GE ‘all in’ on digital transformation

Strategic acquisitions, organic investments and customer wins showcased at 2016 Minds + Machines event

By Keith Larson

Any lingering doubt of GE’s commitment to reinvent itself as a “digital industrial” company were laid to rest at the company’s 2016 Minds + Machines event, November 15-16 in San Francisco. In presentation after presentation, digital technology was hailed as the singular lever capable of jumpstarting languishing productivity growth across global industry.

Jeff Immelt, CEO and chairman, believes GE is uniquely qualified to lead that charge and is “all in” on making the investments to do so. “Why not us?” Immelt said in his keynote address, reiterating the question he often asks of his own employees.

Indeed, GE is itself a global manufacturer, and has set out to reinvent its own industrial operations through digital technology, and then leverage those learnings to help its customers do the same. Proof of that commitment was center stage at Minds + Machines this year, demonstrated by recent strategic acquisitions, organic investments and customer wins.

 

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“Our industry needs a transformation in productivity and efficiency, and our biggest lever is digital technology.” Ahmed Hashmi (right), head of upstream technology for BP, discussed the global energy company’s latest digital initiatives with Jeff Immelt, CEO and chairman, GE.

Cloud analytics to field enablement

On the acquisitions front, GE scooped up an array of digital technology suppliers in the weeks leading up to Minds + Machines. These included Meridium, a leader in the industrial asset performance management space; Bit Stew Systems, specialist in data integration and analysis for Industrial Internet systems; and ServiceMax, a provider of enabling technologies for field service technicians and engineers.

GE also is in the process of acquiring Baker Hughes, a key player in the oilfield services realm. This acquisition is expected to be completed by mid-2017, said Lorenzo Simonelli, president and CTO, GE Oil & Gas. The acquisition represents a unique opportunity to “go full stream” with digital and physical services “and to reduce unplanned downtime in this cyclical industry,” Lorenzo said.

Meanwhile, GE is investing to build out the capabilities of its Predix platform for the IIoT. For example, the company has now deployed more than 550,000 digital twins, or “living models that drive business outcomes,” said Colin Parris, vice president, software research, at the GE Global Research Center. Parris also demonstrated the growing sophistication with which users can now interact with their digital twins, exploring various scenarios with the aid of voice recognition and Microsoft HoloLens visualization.

Another digital growth initiative announced at Minds + Machines is the expansion of GE’s additive manufacturing capabilities to serve external clients. Mohammed Ehteshami, vice president, additive integration, described a GE jet engine fuel nozzle to demonstrate the compelling advantages of this technology. “A traditionally manufactured nozzle would have taken 20-25 machine operations to create a sub-par product,” Ehteshami said. Further, the printed part weighed 25% less, consisted of a single part instead of 20, and was five times more durable. “Our goal over the next 10 years is to build 10,000 machines for customers outside of GE.”

Big wins in power, oil & gas

But perhaps the most tangible proof of GE’s digital traction were the customers who joined GE executives on stage to discuss their own digital transformation investments—including significant roles for GE. Ahmed Hashmi, head of upstream technology for BP, discussed the global energy company’s efforts to boost productivity and efficiency while ensuring safety and environmental performance, too.

“Our industry needs a transformation in productivity and efficiency, and our biggest lever is digital technology,” Hashmi said. “In the early days, digital was about exploration, about understanding seismic data. Now, it’s transforming operating assets.” The company’s Plant Operations Advisor is using analytics to avoid unplanned downtime for its rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and represents the largest-scale deployment of Predix-powered APM to date. “Today, only 5% of data coming off rigs is used for anything meaningful,” he said. “We have to get comfortable embracing digital investments.”

Also announced at Minds + Machines was an enterprise-wide software agreement between GE and Exelon, a Fortune 100 energy company with the largest number of utility customers and one of the cleanest generation fleets in the U.S. The agreement encompasses the integration and deployment of GE’s entire suite of Predix software applications across Exelon Generation’s fleet of nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, solar and natural gas facilities to improve power plant reliability and performance.  On hand to discuss the partnership were Susan Landahl, senior vice president, organizational effectiveness and integrated performance assessment, Exelon Generation, and Brian Hoff, director of corporate innovation, Exelon. The company is using executive dashboards to predict and head off productivity-sapping downtime events, such as scrams at its nuclear power sites. “We’re using algorithms to understand, to predict, and to eliminate gaps,” Landahl said. “We can look six months out and change our trajectory.”

Gil Quinones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority spoke to his organization’s plan to deploy GE software to monitor, analyze and enhance the performance of its 16 generating facilities and electricity transmission network. The collaboration will help accelerate NYPA’s 5-Year Strategic Vision plan by improving the efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness of facilities across the entire organization.

“This is a transformative moment in the 85-year history for NYPA and its customers as we reach the next milestone in our digital journey,” said Gil C. Quiniones, president and chief executive officer at NYPA. “This digital solutions platform supports our primary mission to provide customers with low-cost, clean, reliable power with the industry-leading energy infrastructure and services they value.”

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