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Consumers think nothing of tapping the screen of their smartphone to instantly stream “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd, track an exercise and diet regimen, or download Candy Crush. But there’s no app store for software needed for power plants, automobile factories or other industrial environments.
For years, consumers have enjoyed a glut of cloud-hosted apps, but software for heavy industry has lagged behind other sectors in following suit. That has limited not only those who need industrial software apps, the users, but also those who write them, the engineers.
GE is now changing that landscape, says Harel Kodesh, vice president of Predix and chief technology officer of GE Digital, by opening its Industrial Internet cloud platform, Predix, to outside developers.
In recent months more than 2,000 GE software engineers have built apps on the platform, ironing out kinks in the system. GE now expects to double that number by the end of the year before opening the platform to all developers in 2016.
By then, Predix is set to become the world’s first and largest marketplace for industrial applications. “This is a major shift in the industry,” Kodesh says. “This is a market that by and large has not been exposed to the same processes you have in the consumer world.”
As the number of connected machines grows, so will the torrent of data they produce. That’s a problem that Google, Apple, Facebook and other consumer companies have been trying to solve, and GE has been taking notes. “Real-time analysis of streaming data that works for social networks and media providers can work for [large machinery] sensors,” Kodesh says.
Similar to software developers competing against each other to create the best products in the consumer space, such as exercise apps and games, developers on the Predix cloud will build applications for a large range of industries such as aviation, agriculture, health care, manufacturing and transportation. They will be able to work together and compete using secure technology. Just as Apple, with its tight vetting process, has created a sort of gated community for its app developers, GE plans to do the same for the industrial software crowd.
The Predix marketplace will also give industrial developers an environment where they can reach customers more easily and seek out partnerships. “Independent software vendors can apply their technology or even compete with our GE services,” says Lothar Schubert, leader of developer relations at GE Digital. “We encourage an open market.”
Delivering apps in the Predix cloud has benefits beyond reaching more customers more easily. App developers can receive instant feedback on their products — sharply cutting the time it normally takes to develop a prototype. By being able to immediately show customers an emerging product, Predix developers already have proven to be able to deliver their first prototype in a matter of weeks or even just a few days, rather than the usual months.
“Now developers who had been trained to develop for the enterprise or consumer space … can for the first time apply those skills readily to the industrial world,” says Schubert. “Instead of working to improve the click rate for a banner ad by 1 percent, they can work to improve the energy efficiency of a gas turbine by 1 percent, driving outcomes on industrial scale, all while helping to make the world a better place to live.”
Not only will big industry be able to connect their own machines to the technology for prompt analytic results, but industrial companies will also be able to rapidly communicate with others in their community.
For example, if wind farms get connected to Predix and start making decisions based on how to best adjust their turbine blade pitches based on the weather intelligence they receive, other connected turbines can communicate in almost real-time and make changes accordingly. If all the wind farms in a region “talk” in this fashion, the end result could be higher capacity and productivity all around.
To date, developers who have worked with Predix report seeing greater reliability, lower operational costs, risk mitigation and profitable growth. The data management company Pitney Bowes, for example, says it has been rewarded for migrating to the platform early. Says Grant Miller, Pitney Bowes vice president: “GE’s core technology, coupled with our ability to collect data and drive efficiencies on the platform, will allow our clients to drive their machines faster, better, bigger and stronger.”