GE Continues March Toward Digital Factories

At its Minds + Machines conference, General Electric predicted a threefold increase in revenue for its software business, announced a partnership with PTC, and launched a new application aimed at optimizing power plants.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 01, 2015

In the past few years, General Electric has grown its software business by 20 percent annually, and by 2020, it plans to nearly triple its revenue, from $6 billion today to $15 billion, CEO Jeff Immelt said Tuesday at the company's Minds + Machines conference, held in in San Francisco. (The industrial goliath generated $148 billion in revenue across its operations in 2014.) But Immelt was quick to point out that GE's interest in strengthening its digital acumen is focused on improving its physical products, in order to boost the productivity of its own manufacturing efforts and those of its customers.

Immelt said GE is using its Predix software, a cloud-based platform purpose-built to enable the collection, processing and analysis of data related to industrial assets and processes, as the operating system to enable that productivity boost. He noted that connectivity enabled by what he calls the consumer Internet has "allowed information to flow, but it has not produced much value" for manufacturers. "So we want to turn connectivity into insights and insights into outcomes—that is the Industrial Internet," he said. "The Industrial Internet is a fancy phrase, but what it really means is no unplanned downtime and asset optimization. We're at the beginning days of an entirely new industry, and we believe the Industrial Internet could be twice the size of the consumer Internet."

Paul Boris, GE's CIO, Advanced Manufacturing Strategy, moderated a Minds + Machines panel on GE's Brilliant Manufacturing software suite.
GE announced a strategic partnership with manufacturing software developer PTC at the conference. GE, both at its own factories and in its customer facilities, will offer PTC's ThingWorx Application Enablement Platform as part of its software services (grouped under what GE calls its Brilliant Manufacturing Suite, which includes Predix). Through the collaboration, customers will be able to utilize PTC's strength in product design and lifecycle management, as well as its dashboards that provide key performance indicators that track products from design to manufacturing, says Aaron Darcy, GE Commercial Software's CMO, told IOT Journal, while also leveraging GE's asset-management and analytics know-how.

The two firms have already been working together with existing customers, Darcy said, including Procter & Gamble, which uses PTC software for product design and Predix to automate the manufacturing. By using elements of the ThingWorx software, as well as Predix to manage connected assets, P&G is evaluating how it can create a "digital thread" that links products from conception to completion, across its operations.

GE is also integrating PTC's software at its gas turbine manufacturing plant in Greenville, S.C.

Speaking of turbines, GE also announced Digital Power Plant, a software application built on Predix and aimed at its customers in the power-generation and electric utility sectors. The software creates a "digital twin" of an important asset, such as a gas turbine, explains Ganesh Bell, the chief digital officer for GE's Power & Water division, and then uses the twin to model the performance and upcoming maintenance needs of that asset, based on data collected from sensors mounted on the physical asset.

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