It’s still in its infancy, but a new wave of technology known as the industrial internet is being embraced by global giant GE, which predicts it will lead to profound changes in the way companies across the world operate.
The technology allows complex machines such as jet engines or wind turbines to ‘talk’ to each other, using sensors, data and software. The idea is to improve productivity, cut unnecessary costs and reduce unplanned downtime.
While the industrial internet is predicted to lead to a revolution in manufacturing, another driving force for GE in Australia is advanced manufacturing, which links design, product engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, distribution and services into one cohesive, intelligent system.
This is leading to more agile factories and supply chains that can bring products to market in half the time – and at substantial savings.
GE Australia is already harnessing the power of the industrial internet to gather data on GEnx jet engines that power Jetstar’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft. A collection of sensors gathers data, which is then analysed to show what is occurring in the airplane’s engine.
This can lead to increased fuel efficiency, but can also help engineers analysing the data to pinpoint problems before they occur, reducing the number of delays or cancellations affecting the airline’s customers.
A study by GE found that connecting its industrial operations to the internet could potentially lead to almost $10 trillion in efficiency savings in the company’s global operations.
South Asia-Pacific sales director for GE Aviation, Tom Gleeson, has said there are about 10 billion industrial and commercial machines currently connected in this way, which equates to just 1 per cent of machines in those industries. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, with GE predicting that more than 50 billion machines will be hooked up to the industrial internet by 2020.
GE is also harnessing the power of the industrial internet at a coal seam gas-to-liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility run by QGC. GE has deployed a predictive maintenance solution to improve the reliability of turbomachinery equipment through remote monitoring.
As GE cements its position as a key player in every LNG project underway in Australia, the potential for productivity gains through the latest wave of technology is massive.
With 5000 employees across the country across eight businesses including capital, healthcare, lighting and mining, GE also continues to innovate in countless other ways.
In late 2011, it established a $100 million technology and learning complex in Perth to support the development of skills for the oil and gas sector and provide GE’s first in-country support and maintenance centre.
The company is also midway through a five-year, $20 million partnership with CSIRO that includes a number of research projects and initiatives, including a focus on developing two new advanced materials likely to have a significant impact on manufacturing processes.
Globally, GE is also embracing 3D printing, allowing the company to accelerate the cycle of design, prototyping and production.
The winner of a recent global 3D printing challenge held by GE and open engineering community GrabCAD redesigned a loading bracket found on jet engines, managing to reduce its weight from just over two kilograms to 327 grams.