The industrial Internet, or Internet of Things, is one of those terms that most people reference, but few people actually understand.
The thought of connecting the logic of every capable processor and enabling them to share data is a remarkably massive undertaking, but time and again we have proven ourselves quite capable of achieving the seemingly unachievable. We have, after all, been to the moon, split an atom or two, and found the Higgs-Boson particle. An Internet of things seems like child's play in comparison.
IBM and Cisco have been working on their own versions of smart data collection and connection for quite some time. Plant data and its management have been around for years, but, all of a sudden, they’re the next big thing.
General Electric's involvement with this "industrial Internet" concept is based on machine-to-machine communication that falls in its Intelligent Platforms (IP) division (www.ge-ip.com). Its industry sectors include oil and gas, water and wastewater, and mining, but consumer products, telecommunications, and life sciences also fall within GE IP.
GE already has recruited more than 250 engineers in the past two years to work at its new software center in San Francisco, where plans for additional developers and a billion-dollar investment are in the works to spur its part of creating the industrial Internet, connecting the digital intelligence of machines via the World Wide Web.
GE is betting that the industrial economy is as ready for shared intelligence as consumer markets have been. And we all know how the Internet has turned consumer communications on its ear over the past decade or so. Because of its extensive reach throughout all industries, GE is one of the key players that can bring a very large chunk of machinery together by leveraging information acquired from all kinds of equipment sensors and the logic of AI tools that can turn data streams into intelligence pools, or oceans, more likely. The end result, in theory and ultimately in practice, will be machines, equipment, and systems with the ability to self-diagnose and potentially correct problems before failure and downtime can occur.
And that is a world of equipment reliability we’d all be happy to live in, so where is the disconnect?
Control systems, process automation systems, manufacturing execution systems, CMMS or EAM systems, and ERP systems will all need to talk to one another in real-time. Only then will we have an Internet of Things. Yes, it's achievable, but the idea of open communications between so many different platforms is still a bit premature. The Internet of Things is coming, but first we’ll need to learn how to talk about it, or at least learn how to let data management systems talk with one another.