-By Warner Todd Huston
General Electric has its eye on the future and the manufacturing giant feels the future will take the form of an “industrial Internet” that will alert both users and the manufacturers when products are breaking down or coming to the end of a life cycle. This will mean that GE will be able to fix or replace products before they even break down an idea that might curtail downtime as airplanes, trains, power generators and the like can be repaired before any actual trouble arises.
In a new report touting its “industrial Internet” system, GE claimed that even a 1 percent increase in efficiency by avoiding downtime will pay big dividends. As The Wall Street Journal’s Rachel King reports, this industrial Internet, “has the potential to add $10-$15 trillion to global GDP by 2030… According to the report, a 1% increase in efficiency generated … can mean savings of $30 billion in aviation, $66 billion in power generation and $63 billion in healthcare over 15 years.”
Supporters say that the constant updates generated from equipment over such an industrial Internet will help engineers and scientists better understand their products and improve safety and efficiency on into the future.
Of course, this means that a wide array of products will soon come complete with Ethernet ports to be connected to an Internet hub so manufacturers can remotely check on machines and analyze their condition.
The idea here isn’t completely new, of course. Many industrial products are already connected to the Internet linking customer and manufacturer alike.
For instance, Kodak’s industrial and commercial printing machinery have already been connected to the Internet for more than a decade. When customers have trouble with platemaking machines or printing presses and other devices, they call into Kodak’s Canada-based 24-hour repair service and a diagnosis of the problem can be made over the Internet. Sometimes repairs can even be made without requiring an in-person service visit.
The WSJ also notes that the rail industry has been utilizing Internet-based repair diagnosis for sometime and to great effect.
Union Pacific, the nation’s largest railroad company, can now predict certain kinds of derailments days or weeks before they are likely to occur. The program analyzes data from acoustic and visual sensors on the underside of each rail car. While those sensors have been in place for a decade, they’ve only been able to help technicians spot imminent problems with tracks and wheels. Now, with predictive analytics, the company can spot dangerous conditions well in advance of a problem…
But one thing that neither GE’s new report nor industry insiders have addressed is the increasing fear of hacking. Cyber security, especially in transportation, power providers, and hospitals, is a real worry.
The biggest threat isn’t likely that machines will rise up against humanity in the manner of the Terminator’s Skynet. Rather, it’s that connecting these systems using standard communication technologies, such as the Internet Protocol, make it more likely that those systems will be attacked successfully. Chevron, Saudi Aramco, Rasgas and other companies have been hit by cyberattacks in recent years, but have been able to largely contain any damages and to keep them from impacting their production networks.
Certainly as more machines are linked to the Internet, hackers and cyber attackers will pose a greater threat. Clearly more work must be put into the idea of an industrial Internet, but benefits could be tremendous.
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, BigHollywood.com, and BigJournalism.com, as well as RightWingNews.com, RightPundits.com, CanadaFreePress.com, StoptheACLU.com, AmericanDaily.com, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.
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