User Summit Day 2: Re-thinking What's Possible
What a great day at the User Summit, seeing colleagues and partners from around the world actively interested in where our industry is going. The energy, interest, and especially excitement in the air makes it clear that we are at the early stage of profound changes to the way we think about automation systems—both in terms of how you put them together, and more importantly, what you can do with them.
This is driven by the Industrial Internet and the new set of expectations driven by the consumer markets… It turns out the ubiquitous connectivity to equipment, mobility, big data, and analytics have people re-thinking what is possible! Some of the questions I get regularly from customers highlight their engagement in the topic and also areas of concern and interest.
Here’s what’s on people’s minds:
Why is data science becoming so important? There was a time when the Six Sigma Black Belts were called on to solve the toughest problems. They excelled at formulating and executing on data collection plans targeted to learn from the data how to put root cause controls in place to keep problems from happening. The Black Belts literally paved the way.
Today, no one questions the need to collect data. In fact, there is a widening gap between data availability and data utilization. Since data has future value, it accumulates and many operate under the assumption they will figure out how to use it. This is where the data scientists come in; they are able to look at large complex data sets and tease the information out of the data to improve equipment and process reliability and performance. They are the new generation of Black Belts armed with machine learning and advanced statistical knowledge.
What about data security? Customers are right to be concerned with data and cyber security. GE is a large manufacturer of high-value products and shares these concerns for our own equipment. It’s important to understand the vendor’s current and long-term approach to security at all levels of Industrial Internet-based equipment and services. At the equipment level, we prefer the cloud connectivity to be invisible to the internet. All communications should be initiated from the site based on customer policies, and data should be transferred over secure and encrypted connections.
Over the longer term, we also believe the interoperability strategy for the company should include secure authenticated connections over secure channels and be certificate-based. We are using the OPC UA standard to deliver this type of capability between controllers and supervisory servers, as well as between the supervisory systems and visualization clients.
What is the future of control? Technology has driven major changes in the mainframe and PC server markets as processor power moved forward according to Moore’s Law, and these industries picked up virtualization techniques to better use the available processing power. We believe a similar progression is likely in the controls market where multi-processor systems are entering into the traditional controls space. The challenge is the control logic development tools are not well suited to make use of these higher performance computer platforms.
For this reason, we have initiated several new control system paradigms using virtualization technologies in order to deliver Mixed Criticality Systems (MCS). An MCS is essentially a controller with enough processing power to support both a critical/deterministic application simultaneously with a non-deterministic and non-critical application. Some may have seen the Open Platform Controller from GE's Intelligent Platforms business, for example, a single platform taking up less space, weight, and power with both HMI and deterministic control running simultaneously. Maybe the future of control is much closer than we think!
How is the Industrial Internet changing the way you think about automation systems?