Disruptive Opportunities from the Industrial Internet— How to Come Out a Winner

  • April 13, 2016
  • GE Digital
  • Feature

By Rich Carpenter, Technology Strategist, GE Digital

In simple terms, the connectivity made possible through Internet of Things (IoT) technologies is fueling the growth of the Industrial Internet, combining data with advanced analytics to bring insights that improve business performance and efficiency.

The IoT is a concept in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. The Industrial Internet refers to the integration of complex physical machinery with networked sensors and software. It draws together fields such as machine learning and big data, bringing together machine-to-machine communication and cyber-physical systems to consume data from machines, analyze it in real time, and use it to adjust operations. 

These industrial technologies are creating disruptive opportunities that will define a new set of winners and losers in the industrial space. The maturing of the Industrial Internet and the rapid connectivity of devices to internal networks and the Internet are creating fundamental changes and significant opportunities for manufacturers. These changes also create new issues for organizations to consider when creating a network for Industrial Internet manufacturing including: the increased need for improved connectivity, network security, system recovery, and management capabilities. This article will discuss how to take advantage of opportunities stemming from the IoT by providing guidance to CIOs and associated technologists on how to implement and design a robust manufacturing network for the Industrial Internet.

Forces of Change: The IoT and Industrial Internet

Change is happening significantly faster than it did 10 years ago. Startups can develop a product on the back of a credit card and go viral overnight, and traditional industries have been turned upside down. Take, for example, the impact the IoT has had on the retail industry. Companies soon saw the cost benefits to having an online and mobile commerce presence vs. brick-and-mortar stores. For retailers, the cost of running an e-commerce website is a small fraction of the cost of running physical stores and for consumers, this means a wider selection of merchandise that is not confined within four walls of a building.

Growth in connected devices is widely predicted to be enormous, with estimates ranging from 30 billion to 50 billion assets connected by 2020. This growth is fueled by numerous factors, but saw a jump after major providers like Cisco, IBM, GE and Amazon put their weight behind the IoT with network changes, enabling dramatic simplification and cost reduction for network connectivity. This also caused the price of sensors, processors and networking to drop to a point that makes the IoT economically viable. Wi-Fi is now widely deployed, making it relatively easy to add new networked devices to the home and office, as well as on the shop floor. Lastly, a new set of specifications from the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Protocol IPv6, enables an almost-limitless number of devices to be connected to networks.

Opportunities for Competitive Agility in Manufacturing

Technological innovations and economic uncertainties have changed the environment of manufacturers, progressing from slow-moving operations to a hypercompetitive environment. These business changes have also created many opportunities for manufacturers to remain agile.  Many industrial companies have started to reinvestigate how their businesses are structured and managed, turning to the Industrial Internet and the insights it generates as a way to respond to the increasing market complexity and the need to stay competitive.

The biggest competitive advantage for manufacturers, who utilize the Industrial Internet, is cost. According to a study by Aberdeen Group, manufacturing costs come in the forms of material costs, labor costs, and packaging and shipping expenses. To reduce overall costs, there has to be a reduction in the amount of waste that occurs from rework, unscheduled asset downtime, maintenance and late shipments. IT hardware needs are reduced, as virtualization removes the need to deploy physically separate networks, while still achieving a high-performance and secure environment for manufacturing mission-critical plant floor applications. Proactive and preemptive IT maintenance planning also reduces downtime and overheads, as manufacturing applications move to the private and public cloud.

Beyond cost savings, additional opportunities for competitive agility in manufacturing include:

  • Connectivity: With advanced analytics technology, manufacturers can connect directly to their data and optimize the performance of their processes to avoid problems before they happen, ensuring product quality and performance. Previously unconnected devices become connected to each other in machine-to-machine (M2M) networks and to enterprise reporting and predictive analytics, providing unprecedented real-time feedback on product performance, service and maintenance. M2M networks also ensure secure data flow between the plant floor and the cloud.
  • Control: Leading manufacturers have already realized the benefits that real-time data gives them, including insight and control over energy and utilities in real-time, visibility and control of remote facilities and resources, and visibility to enterprise planning tools. In our experience, real-time data also can lead to a 20% decrease in product “reworks” and a 25% reduction of product defects.

Caption: Advanced technology solutions provide a digital thread connecting different sources of data, providing key business insights.

  • Increased Business Insight: New insights from predictive analytics are now shared across the enterprise to enable more than just control. They also can help boost yield, performance, quality, and reduce waste by eliminating unplanned downtime and shifting evidence-based, rather than scheduled, maintenance. Business decisions can now be made quickly by analyzing vast data farms and making actionable data available to the user’s device of choice. Advanced technology solutions provide a digital thread connecting different sources of data, providing business insight that enable strategies for operational excellence including 30% faster new product launches.


