Internet of Things control system optimizes plants and factories

Technology Update: The Industrial Internet Control System (IICS) from GE Automation and Controls can enable a 7% increase in performance, 22% increase in productivity, and 40% decrease in maintenance costs, GE said. Here’s how this helps Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).


The Industrial Internet Control System (IICS) from GE Automation and Controls provides an out-of-the-box Internet of Things for the heavy machines in plants and factories around the world. Beyond the see, think, and do of traditional controls, IICS also hThe Industrial Internet Control System (IICS) from GE Automation & Controls, launched in September 2016, is what the company called, at the time of introduction, "the world's first out-of-the-box Internet of Things for the heavy machines in plants and factories around the world."

The company has built on promising beta demonstrations and one-off installations, "like the world's most efficient combined-cycle power plant built by GE and EDF and recognized by Guinness Records. But those systems have not been easily available for broad application across industries and at scale—until now."

IICS enables users to optimize asset and process performance, maximize productivity, generate new revenue opportunities, and transform the equipment lifecycle. GE, which has applied these tools in its facilities, cites a 7% increase in performance, 22% increase in productivity, and 40% decrease in maintenance costs. 

Efficiency, asset optimization

The company said its GE Industrial Internet Control System "enables users to improve operational efficiency through optimizing assets, process performance, and productivity, unlocking new revenue opportunities and transforming equipment lifecycles through connected controls, transforming a company's operations. GE's IICS was built on its world-class RX3i and Mark Vie industrial control systems to create an innovative, next generation platform for the age of the Industrial Internet."

The IICS gives equipment and factories the brains of cloud computing to optimize the manufacturing process. Among capabilities is the ability to run simulations against a digital twin based on analytics sourced from the cloud. The new control system then implements changes the user wants to make. [subhead]

Answers about IIoT for controls

Jim Walsh, president and CEO at GE Automation & Controls, and Rich Carpenter, general manager controls platforms, GE Automation & Controls, answered questions about the platform.

Jim Walsh is president and CEO, GE Automation and Controls. Courtesy: GE Automation and ControlsRich Carpenter is product general manager, control platforms, GE Automation and Controls. Courtesy: GE Automation and Controls

Q: How has the introduction been received?

Walsh: Feedback has been good. We're not having to spend a whole lot of time describing the value proposition. Customers recognize the tremendous promise and benefits the Internet brings to their personal lives and see seismic shift the industrial Internet offers. They want to know how to start their journey and how to relate to potential outcomes. They can imagine different results than they're getting now and know that this is more than just about the cloud.

Carpenter: It's rare that anyone can deliver the product at the right time in the sweet spot for the market. Just a couple years ago, there was some skepticism about connecting the Internet to the control system. Now we're almost at a point where we cannot imagine not having information above, below, and elsewhere, as part of industrial processes. A lot of thought has been given to security with a lot of feedback. This is fundamental to a digital strategy.

Q: How are customers using IIoT tools?

Carpenter: IIoT is enabling better asset performance management, with connectivity out-of-the-box, to help eliminate unplanned downtime. Predictive maintenance has been around a long time with GE software and services like SmartSignal. This makes it more real. Now advanced models run locally looking at the efficiency of a unit, know the related costs, provide information to operators, maintenance personnel and others, and advise when it is more profitable to do maintenance now, rather than let performance degrade. Use of models can improve performance from 5% to 15%.

Walsh: One of biggest advantages we offer is that GE is one of largest equipment manufacturers on the planet, covering wind, power, transportation, oil and gas, and we know how to deliver solutions that drive meaningful outcomes. We've already proven the robustness of the proposition and the platform. The promise of IICS is a greater opportunity to help optimize how assets run, advancing productivity, and incorporating domain expertise into control systems with far more meaningful outcomes. Control systems were built to run in a deterministic mode. We want to maintain that reliability and allow intelligence to learn based on domain expertise and business experiences, to continue to optimize so assets run better.

Q: Can you give an example of how control systems could be more intelligent?

Walsh: In the same box with the deterministic controls, we've added information and insights to help, such as for water treatment plants.

Carpenter: In water treatment plants, it's expensive to move water from place to place. Traditional control systems turn pumps on and move the water. More intelligent control systems get the spot price of energy for that location, pull down the spot prices, and choose lowest cost, time of day to operate, saving well over a million dollars a year for one customer.

In a utility boiler, if coal is moist, the control system should change the way the boiler is operating by changing the recipe of the burn to optimize performance.

With gas turbines, there's a trade-off between profit and operating life of the turbine until shutdown maintenance is needed. By virtualizing performance, a customer can "bank hours" when the asset is not running at maximum, permitting the customer to overdrive the turbine as needed, providing a cost-effective trade-off to optimize energy prices and demand.

Q: Since security is a concern, as mentioned, could you address that?

Carpenter: Most control systems try to use an air gap, but IICS has complete defense-in-depth with 23 points of security, so any threat doesn't spread to other areas. Also, in communication with the cloud, if an application or firmware is different than expected, the system won't allow it to run. The next level of communication is build into the communications stack; it's ready for IEEE Time Sensitive Networks (TSN). Multi-stack controllers allow seamless upgrades when needed from a central location.

Q: How might a customer upgrade to an IICS?

Carpenter: For customers running legacy GE platforms, migration is as easy as it possibly can be. We know that customers feel that upgrading technology at the automation level has been like a root canal in the past. With new installation, using these controls provide capabilities that no one else can. Either way, this automation accelerates return on investment (ROI) with a quick start and access to data and the ability to do something meaningful.

Q: Others talk about IIoT and cloud capabilities. Why should some choose the GE platform?

Walsh: Predix is the preeminent industrial cloud built by a digital industrial company. We've tested it in our own facilities. It's built for industrial applications that are very robust. The intent of Predix is not a proprietary cloud. Industry needs a cloud built by industry. The magic for GE comes together via the ecosystem because the whole is greater than the sum of parts. Having IICS, Predix, and the connected domain expertise allows customers to digitize and leverage optimal outcomes.

Carpenter: IICS applications drive asset optimization, and that's more important than what cloud they're in. The applications provide the real value.

Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

ONLINE extra

Learn more about GE's Industrial Internet Control System from GE Automation and Controls.

More about Jim Walsh, president and CEO, GE Automation & Controls: As general manager of Automations & Controls from GE, Walsh helps customers with the only value proposition he feels matters in today's connected world: growing their competitive edge. He believes companies that embrace technology proactively will be materially differentiated from those that don't. As mobile devices have delivered incredible efficiencies in the consumer world, they have even more so for the industrial world, now and in the next industrial revolution.

More about Rich Carpenter, product general manager, control platforms, GE Automation & Controls: GE Automation & Controls product platforms business is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with worldwide distribution and deployment capability for GE control system, operator interface, industrial PC, and new Field Agent Industrial Internet products. The control system products include the Innovative PacSystems products and high-performance Mark VIe product lines used throughout GE in large equipment and plant controls for Power Generation and Oil and Gas businesses. Previously, Carpenter was chief of product strategy for GE Intelligent Platforms Software and Services business, leading the initiative to converge software and controls across GE and working with the new GE Digital division to establish the requirements for APM and GE's Brilliant Manufacturing software.

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