‘Outcome optimizing’ controllers designed for the Industrial IoT

By Keith Larson

Oct 02, 2016

Imagine an industrial controller that satisfies the millisecond-control demands of a high-speed gas turbine—day in, day out, year after year—but also securely reaches out across the internet or in-plant networks to access real-time electric rates and other data required to optimize operations according to specific business outcomes.

Such are the capabilities of GE’s new Industrial Internet Control System (IICS) portfolio, a range of “outcome optimizing” controllers that, together with a powerful array of mix-and-match input/output hardware, cloud connectivity and the company’s Predix app environment, are intended to allow industry to quickly, easily and flexibly integrate real-time controls with Industrial Internet analytics at scale.

GEAC See Think Do

Early IICS adopters report a 7% gain in asset performance and 22% increase in efficiency, according to Jim Walsh, president and CEO of GE’s Automation and Controls business, in unveiling the new system at the recent 2016 Connected Controls Symposium at the company’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY. “IICS was designed to help our customers meet the demanding challenges they face every day in running their organizations with increasing efficiency,” Walsh said. “With IICS, we’ll be helping customers get more out of their assets—more productivity, more reliability and more profit.”

Two structural innovations in particular help to “future proof” the system for GE’s customers, who want hardware assets to be long-lived but remain optimally functioning:

  • Hypervisor (virtualization) technology separates real-time control operations from less time-sensitive optimization and communication functions. This allows non-control software to be upgraded and maintained as needed without affecting the controller itself.
  • ComExpress processor technology allows the “information-side” processor to be updated as needed, again without replacing the controller. This is critical to taking advantage of the growing computational power (hardware and software) available to Industrial Internet systems, such as GE’s Digital Twin predictive model for optimizing assets with minimal interruption.

Importantly, GE understands that leveraging the power of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) cannot require users to rip-and-replace current control system investments. To address the needs of these users, its Field Agent offering effectively implements the information-side secure connectivity, flexibility and computational power of the IICS with installed control technology from a broad range of suppliers. (It speaks some 150 control-side protocols.) And on the plant-wide level of the IICS portfolio, the IICS Control Server handles complex, plant-wide optimization tasks across multiple units and machines.

GE also has applied industry best practices in cybersecurity protection and detection across its suite of IICS solutions. “In the past we’d isolate and surround, but that’s no longer adequate,” said Rich Carpenter, chief technology officer of GE’s Automation and Controls unit. “Now we’ve built in security from the ground up.” Defense-in-depth and attestation work together at all architectural layers—from the hardware to the cloud—through a chain-of-trust approach. Key elements include security penetration testing of the entire system, secure development life cycle (SDLC) for all applications, data-in-motion encryption—all based on trusted keys, trusted OS and hypervisors at the hardware level, as well as platform firmware that blocks and reports tampered software.

“It’s fundamentally a new approach to closed-loop control,” said Carpenter. “There’s a deterministic inner loop to securely see, think and do in real-time, together with a second outer loop for optimization,” he said. “Think local, cloud, or plant-level—we’re bringing optimization to the controller, and to the people.”

 

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