General Electric has just published a report which describes the gains in productivity that could be made if data produced by heavy industry were processed more efficiently.

The Industrial Internet: a new paradigm for economic growth

In its report,The Industrial Internet@Work, GE describes the advantages arising from an increasing use of sensors and processors in heavy industry which is giving rise to the ‘Industrial Internet’.  This new concept basically designates an approach whereby data fed back from heavy industrial production is thoroughly analysed so as to help streamline the production chain. The report centres on four traditional industries: power generation, aviation, railways and healthcare. The economic benefits from crunching data on industrial plant channelled back from installed smart sensors could boost global GDP by as much as $10-15 trillion over the next 20 years, through accelerated productivity growth, but will also substantially change the skills required across the industrial workforce, predicts General Electric.

Towards a seamless production chain

A primary benefit of the transformation which is being brought about by connecting up machines more widely and applying advanced analytics to the data flows can obtained in the maintenance sphere, says GE, pointing out that many billions of dollars are currently being wasted on inefficient maintenance systems. Current operating instructions often require machines to be inspected on a daily basis so as to ensure that production lines continue to work smoothly.This is a costly process and proves very inefficient if there is ever a real breakdown. In the commercial jet aircraft sector, “just monitoring the jet engines on these aircraft requires about 205 million labor-hours annually. This is the equivalent of about $10 billion annually in labor costs”, says the report. Another example cited is from power plants, where the current servicing costs of over $7 billion a year for gas and steam turbines worldwide could be greatly reducedby using appropriate sensors and software to make the equipment smarter. By capitalising more intensively on the flow of data from machines, all these industries could gain in flexibility and begin to work in ‘real time’, argues GE.

Workforce will require cross-disciplinary skills

The Industrial Internet looks set to create new job opportunities, on the one hand because it should help to boost overall global economic growth, and on the other as a result of new requirements for a workforce able to use the new precision technologies in heavy industry. This range of new jobs will call for technical expertise and management capabilities, digital-mechanical engineers, data scientists and business operations data analysts and more extensive training will be required if the workforce as a whole is to become conversant with the emerging technologies. The authors of the report cite the example of a technician performing maintenance on a wind turbine who, using connected tools and drawing on data from smart sensors, will quickly be able to see which part specifically needs maintenance. In addition, the details of the fault and his/her servicing operation will then be transmitted to other technicians so as to improve the efficiency of future maintenance operations. A number of industrial and digital giants have started to plan for the ‘Industrial Internet’, among them GE, which is partnering with Cisco, AT&T and Intel with a view to developing products which work with the same data management  platform.

By Thomas Meyer
Journalist, Business Analyst