BERLIN — GE’s purchase this month of Meridium plays into the company’s realization that asset performance management (APM) has become “the leading category for IoT applications,” Ganesh Bell, chief digital officer at GE Power, said in an interview with Smart Manufacturing magazine this week at Industry of Things World 2016.
GE previously invested in Meridium, he said. “Over the last three years, we’ve seen the growing importance of APM. And with Meridium we saw an opportunity to accelerate that growth.”
GE’s digital industry team in recent years identified three APM solutions on which it wanted to work: monitoring and diagnostics, predictive maintenance and maintenance optimization, he added. The company was on target with the first two and chose to absorb Meridium to get up to speed on the third segment, Bell said.
The company views Siemens and ABB as its chief competitors, a company spokesperson said this week.
With Meridium comes manufacturing customers Georgia Pacific, Kimberly Clark, McCain Foods and West Rock. Its APM software is deployed at 1200 customer sites in 80 countries
Meridium is gaining GE’s considerable experience with manufacturing operations data—and slicing and dicing it for central monitoring and diagnostics and predictive maintenance. “We manufacture everywhere,” with about 450 factories around the world, Bell noted.
Acquisitions like that of Meridium, which is based in Roanoak, Virginia, are “very important” for GE’s digital division going forward, he said. “We have established an overall strategy and a platform. And we see innovation happening everywhere. We will tap into many of these innovations by investments, as well as through our ecosystem. We have a lot of partners. We’ll resell their solutions, and they will build on top of our platform. That’s how we see innovation growing, and that’s how we will be able to meet the demands of our customers.”
While GE is based in the US, it does more business abroad, Bell noted. “We have a huge presence here in Europe, and growing countries like India and China are major markets for us.”
Of course, GE wants to fix manufacturing problems with solutions that transfer between as many countries as possible.
Will doing good lure workers?
In the US, GE and other manufacturers struggle with access to talent, Bell acknowledged, noting the company’s comedic TV ads are one effort to become as attractive as Internet and autonomous car concerns are to young skilled workers.
He hopes young people will soon understand just how much socially conscious work GE and other manufacturers can do—via smart manufacturing.
“The industrial world is digitally less mature than all of the other industries,” like banking and entertainment, Bell said. “So far, we haven’t proven the case of why people haven’t come to work in the industrial world. We have to create awareness about the huge opportunity in manufacturing. If you’re digital talent, you want to work on the latest and greatest thing. You want to work on the cloud when it’s hot. You want to work on devices and next generation solutions when they are hot. But we offer not just the ability to work on the latest technologies but also things that matter in the world.”
To that end, the 2015 purchase of Alstom’s power and grid businesses brought GE a specialization in off-shore wind.
The $10.7 billion deal for the French firm required regulatory approval in more than 20 countries and regions, including Brazil, China, the EU, India, Japan and the US.
“With Alstom, we are seeing the opportunity to expand: We launched the Digital Wind Farm and the Digital Power Plant,” Bell said.
The Digital Wind Farm is shorthand for crunching unit and site data and developing new algorithms to optimize maintenance, improve reliability and get as much power as possible out of already-deployed wind turbines.
”Just by applying digital technologies to a wind farm, we can generate up to 20 percent more power from the same wind,” Bell said in his presentation. For a 100-turbine wind farm, that’s the equivalent of installing 20 new turbines.
The Digital Power Plant “can help operators potentially save millions of dollars by giving them greater real-time awareness of their equipment condition and enhanced operational readiness,” GE said in prepared remarks late last year when it noted that the company secured 15 new Predix customers in the first three months after it began marketing the software solution.
Record-setting turbine built in ‘brilliant factory’
It cannot hurt GE’s case for coolness that Guinness World Records in June recognized the company for powering the world’s most efficient combined-cycle power plant, for EDF in Bouchain, France.
GE built that turbine in half the time it usually takes to build such a machine—in part because of digital technology and lean startup ideas, Bell said in an address at Industry of Things World 2016. In his talk with Smart Manufacturing, he pointed to GE’s “know-how,” from testing out manufacturing innovations in its own factories, as a major selling point.
GE built the gas turbine in what it calls a “brilliant factory” in Greenville, SC.
There, GE used Predix — its industrial operating system software that helps developers build industrial IoT applications — to stop tree-killing, paper-based machine design, Bell said in a media roundtable discussion following is conference talk.
‘We can rejuvenate old environments and machines’
In Italy, GE Power used Predix and a suite of applications to bring back online a gas-turbine-powered electricity-generation plant the A2A Group mothballed in 2014 in the face of renewable energy growth—when the plant was unable to compete in the ancillary services market at the level of efficiency it was achieving at the time, Bell said in his conference talk.
GE asked A2A, already a customer for several years, to look at a couple of years’ worth of operational data from the plant, which is situated in Chivasso. And even though the ancillary services market is reporting historical levels of efficiency, GE data scientists found that they could make Chivasso competitive by adjusting ramp rate and heat rates and helping the plant run at lower load levels during times when generation would be less profitable, GE said.
The data scientists employed the physics-based “digital twin” to devise the load-ramping improvement, which is 2.5 times the normal rate and does not impact asset life, the company said.
GE thinks of Predix as an application, “and part of that application is having a digital twin,” Bell explained at the roundtable, noting that the lookalike concept combines the theoretical design of the machine with actual operating conditions.
Today, Chivasso is competitive in ancillary services market, Bell said to a packed room of conference attendees.
“This is what we can do with software: We can rejuvenate old environments and machines.”