We all know of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest in which millions of people share thoughts, ideas, views, pictures and facts in a global buzz. Now, what if machines could talk to each other just like this, letting each other know about what’s going on inside them?
Well, something like that is happening, and it is called the industrial Internet. Some days ago, I met William Ruh, vice-president of the global software centre for General Electric (GE), which is a leading force in esoteric high-technologies in the manufacturing field with interests in thermal and mechanical systems, chemical engineering, electrical systems and materials.
All those areas of research are now connected by “software sciences” and analytics. GE, officially an “old economy” titan, actually has 13,000 people in these areas of which 2,500 are based in India.
Now, imagine machines that have sensitive electronic sensors that sense heat, light and other factors and measure them and convey the data digitally. These are the “status messages” of the machines from where these data emanate. Just like social media analysts crunch tweets and messages to generate insights, engineers can analyse machine data to dramatically improve efficiency, save energy and come out with innovations.
Here are three trends that Ruh sees:
• By linking simple cellphones to machines, the cost of making machines efficient has come down significantly (you can switch on/off a machine with cellphones)
• Sensors and controls linked to machines that have Internet addresses (just like your Twitter handle) are spewing data that can be used for feedback
• Such industrial data are much more in volume than the kind of stuff people are entering through computers
“When 50 billion machines get connected, there are going to be business opportunities,” says Ruh.
GE has evolved partnerships with companies such as Amazon, Pivotal (a unit of EMC) and Accenture to take the industrial Internet forward, making sense of the beehive buzz of connected machines.