5 Quick Questions: GE Sees Data Living On The Edge

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Trends abound, but perhaps none impact both the short and long-term prospects of manufacturing more than those related to data management and security. Manufacturing.net recent sat down with Rich Carpenter, Chief Technology Strategist for GE’s Intelligent Platforms Business, to discuss the power of the Industrial Internet and the biggest challenges and opportunities it holds.

Bridget Bergin: The whole topic of the Industrial Internet and big data can be extremely daunting and, in some cases, even intimidating. Where is a good place for manufacturers to start, from either an implementation or initial evaluation perspective?

Rich Carpenter: It depends on the value of assets in the facility and the criticality of their failure during production. In response to the changing production needs surrounding data, we see a number of manufacturers moving to more of a cloud-edge paradigm, which is a combination of storing data in the cloud and locally. This helps preserve accessibility but also enhances speed, reliability and security – which ties into the ability to analyze trends and implement data-centric predictive maintenance approaches. Tying into inventory management is another low-hanging fruit that can help keep costs down.

BB: So what types of tools will the approach require?

RC: A self-service model, where somebody like GE sets up the network and then the manufacturer manages and houses it, can allow for the use of mobile devices and apps that can access key KPIs. So the data can still be local, but easily accessible in checking and sharing at any time. The key here is to determine what KPIs are important because then manufacturers can determine what kinds of sensors are needed to monitor that data, etc. As IT has become somewhat more commoditized, there has also been more outsourcing and use of cloud computing.

BB: You just mentioned the role mobile devices can play. How widespread is their use?

RC: Manufacturers haven’t given up the infrastructure. There are still control rooms, but less time is spent there. The infrastructure is still in place, but more are carrying mobile devices around the floor to view data. Looking at information on mobile devices breaks down the silos and allows for more blending of maintenance and operations, making it easier to understand the other’s responsibilities. GE’s own plants are replacing fixed work stations with mobile devices so people have access to instructions or drawings on the spot to ensure that work is being done correctly.

BB: There is a definite shift in manufacturing workforce demographics. What is the main difference you see?

RC: People in the millennial generation were born digitally. There can be conflict between the “knowledge is power” group with more experience and those who are more comfortable with what they don’t know because they are confident they can search and find the answers they need.

BB: Finally, what are some of your thoughts on keeping all this data on all these devices in all these locations safe and secure?

RC: Manufacturing needs to be secure by design. First, the equipment itself needs to be secure, with inputs and outputs that make initial checks regarding the proper functionality of initial programming before any access is granted. Another important aspect is communications and interoperability that ensures specific servers can talk to certain machines, creating a managed network instead of an open server.

There also needs to be resiliency built into the controllers so they are able to continue doing work – even during a cyber-attack. Cloud connectivity should not be visible outside the enterprise. There needs to be locally initiated access so the data only flows from the cloud when certificates have been exchanged and verified. These are some basic elements that will keep plants running smoothly and securely.

For more on the Industrial Internet, check out GE's Intelligent Platforms Business website.

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