Industrial Automation and Information Technology

Industrial Automation and Information Technology

Last week was where industrial automation and information technology met along with my vice–soccer.

Emerson Automation Solutions–Digital Transformation, IT/OT collaboration, corporate acquisitions (GE Intelligent Platforms, once known as GE Fanuc, joins the fold), WirelessHART applications expand, flow control data becomes an integral part of digital transformation.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)–Refinery of the Future tour of the Texmark refinery that I’ve written about before and CenterPoint Energy where digital boosts the electrical utility industry.

Marketers may still talk of IT/OT convergence as something coming. In many forward thinking plants it is here. Texmark CEO Doug Smith talks freely about the kick in the pants delivered by his insurance carrier that propelled him and his team toward finding innovative solutions to operations challenges.

I sometimes joke that “I’m the point of convergence of IT and OT”, or at least my blog and writing are.

Don’t believe hype or nay-sayers. The collaboration is real–among suppliers, partner ecosystems, managers, engineers. And real benefits are accruing.

Have you joined the 21st Century?

GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

This is interesting news. I’ve noticed GE doing much reorganizing around the former automation businesses. I actually thought Bernie Anger was going off in a different direction–perhaps with the software group. Instead, he’s leading the embedded computing business (the old SBS and VMIC businesses, if you remember way back when) off on its own.

For some time, marketing in the old GE Fanuc, now GE Intelligent Platforms, business has become quite differentiated. They’ve tried some agencies for PR. But the software side (including the Cimplicity and Intellution businesses which “merged” into Proficy) are seemingly subsumed into the huge investment GE is making corporately in software–note the ads it is running on TV recently. I never know what to call the division, group, or name when I write about it.

Here is the press release regarding the divestiture.

Abaco Systems, an industry-leading supplier of sophisticated, open architecture electronic systems for aerospace, defense and industrial applications, today announced its separation from the General Electric Company (“GE”), opening a new chapter in the company’s history.

“This is a momentous day for Abaco Systems,” said Bernie Anger, president and CEO of Abaco Systems. “Today, we start the next stage in our company’s future – pursuing a strategy focused on satisfying the needs of customers looking for high-performance embedded technology and systems that can withstand the harshest of conditions.  I am very proud of our team who has prepared us for this day, and extremely thankful for the support that we have received from our customers during the transition process.”
“As an independent embedded technology and systems company,” continued Anger, “we see real opportunity to take our extensive experience, mission-critical technology and the repeatable business processes we have developed to continue building a business that combines a commitment to technical innovation with extreme focus on customer service. The company is positioned to benefit from long-term market trends, including shifts towards open architecture, interoperable systems, smarter purchasing initiatives and technological modernization.”
Customers have been notified of the change in ownership and have welcomed the news of the new Abaco Systems. Feedback from customers has been extremely positive:
“Thanks for letting us know about the GE transition to Abaco Systems,” said Rance  Myers, Director of Engineering at Honeywell Aerospace.   “We’re looking forward to the continued relationship and working with Abaco as we progress forward on new projects.”
“SNC is a long-time customer of the GE team and is very excited that they are moving to this new phase in their business,” said Greg Cox, Vice President, CNS at Sierra Nevada Corporation. “It demonstrates the strength of this cohesive team and we look forward to working with them in their new structure.”
Veritas Capital, a leading private equity firm that invests in companies that provide critical products and services to government and commercial customers worldwide, acquired Abaco Systems from GE.  One customer noted the strength of the Veritas reputation:
“My staff was particularly pleased that Veritas acquired GE’s embedded computing business, because Veritas apparently has such an ‘active’ interest in the GE products,” said Dr. Mark Gaertner, Manager, Bomber Programs, Northrop Grumman Corporation. “That’s good for NGC and the USAF, because we need stability in our products and suppliers for programs that stretch out over the next 25+ years.  We look forward to continuing our relationship.”
“The good news for our customers is that, from day one, it is business as usual,” concluded Anger. “They will continue to deal with the people they have always dealt with, re-energized by an opportunity to really make a difference.”

Abaco Systems is a global leader in open architecture computing and electronic systems for aerospace, defense and industrial applications. Spun out of General Electric in 2015, we deliver and support open modular solutions developed to upgrade and enhance the growing data, analytics, communications and sensor processing capabilities of our target applications. This, together with our 700+ professionals’ unwavering focus on our customers’ success, reduces program cost and risk, allows technology insertion with affordable readiness and enables platforms to successfully reach deployment sooner and with a lower total cost of ownership. With an active presence in a significant number of national asset platforms on land, sea and in the air, Abaco Systems is trusted where it matters most.


GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

GE, The Digital Thread, The Digital Twin, The Digital Company

UPDATED: Carpenter’s title changed after I wrote this. Also GE Intelligent Platforms is now called GE Digital.

GE now bills itself as the “digital industrial” company. It has realized the benefits of technologies such as the Watchdog Agent developed by the Center for Intelligent Maintenance Systems for monitoring and prognostics and the Industrial Internet of Things within its own manufacturing processes—especially aircraft engines.
Evidently it now all starts with the “digital thread.” To understand what was meant by this term, I was chatted with Rich Carpenter, Chief of Strategy Technology Strategist for GE Intelligent Platforms Digital.

I asked if this was essentially just a marketing term. “The digital thread is a way to describe a concept,” he told me. “People have become good at “leaning” out the manufacturing process. Now we are leaning out the entire new product introduction cycle. They are optimizing to the end of the path from design to engineering. Closing that loop and carrying forward to manufacturing.”

Companies have accumulated big data infrastructures, so they are also leaning out interactions between digital silos by managing the data flows. This enables remote diagnostics.

Carpenter also mentioned a process I’m beginning to hear around the industry. First you connect things—people, sensors, machines. Then you collect and analyze the data you get from the process. Finally given all this, you can begin to optimize the process.

Official word

Here is a definition from GE, “While the Industrial Internet may be unchartered territory to some manufacturers, early adopters are starting to understand the benefits of the ‘Digital Thread – a web of data created the second they initiated their Industrial Internet journey. The digital thread is the result of several advanced manufacturing initiatives from the past decade, creating a seamless flow of data between systems that were previously isolated.

“This data is essentially the manufacturing health record, which includes data from everything to operator logs to weather patterns, and can be added to as needed. For example, you could compile the digital threads across multiple plants to get a full understanding of the efficiency and health of particular processes and product lines. This record provides data context and correlations between downtimes and outside factors, allowing operators to be proactive in their maintenance strategies.”


I especially appreciate the term “manufacturing health record.” That’s a term Jay Lee at the IMS Center used often in the first phase of prognostics and the Watchdog Agent—a consortium that GE played an active part in.

Digital twin

We’ve heard of cyber-physical systems, and then Industry 4.0 which is a digital manufacturing model based upon it. Now we have a new term, “digital twin” which Carpenter says is a new way to describe a real world physical asset. Then, trying to optimize it, we’ll create a digital representation—a model based on statistics or physics. We run the model, then apply successes of the simulation in the real asset. Then feedback the information.

News release predictive analytics

GE held a conference in September that I could not attend. So, I talked with Rich Carpenter and some marketing people and obtained these press releases. These technologies and applications reveal where GE is heading as a Digital Industrial Company—and where it can take its customers, as well.

GE’s predictive analytics solution, SmartSignal, will be available as part of GE Digital’s Asset Performance Management (APM) solutions on the Predix platform, the purpose-built cloud platform for industry. SmartSignal powered by Predix will deliver anomaly detection with early warning capabilities that is SaaS-based and therefore at a lower cost and at a higher speed, making it accessible to a broader range of distributed equipment.

“Until now, advanced equipment monitoring and predictive anomaly detection capabilities have only been available to enterprises with significant resources, both in terms of machinery expertise and capital,” said Jeremiah Stone, General Manager, Industrial Data Intelligence Solutions for GE Digital. “Because of this, insight gained through predictive analytics has been limited to high value assets due to these cost and knowledge barriers.”

Companies see condition-based maintenance as a means to cut existing operations & maintenance costs. With SmartSignal powered by Predix, they will be able to capitalize on cloud and Big Data platforms to drive more efficient and productive operations.

“There is an unmet need in the industry for a cloud platform that supports the unique requirements of industrial data and operations,” said Harel Kodesh, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President & GM of Predix. “GE Predix is the first cloud platform to meet these demanding requirements. By leveraging GE’s deep domain expertise in information technology and operational technology, Predix provides a modern cloud architecture that is optimized for operational services like asset connectivity, managing and analyzing machine data, and industrial-grade security and regulatory compliance.”

