We’re on the verge of a new Internet revolution: the development of an Internet designed for machines, complete with advanced communication networks, multifunctional sensors, and complex data analytics software. The plot for the Terminator movies coming to mind? Relax, Skynet is not taking over, and the machines will not betray us. As we look toward the future, however, we will become increasingly hard-pressed to identify a gadget or other functional object that isn’t electronically networked in some way. According to an article from Software Advice, in the coming years, this network stands to improve manufacturing, in particular, by helping to increase efficiency, reduce waste, enhance machine productivity, prevent maintenance issues, and reduce costs.
General Electric uses the term “Industrial Internet” to describe IT infrastructure and data analysis tools used in combination with a network of sensors embedded in machinery, manufacturing processes, and products. Using a new $170 million battery production plant as a test-bed for the concept, GE will use sensors to heavily monitor the production of advanced sodium-nickel batteries. Sensors will track the temperature used to manufacture the batteries, the energy required for production, and the materials compositions of the ceramic cores. Having more data to track and analyze will translate to an increased ability to draw strong conclusions about what improvements can be made to optimize both products and manufacturing processes.
Having this data is step one, but the Industrial Internet also needs to make sense of it. To do so, the Industrial Internet will require software that can analyze that data, identify trends, and make increasingly accurate predictions of potential issues. Using the example of advanced batteries, GE may be able to analyze a battery’s performance, such as amp-hour ratings or discharge rates, trace this performance back to known manufacturing conditions, and draw conclusions about what manufacturing conditions translate to better real-world performance.
However, GE doesn’t have to wait until a battery fails to appreciate the benefits of the Industrial Internet. Since sensor data can be tracked and monitored instantaneously, state-of-the-art analytics could inform GE of undesirable trends in manufacturing data that are indicative of failure or poor performance in a product. In the end, the enhanced monitoring and data analysis capabilities enabled by the Industrial Internet can make our products and manufacturing processes better, cheaper, faster, and cleaner. In the process, our workforce can look forward to a wave of new and innovative jobs.
Virtually any sector could benefit from this new Industrial Internet concept. For example, if electrical transformers were monitored by sensors, utility companies could be informed of a broken component’s location, or even know which transformer is in danger of failing next. The Industrial Internet can help make Smart Grid a reality. You know what I’d love? I’d love for the Industrial Internet to inform me right before my laptop receives the infamous “Blue Screen of Death” so I wouldn’t have had to re-write this blog post. Nevertheless, manufacturing and several other industries have a bright future as we embrace a new way of operating.