How to Create a Network for Industrial Internet Manufacturing

While the Industrial Internet creates tremendous opportunities for business, it also introduces new challenges for CIOs. Some key items to consider when creating and implementing a network for Industrial Internet manufacturing include:

  • Device Proliferation: Ten years ago, CIOs could oversee policies, which provided a reasonable level of control over who connected to their networks and with which approved devices. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, CIOs have needed to administer “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies to enable greater productivity, necessitating a reduction in that control. Additionally, IoT technology will connect more devices and sensors than ever, to both the manufacturing and enterprise networks, further reducing a CIO’s ability to understand and control which devices are connected to the network and how. CIOs must have a plan in place as they approach these changes in order to ensure that devices are connected in a way that makes sense and allows them to be properly managed.
  • Security: Building separate networks and “air gapping” are not solutions to security challenges, with Stuxnet being a primary example of how these methods fail. Security by obscurity hinders the attack capabilities of only for the novice hacker. Furthermore, the sophistication of attacks has increased and merely installing firewalls is not sufficient, particularly as an escalating network of connected devices creates more potential inroads for malicious actors. Real security comes from consistent policy and controls, collection of security data at every level of a system, constant examination of the data, and diligent reaction to signs of trouble. Standards, such as OPC-UA, serve as a way of ensuring that those accessing critical business and control data are authorized to do so. Utilizing the common/converged network and security architecture enables common policy, ubiquitous data collection, and multiple levels and methods of security enforcement.
  • System Recovery: Even if a manufacturing network is designed for zero downtime, the systems connected to it may go offline. This can be both planned (system upgrades, additions, etc.) and unplanned downtime. Additionally, system startup can create huge demands on networks as devices come back online and resynchronize data, resulting in sluggish performance. Now advanced networking technology coupled with “store and forward” resynchronization of data, enables just the “missing time” data to be synchronized, rather than everything from time zero. This provides high levels of data reliability and increased read performance.
  • Isolation: Most manufacturing floors are broken up by process and further into cells and zones. Isolation is sometimes considered to be a substitute for security, but isolated (unconnected) machines can neither be remotely administered nor monitored. Nor can they provide valuable data to higher-level manufacturing systems. Advanced software can now connect all these pieces together on a single network. This allows for flexibility of retooling a plant floor, collecting data and administering an optimized process, while at the same time providing logical segmentation of systems. For example, I was working with a large, global aerospace customer that had its data scattered across operations, making analysis difficult and only available for one-time events. With the integration of performance analytics, the organization was able to collect actual process times and create a standard to leverage across all work sites, allowing them to make better decisions about their business operations more quickly.

Caption: Operators need remote access to plant operational systems and analytics from anywhere.

  • Mobility: The mobile revolution in the consumer and enterprise space is quickly finding its way onto the shop floor. Flexible communications is an important aspect of mobility. There has been a longstanding need for voice communication using push-to-talk (PTT) radio systems combined with cell phones. Another need is remote access or virtual access to your plant operational systems and analytics from anywhere. Additionally, the industry is introducing a variety of devices to act as remote or virtual HMIs. Finally, video from portable devices is increasing and the network must also accommodate and provide services for all these applications.
  • Partnerships: Sometimes the best way to navigate the Industrial Internet is to not go it alone and find a partnership that helps fill internal gaps and expedites your organization’s time by gaining insights from data. For instance, GE Digital possesses deep knowledge of controls and manufacturing applications and Cisco has unparalleled experience in networks. With more factory assets connected to the network, an increase in data being collected from manufacturing processes and the emergence of collaboration technology onto the plant floor, GE and Cisco are combining resources to provide an end-to-end solution from the machine interface to the cloud. Building partnerships will also help companies expedite their Industrial Internet initiatives and create common skill sets across information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) technicians.


The Industrial Internet continues to create disruptive opportunities that will define a new set of winners and losers in manufacturing. Utilizing new architectures, manufacturers can now confidently deploy a next generation system that is scalable and secure — enabling higher productivity for each employee and greater efficiency for each process.

Technology is paving the way for industrial companies to join the Industrial Internet. High-speed networks enable machine communications around the world and sensors and cloud-based data storage capabilities are increasingly affordable. Manufacturing agility is now emerging as an essential competency for organizations to deal with uncertainties in today’s fast-changing and connected environment. Manufacturers can gain a competitive advantage by driving insight and intelligence closer to the machines, making the manufacturing plant more integral to the operations of the enterprise as a whole. And that, is the biggest competitive advantage of all.

The Industrial Internet enables data to help solve these long-standing industry issues:

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