Big data is not just for predicting election outcomes and mapping genomes. General Electric (GE) is betting on the so-called Industrial Internet — a term they coined — to help manufacturers boost performance, streamline processes and better compete in the global marketplace.
Essentially, the Industrial Internet (II) is a network that connects scores of sophisticated machines embedded with sensors and computer software to other machines so manufacturers can gain real-time insight into everything from production bottlenecks to pending maintenance issues. The result is a transparent system that enables businesses to make more informed business decisions, curb production hiccups and cut costs.
Automation has long helped manufacturers streamline processes, but the increasing popularity of cloud computing and declining instrumentation costs are rapidly ushering in the II era. Here are five ways in which manufacturers can take advantage of this high-tech industrial revolution.
1. Gain efficiency.
GE is putting its money where its mouth is with the recent opening of a $170-million advanced battery manufacturing plant in Schenectady, NY. The 180,000-square-foot facility produces GE’s next-generation Durathon batteries, which are half the size of traditional batteries but last ten times as long.
What makes the plant truly remarkable is that its sophisticated machines have been outfitted with10,000 sensorsthat are connected to a high-speed internal Ethernet, according to an article in MIT Technology Review. The facility relies on these sensors to track details such as local air pressure, energy consumption, temperature range and which batches of powder are being used to produce which batteries.
By enabling the plant’s 450 employees to access this real-time data via an iPad and Wi-Fi connectivity, GE can make huge efficiency gains, pushing their machines to their technical limits while being able to anticipate potential production snags.
2. Reduce waste.
Technology can help manufacturers decrease waste in numerous ways, according to Mark Davidson, a principal analyst with LNS Research, an industrial automation advisory firm. “Resulting reductions in waste can come from areas such as reduced materials, reduced energy and resource usage, improved quality, reduced scrap and rework, and reductions in manual labor,” he says.
3. Enhance machine productivity.
“Manufacturers are always striving for ways to continuously improve their productivity and cut costs,” says Mohamed AbuAli, COO of Forcam. “With the right tool that can deliver the right information to the right people at the right time, manufacturing facilities can use objectively-measured data directly from their shop floors to complement their Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) and gain significant productivity gains.”