GE Proficy Goes Mobile
Whether it comes from in-factory sensors, retail stores or social media outlets, there is and will continue to be an explosion of data that manufacturers must put into context in order to make the most of their business. But when we think of analytics, we often picture it coming into the quiet offices of suit-and-tie-wearing employees—not into the hubbub of a factory floor.
This is a problem General Electric hopes to solve with the recent announcement of its Proficy Mobile platform, which has been designed to give operators the data they need no matter where they are—so long as they have one of the latest iOS or Android mobile devices.
In the user's hands, Proficy Mobile looks like any other app for your iPad or Android device. In fact, it uses the same technologies that allow apps such as Facebook and Four-Square to know your location when you update your status or check in at your favorite restaurant.
But unlike other apps, GE's has been designed with “Real-Time Operational Intelligence” (RtOI) in mind, featuring tools that range from equipment modeling to tracking factory assets and processes. The interface can then be personalized to deliver the right information based on who is using the app and where they are.
So, an executive sitting in his office can quickly check how well a plant is running through key performance indicators (KPIs), but down on the factory floor an operator can easily look at information about a specific machine that may be throwing an alert.
Soon, GE plans to provide advanced alarming and predictive analytics to prevent such alert conditions from being reached in the first place, but these components aren't slated for release until later this year.
While the company hopes that its users will tie in as many GE offerings as possible, the app is designed to be deployed on top of a number of existing systems regardless of who made them. Such systems include SCADA, HMI, MES, BMS, ERP and Historians.
RtOI in the Field
One example highlighting the benefits of RtOI came from transformer monitoring in GE's Montreal facility. By aggregating data on transformer performance and running analytics on those data on a day-to-day basis, GE detected an unusual temperature rise in one of their transformers that they knew could be a problem.
Temperature rise alone isn't in-and-of-itself cause for alarm, as transformers tend to heat up more quickly in balmy weather. But after comparing the temperature rise to the dropping pressure within the unit, GE determined through analytics alone that the transformer had a leak. Had they not employed real-time operational intelligence, the transformer would have shut down within the next 30 days.
But while this is clearly an asset for monitoring physical equipment, it's not something that couldn't be done with another product out of GE Intelligent Platforms, such as Proficy Vision, which operators and plant managers can view from a regular computer.
Undoubtedly, the ability for manufacturing professionals to access this data as they walk around a plant does add significant flexibility and can help operators work more quickly with more data literally in-hand. But for employees who need to go inspect equipment that's been installed outside factory walls, a mobile platform such as this could become essential to the job.
This turned out to be the case for one GE customer, whose job it is to maintain an array water wells throughout an area where vandalism is common. This means that the jobs of employees who inspect these wells are often made difficult because well identification plates have been torn off or painted over. Proficy Mobile proved particularly effective here, as its situational intelligence feature (called GEO-intelligence) provided all the information about the well, such as pump and flow data, as the inspector walked up to it, making the ID plate unnecessary.
GE Makes a Prophecy of its Own
This platform relies on the possibility that within the next couple of years, the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) revolution will phase out not only company-issued PCs, but perhaps even human-machine interfaces as well, thanks to the considerable power and usability offered by new mobile devices, and their ability to sync up with more powerful, virtualized workstations.
To illustrate what GE's factory of the future would look like, Mark Bernardo, general manager of automation software at GE, pointed out the company's battery plant in Schenectady, N.Y. There, every operator on the plant floor is armed with a tablet, which provides them with information in real-time that can aid in decision-making. But this wasn't the only driving force behind this decision.
“The other reason they did it was effectively to unshackle the operators from the control room and truly allow them to collaborate down on the plant floor,” said Bernardo. “Now that they have these things in their hands, it's almost like they have a companion adviser with them 24/7 (or however long they tend to be on the plant floor) so they can always be guided to most important thing.”
As for the future of manufacturing and where this fits in, Bernardo pointed to what is now the staple of our everyday lives as being the vehicle to get us there.
“Just think about your own smart devices,” Bernardo said. “They remind you of your next meeting. They will post updates if there's a stock you might be watching. You live and die by information being pushed to you. So the paradigm shift is one from all of these operators having to go find the information based on their old-style navigation screen to the new paradigm where information actually finds those operators, those executives or those engineers.”