Doug Sharpe

President of Elasto Proxy

What is the Industrial Internet? How is it related to the Internet of Things? Is it worth your time to find out? Can you afford to ignore digital developments that are transforming manufacturing? Even if your company is just a fraction the size of General Electric (GE), now is the time to see what you can learn from one of the world’s largest and best-known companies.

As Jon Gertner explains in Behind GE’s Vision for the Industrial Internet of Things, data analysis is marrying industrial engineering – and you’re invited to the wedding. You can choose to attend or to send your regrets, but the marriage is happening with or without your consent or participation. As a manufacturer, you probably know the bride and groom anyway. Are you ready to see them together?

The Industrial Internet of Things

The Industrial Internet is term GE uses to describe the integration of machinery with networked sensors and software. Industrial computer controls aren’t new, but the Industrial Internet is about more than just machine monitoring. “Machines that talk, machines that react, machines that constantly update their status,” Gertner writes. “It sounds a bit like a social network . . . of machines.”

If this reminds you of smart appliances, you’re not alone. The Internet of Things is bigger than the Industrial Internet, but there are similarities between a refrigerator that tells you it’s time to change the water filter and a water jet cutting machine that tells you it’s time to change the water jet cutting heads. That’s why innovators like GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt are embracing an Industrial Internet of Things.

Revolution and Evolution

Smart appliances and machinery may seem revolutionary, but the Industrial Internet of Things is also incremental. As Gertner explains in his article for Fast Company, GE uses a computer simulator to help train drivers of its Evolution series locomotives. “A type of hyperintelligent cruise control,” the GE Optimizer calculates the recommended velocity based on variables such as location, weight, and terrain.

These calculations can save rail operators millions of dollars per in year in diesel fuel costs. The Industrial Internet can also help asset owners avoid downtime caused by operating conditions. Skeptics say such gains are incremental, but GE’S Chief Economist disagrees. “When you’re talking about such a huge base of machines,” Marco Annunziata says, “getting a 1% of 2% improvement is very sizeable.”

Small to Mid-Sized Manufacturing

What if you’re a small-to-medium enterprise (SME)? The number of machines in your factory is limited, at least in comparison to GE or a large locomotive buyer like Norfolk Southern.  As the co-founder and co-owner of an SME that’s now celebrating its 25th year in business, I believe that the Industrial Internet of Things will strengthen Elasto Proxy.

Would a “smart” water jet cutter be a welcome addition to our custom fabrication facility? Of course. Could a railway partner’s ability to predict when engine insulation is needed inform our production and inventory schedules? Absolutely. The Industrial Internet of Things is all of that and more. As Jon Gertner notes in his article about GE, training simulators can strengthen productivity.

Claude Choquet, a colleague of mine from Montreal, offers an example with his own business, 123 Certification, Inc. A graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Claude is a welding engineer whose company supplies a simulator (ARC+) that merges computer-generated data with physical tools. By simulating the welding process, no gas is burned, no metal is consumed, and no waste is created.

Join The Conversation

How will your manufacturing company apply lessons learned from GE and others? Will you invest in “smart” machinery and equipment? Will you look for design, manufacturing, and even customer service simulators? How will you connect your business to the Industrial Internet of Things?

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