Today, SmartSignal technology provides early warning detection for more than 15,000 critical assets in customer operations. According to May Millies, Manager of Power Generation Services, Salt River Project, “SmartSignal has us listening to the right data and using that data to impact our work operations.” Salt River Project provides reliable, reasonably priced electricity and water to more than two million people in Central Arizona. Integrating data to improve visibility into operations was a key to maintaining their standing with customers. “Now that we have realized the incredible performance of the software and how strong and robust it is, we are improving asset utilization across the enterprise.”

Brilliant manufacturing

In a second announcement, GE announced the next version of its Brilliant Manufacturing Suite. Field-tested and optimized within GE’s own factories, the suite maximizes manufacturing production performance through advanced real-time analytics to enable all manufacturers to realize GE’s Brilliant Factory vision.

“Today’s demands on manufacturers are driving an unprecedented rate of change, innovation and agility,” said Jennifer Bennett, General Manager for GE Digital’s Manufacturing Software initiatives. “Manufacturers are challenged to decide what to build, how to build it, where and when to build it, and how to efficiently maintain it. We believe that the key to optimizing the full product life cycle from design to service is through analytics of data that has been traditionally locked inside corporate silos.”

GE’s Brilliant Manufacturing Suite allows customers to begin to realize their own vision of a Brilliant Factory. Integrating and aggregating data from design to service and leveraging analytics to support optimal decision-making allows manufacturers to drive improvements in end-to-end production. Analyzing data in context and providing the right information at the right time allows for better decision support throughout the manufacturing process. Data-driven analytics encompassing machines, material, people and process will transform the factories of today into Brilliant Factories.

GE’s next generation Brilliant Manufacturing Suite includes:

  • OEE Performance Analyzer – available for early access today, it transforms real-time machine data into actionable production efficiency metrics so that Plant Managers can reduce unplanned downtime, maximize yield and increase equipment utilization.
  • Production Execution Supervisor – digitizes orders, process steps, instructions and documentation with information pulled directly from ERP and PLM systems. Factories are able to ship higher quality products and deliver new product introductions faster by getting the right information in the right hands to focus on the highest priority manufacturing tasks.
  • Production Quality Analyzer – real-time identification of quality data boundaries that catch non-conforming events before they occur. Quality engineers can analyze this information to identify patterns and trends that enable factories to ship higher quality products faster.
  • Product Genealogy Manager – builds a record of all personnel, equipment, raw materials, sub-assemblies and tools used to produce finished goods. Service personnel can respond to customer and regulatory inquiries with confidence, knowing who, what, when, where and how for an individual shipment.
GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

Industrial Internet Connects Thousands of Oil Wells

Here is some news from GE emphasizing one aspect of the Industrial Internet of Things—or the “Industrial Internet” as GE promotes it. This aspect lies in what you do with all the data supplied by those connected devices.  

I wish I could figure GE out. It used to be so simple with GE Fanuc (now GE Intelligent Platforms) run like a division almost like a company and GE Sensing supplying sensors for the process industries. Now, there’s GE Software, GE Intelligent Platforms Software, GE Oil & Gas, and a myriad of other entities within the corporate structure. Titles are also increasingly difficult to fathom.

The interesting uptakes on this use of GE software by BP lies in the rejection by BP management of home-grown software and a move to “off-the-shelf” software. I had heard rumblings of BP perhaps moving to standards-based interoperability. It appears that it has settled on single point solution—at least for now.

Home-grown software inevitably leads to bringing in a plethora of integrators and programmers to make the software actually work. Evidently the hope is that by implementing commercial-off-the-shelf software, it can eliminate a huge cost. I’d really be interested to know say about a year down the road how well that paid off.

GE and BP Optimization Project

GE Intelligent Platforms Software announced a new production optimization project to connect all of BP’s oil wells globally to the Industrial Internet. Using GE’s data management software, BP field engineers will gain real-time access to common machine and operational data sets across all wells, arming them with information to make better decisions to improve efficiency, prevent failures and minimize costly downtime. The project will initially be deployed across 650 of BP’s wells, expanding to 4,000 wells across the world over the next several years.

“Based on industry averages, for each week a well is out of commission, operators experience revenue losses of more than $3 million for a subsea well. In today’s low price oil environment, it is increasingly important for customers to embrace Industrial Internet technologies to increase uptime and maximize production. GE understands that our customers want to get the most out of their existing assets, and more productivity leads to more profitability. To help them achieve that, our strategy is simple: Get Connected. Get Insights. Get Optimized,” said Kate Johnson, GE Intelligent Platforms Software CEO and GE Chief Commercial Officer. “By connecting BP’s oil wells around the world, we’re giving them access to better insights that can ultimately drive new efficiencies in their oil fields and increase oil production.”

