'Industrial Internet' may be the third wave
Dec. 3, 2012
by Mark Ollig

Should we be concerned about having devices with digital intelligence attached to major industrial machines, and then linking them to the Internet?

Sounds like the making of a sci-fi movie, where all the machines connected to the Internet develop a collective consciousness and decide they know what’s best for the planet, and take control away from the humans.

“Accelerating productivity growth the way that the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Revolution did,” is the comparison used in a recent report calling for an “Industrial Internet” by General Electric (GE) company’s Chief Economist Marco Annunziata and its Director of Global Strategy and Analytics Peter C. Evans.

This report has invoked interest – along with a bit of apprehension, from this columnist.

“The capabilities of machines are not being fully realized. The inefficiencies that persist are now much greater at the system level, rather than at the individual physical machine level.” This quote is taken from the 37-page report: “Industrial Internet: Pushing the Boundaries of Minds and Machines.”

The report works to make the case that the Internet Revolution, which began in earnest around 1995, and brought about many breakthroughs in computing, data storage, global Internet communications, and economic productivity, had already lost its momentum by 2005.

Without specifically citing, this report states how some feel the Internet Revolution “has already played out.”

It suggests, while businesses and the economy have benefited greatly from the current Internet, some believe the fantastic innovations brought about by the Internet are over.

I, for one, do not feel the Internet has reached the end of the line for “fantastic innovations” just yet.

The GE report describes three separate “waves” of Industrial Internet progression.

The first wave acknowledges the machines and factories which brought about the Industrial Revolution, and through the production of goods and services, changed how economies were powered.

The Internet Revolution is the second wave.

Beginning in the 1950s, large mainframe computers used software and information packets to communicate with each other within a closed government network.

When the network became open new protocols were created, allowing different computers to send and receive information with each other.

This second wave recognized the use of computers and their ability to circulate and retrieve information over the Internet.

“Rather than resource-intensive, the Internet Revolution has been information and knowledge-intensive,” the report said.

Now, we move to the third wave, which the GE report calls the Industrial Internet.

This wave suggests having intelligent, digital devices connected to all the machines used in industry, and then linking these devices to the Internet.

The report lists industrial sectors such as: transportation, oil and gas, power plants, industrial facilities, and medical machines.

It also provided a lengthy list of individual machinery each sector uses, such as generators, propulsion drives, thermal turbines, conveyors, compressors, scanners, engines, and many more.

The machines in each industrial sector would have an intelligent instrumentation device attached to them.

“Widespread instrumentation is a necessary condition for the rise of the Industrial Internet,” the report says.

I believe they are talking about connecting these intelligent devices on a word-wide basis.

We know computing power has been steadily improving because of the advancements in microprocessor chip technology.

The report believes these advancements “have reached a point that makes it possible to augment physical machines with digital intelligence.”

Having so many machines with digital intelligence connected to the Internet would require advanced analytical software tools to manage and understand the enormous amounts of data that would be generated by all of the intelligent devices connected.

Who would be managing all of the data being harvested by these intelligent devices that are reporting on all of the machines they are connected to?

According to the report, it will be the “decision makers.”

I’m not the brightest bulb in the package, but being a decision maker in the Industrial Internet era sounds like a good job to have.

The Industrial Internet era will require advanced educational programs to be developed for software management, diagnostics, advanced network data communications, and more.

The report makes it known the intelligent information gathered “can also be shared across machines, networks, individuals or groups to facilitate intelligent collaboration and better decision making.”

So, these digital smart-devices controlling the machines will be communicating with each other, too.

Maybe I should have named this column “Rise of the Machines.” Wait, I think that was used in the “Terminator 3” movie.

Figure four in the report shows how an Instrumented Industrial Machine has its information collected, processed, and shared with “the right people and machines.”

An Industrial Internet Data Loop graphic shows the data path and intelligence flowing into and out of a machine’s data stream, and other shared systems, in a circular pattern around the cloud symbolizing the Internet. The words “secure, cloud-based network” is written on the cloud.

The report says having an Industrial Internet will recoup hundreds of billions of dollars which are currently wasted by inefficiencies in resources and time.

These savings will be realized by linking “Internet-connected machines, product diagnostics, software, and analytics.”

With a global gross domestic product (GDP) of $70 trillion, having an Industrial Internet would generate $32.3 trillion, states the report.

The report says the goal is to make businesses operate more efficiently, proactively, and predictively, and to have the machines used in industry “strategically automated.”

The complete report is available from the GE website at http://tinyurl.com/dxu3at8.

Prepare to ride the third wave folks, it’s coming.

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