS. But you get the point: until people see something that could simplify their life — or save it, they may not understand exactly how revolutionary the IoT is.

So let’s have more Eggminders — simple products that will result in more “aha moments” — and speed public adoption of the IoT!

GE Eggminder

O’Reilly free e-book gives overview of “industrial internet”

Posted on 18th April 2013 in energy, Internet of Things, manufacturing, transportation

O’Reilly has published a free e-book,  “Industrial Internet,” (underwritten by GE, which, not so coincidentally, uses the industrial internet as the advertising slogan for its own involvement in the field…) about the “coming together to software and big machines.” It’s a great introduction to this crucial portion of the Internet of Things.

The message of the book? “With a network connection and an open interface that masks its underlying complexity, a machine becomes a Web service, ready to be coupled to software intelligence that can ingest broad context and optimize entire systems of machines.

“The industrial internet is this union of software and big machines… It promises to bring the key characteristics of the Web — modularity, abstraction, software above the level of a single device — to demanding physical settings, letting innovators break down big problems, solve them in small pieces, and then stitch together their solutions.”

Author Jon Bruner emphasizes that industrial internet devices don’t necessarily have to be connected to the public Internet: “…rather, it refers to machines becoming nodes on pervasive networks that use open protocols.”

Machines are reconceptualized as services, “…accessible to any authorized application that’s on the network. Those applications make it possible to simplify optimization of the physical devices without requiring as much knowledge. Most importantly, “…the industrial internet makes the physical world accessible to anyone who can recast its problems in terms that software can handle: learning, analysis, system-wide optimization. (my emphasis)”

Bruner points out that the bigger the network (think the entire US air traffic control system) the more optimized it can become. As Big Data takes over software intelligence “will become smarter and more granular.”

Hallmarks of the industrial internet will include:

  • fewer, smarter machines
  • less labor required to operate them
  • “Any machine that registers state data can become a valuable sensor when it’s connected to a network.”

One point that really struck me was that physical products will be able to be improved on the fly, rather than just when a new model is introduced — think of what that means, in particular, for cars, which can often last up to 15 years: it will become possible to change engine settings simply by a software upgrade transmitter via a smartphone app!

“A software update might include a better algorithm for setting fuel-air mixtures that would improve fuel economy. Initiatives like OpenXC8, a Ford program that gives Android developers access to drivetrain data, portend the coming of ‘plug and play intelligence,’ in which a driver not only stocks his car with music and maps through his phone, but also provides his own software and computational power for the car’s drivetrain, updated as often as his phone. One driver might run software that adjusts the car’s driving characteristics for better fuel economy, another for sportier performance. That sort of customization might bring about a wide consumer market in machine controls.

“This could lead to the separation of markets in machines and in controls: buy a car from General Motors and buy the intelligent software to optimize it from Google. Manufacturers and software developers will need to think in terms of broad platforms to maximize the value of both their offerings.”

WOW!

The e-book includes a chapter on the crucial issue of security, arguing that, paradoxically, it may be easier to provide security on an Internet-based network — on the premise that the Internet is constantly challenged by hackers and constantly adapts — than on a more limited network. It mentions Shodan (I’ve been seeing a lot about that one recently!) and Basecamp2 as magnets that attract those who might want to hack the Internet of Things.

There’s also a chapter full of helpful case studies from pioneering industrial internet companies in fields including utilities, HVAC/building controls, automotive (I found that one particularly interesting), aviation, railroads (paradoxically, one of our oldest industries is among the most advanced in its use of sensors and other industrial internet technology, as I’ve reported previously), health care, and manufacturing. Any smart manager should get ideas for his or her company by reading them!

“Industrial Internet” is a must read! Download it today.

 

 

 

 

GE gets it about #IoT: collaboration will be critical attitude

Posted on 17th April 2013 in Internet of Things, management

I had a fascinating phone interview this week with Christina, “CK” Kerley, a brilliant marketing consultant who’s increasingly moving into the Internet of Things arena. I strongly suggest that you check out her videos.

She was most interested in my comments about the management implications of the IoT. I told her that a lot of companies that still practice traditional hierarchical, top-down management won’t be able to fully capitalize on the IoT because a critical element of it that isn’t fully understood is that for the first time, everyone in a company will be able to simultaneously share near-real-time information.

That’s going to bring about fundamental change to those companies that are willing to share information:

  • people will be able to carry out their responsibilities more efficiently because they will have real-time information
  • it will be possible to break down “silos” between departments, as personnel in various departments will have simultaneous information to the the same information, increasing collaboration
  • it will also be possible to share information simultaneously with your supply chain and customers, reducing inefficiency and increasing collaboration.

I’ll guarantee you: when that happens, unprecedented innovation will result, because individuals will be empowered as never before.

One company that clearly gets it is GE, which is really practicing what it preaches about the “industrial internet” (if you have access to the print edition of Time, check out their recent story about making it in America again — it features GE’s Schenectady factory manufacturing the new Durathon batteries — one of the ways it is able to compete with the Chinese is that the assembly line is laden with sensors to relay real-time information…).

I was fascinated by this story about GE’s collaboration with Quirky and Electric Imp to hold a contest to develop several IoT products in time for the holiday 2013 season.  The disparity in size between the goliath GE and Quirky and Electric Imp couldn’t be more pronounced, but GE opted to partner with them:

“GE will open thousands of its most promising patents and new technologies to the Quirky community for the development of new consumer products; and a co-branded product development initiative to build a full line of app-enabled connected devices for the home in areas such as health, security, water or air that will be developed using advanced manufacturing tools and technologies. This new line of products will be co-branded Wink: Instantly Connected.”

Yep, with the Internet of Things collaboration will be critical, and I suspect GE will head the pack!

GE paints rosy future for “industrial internet,” its take on the IoT

Posted on 30th November 2012 in Internet of Things

GE has just released a major report, “Industrial Internet: pushing the boundaries of minds and machines,” in which it projects what it calls the “industrial internet” marrying “smart machines” and Big Data analytics could add $10 to 15 trillion — the size of the current US economy — to global GDP.

The industrial internet — which equates to GE’s own strengths, such as electrical generation and health care (surprise! surprise!) is more limited in scope than the full Internet of Things, so the numbers also indicate a bright future for the IoT as a whole (but why did they feel the need to come up with a new term rather than just trumpeting their own area of the IoT?).

Co-authors Peter C. Evans, GE’s director of global strategy and analytics, and Marco Annunziata, GE’s chief economist, write that “the deeper meshing of the digital world with the world of machines holds the potential to bring about profound transformation to global industry, and in turn to many aspects of daily life, including the way many of us do our jobs.”

The report predicts radical increases in productivity in areas in which GE has major initiatives, including health care, fuel savings and more efficient and long-lasting physical assets.

Among the highlights of the report’s findings, it predicts:

  • the industrial internet could increase average U.S. incomes by 25-40% over the next 20 years.
  • just a 1% increase in hospital efficiency could save $63 billion worldwide.
  • similarly, a 1% reduction in jet fuel use could save $30 billion over 15 years.
  • a 1% efficiency gain in gas-fired power plants worldwide could save $66 billion in fuel costs.
To achieve the savings, the authors urge companies to deploy legions of smart sensors to gather real-time data, improve cyber security, and train a new breed of “digital-mechanical” engineers.