“This project highlights BP’s commitment to deploying technology that can not only improve efficiency and reduce the complexity of our operations, but that also continuously make them safer and more reliable,” said Peter Griffiths, BP System Optimization Strategist. “In this case, we are delivering a solution on a standard platform that supports BP’s move away from bespoke solutions to-off-the-shelf industry solutions that integrate with our work processes, but without the long-term support costs that a bespoke approach often entails.”

BP’s decision to license this software was driven by its potential to drive efficiency and performance through increased standardization, improved oversight and decision-making. These solutions will allow BP to capture, store, contextualize and visualize data in real time, making it available to the right people at the right time so they can make informed decisions. GE will work closely with BP through the initial phase of this agreement, placing engineers onsite to work through the global implementation.

In the last year, GE has significantly increased its portfolio of Industrial Internet tools for the oil and gas sector to help increase production in a low oil price environment. “Enabling efficiency is the top priority for our customers in the current low oil price environment”, said Lorenzo Simonelli, President & CEO of GE Oil and Gas. “We are pleased to see that customers like BP have welcomed our Industrial Internet solutions as a unique way to tackle this in order to increase production, manage costs and reduce downtime. The combination of tangible infrastructure knowledge and Industrial Internet expertise places us in a unique position to continue to grow this offering in a way which truly delivers for our customers.”

GE has been working closely with BP since 2008, driving data analysis and instrumentation to improve operational reliability at sites including Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the UK, Norwegian sectors of the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caspian Sea and Angola.

GE Spins Off Embedded Computing Business

Manufacturing Software: Connectivity and Workflow

GE set up a conference call for a conversation with Matt Wells, general manager of automation software at GE Intelligent Platforms.

The impetus for the call was to flesh out the press release about the development of the Global Discovery Server (GDS) for OPC UA and the first implementation of it into GE’s Cimplicity HMI/SCADA software.

Wells said that GE is really embracing OPC UA as a core technology. Controllers have it embedded within, and in fact, GE actually evaluated it for inter-controller communication. That latter did not work out, but OPC UA remains core to GE’s connectivity program.

But, Wells continued, OPC UA is not always the easiest to implement. So GE worked with the OPC Foundation to define global discovery server to simplify management of systems.

The first advance concerns namespace. If GDS resides on the network, it will first register clients and servers then GDS provide list of namespace. And not only this, it can say who can talk to whom and it can also restrict who talks.

Secondly, GDS acts as certificate store. It is not a traffic manager, bu it checks for a certificate for all OPC devices and it then handles handshaking among them.

GDS is available as independent software that can be installed in an application. GE did Cimplicity first, partly to show it can be done and how useful it is.

GDS Agent, not part of spec, can act as proxy for existing UA that is not GDS enabled.

Using GDS in an OPC network enhancing usability and ease of implementation. This should increase the adoption of OPC UA.

When my contact set up this conversation, she also mentioned we could discuss something called, “automated operator decision support”. This intrigued me. Turns out this is an alternative phrase for automated or digitized workflow.

I’ve only talked with a few companies that have incorporated workflow. I talked with GE several years ago for the first time. This should be an important advance for manufacturing productivity.

Here are some notes about the workflow conversation.

Overall in HMI/SCADA
1-prevent mistakes so minimize abnormal situations
2-can’t always encode everything, so give advance notification, predictive analytics
3-cant predict everything, so enable operators to quickly ID issue and solve, give corrective action procedures
4-“phone a friend”, utilize mobile techs to call SMEs; We found highest adoption enabling support staff, contact experts, decrease downtime

Digitize SOP policy, workflow; work to encode workflows, as it executes SOP solicit feedback from operator, can coordinate acts of operators and people around them. Make every operator the best operator—baked in—originally sold as risk management mitigation tool. It is popular in pharma and water, especially areas where compliance is crucial.

First step, look at compliances and improving process – process

Take written manual–>encode–>provide checklist–>maybe write directly into system for records–>then after compliance, start looking at optimizing.

It is designed to layer over existing infrastructure (HMI/SCADA, WMS, etc.).

Have seen performance improvements of up to 30%.

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