GE’s digital transformation surfs the Industry 4.0 wave

November 20, 2017 | 09:59
As the world is speeding ahead with the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 applications, a radical transformation is taking place in factories. With the face of production and manufacturing shifting rapidly towards more technology-intensive activities, GE has restructured itself as the 125-year-old start-up leading this revolution. Wouter Van Wersch president and CEO of GE ASEAN and ANZ talked with VIR’s Hoang Anh on the future of industrial technology and what it brings to Vietnam.
ges digital transformation surfs the industry 40 wave

GE has turned itself into a digital industrial company and a pioneer of Industry 4.0 for more than a year now. Could you share how GE started this process and what outcomes it has created so far?

For GE, the Industrial Internet refers to the integration of physical machines with networked sensors and software. In simple terms, our Industrial Internet technologies collect data from machines, analyse them and make recommendations on how to optimise the use of these machines - the combination of technology, curating vast quantities of data, and predictive analytics can have a profound impact on the efficiencies of a plant, and result in significant savings.

For example, a 1 per cent increase in efficiency of aluminium smelter operations can contribute to an annual global savings of $970 million across the total cost of production, $936 million in output increase, and $464 million in operations and maintenance costs.

GE’s Industrial Internet push began as an internal project in 2011 to understand how to use data from GE machines to gain more efficiency from our assets. From this experience, we saw the opportunity to do the same thing for our customers, and we created GE Digital in 2015 as the business unit to take this forward. Today, this business delivers applications in Asset Performance Management (APM) and Field Service Management (ServiceMax) to drive value for customers, powered by Predix – GE’s platform for the Industrial Internet.

Just a month ago, GE and Apple announced the partnership to create industrial apps on the Predix platform—a new Predix software development kit (SDK) for iOS, which gives developers the tools to make their own powerful industrial Internet of Things (IoT) apps. What does this mean for GE’s customers and the industry as whole?

Predix is our operating platform for the industrial internet. Just as consumer platforms such as iOS and Android support innovative app developers, and have created thriving app marketplaces, Predix aims to do the same for the industrial internet. Predix is a platform for industrial app developers to create, publish, and monetize their ideas, and contribute to an ecosystem that drives a new wave of industrial productivity and information-based services.

The partnership between Apple and GE further supports this drive – the partnership provides developers with the tools to make their own powerful industrial IoT apps. Feedback from our industrial customers reveals that they increasingly need to empower their workforces through mobility, and working with Apple we are giving them access to powerful apps that help them tap into the predictive data and analytics of Predix on their iPhone or iPad.

ges digital transformation surfs the industry 40 wave
The Haiphong facility generates close to $500 million in annual exports

Digitisation is accelerating not only in other developed countries but also developing countries including Vietnam. What are the lessons learnt from the process of applying digital technology to manufacturing and business operations?

New technologies, and digital capabilities, are driving transformational change and we see this everyday day with our customers, across all the industries we do business in.

And the digital revolution is not just happening in advanced, mature markets, but also emerging nations who understand the value, and benefit of adopting digital solutions. We believe managing this change is one of the most critical decisions for companies, and countries alike.

Based on our experiences, and observations so far, the roll-out of new tech, automation, and robotics must be supported by an investment, and commitment from companies to train and involve employees throughout the transformation. This enables companies to not just survive – but thrive - in this new era.

What advice would you give Vietnamese enterprises to take advantage of the global digital transformation trend to improve their competitiveness?

Vietnam’s manufacturing sector is evolving, and modernising, and it’s great to see this change being led by both local and international companies.

As with any transformation however, digital industrial transformation takes time and it’s important to build foundations for sustainable growth. For example, it’s imperative that all stakeholders help shape IoT sector policies. Policy and regulatory development should receive as much attention and action, as high-profile initiatives such as infrastructure development, technology implementation, education, and smart city plans.

Given Vietnam’s stage of development, and the support from private and public-sector players, I believe Vietnam is well positioned to advance its digital industrial journey. My positive view is based on the many presentations I listened to, and the discussions I had, during the APEC Vietnam 2017.

It’s also based on GE’s experience here with the opening of our “Brilliant Factory” in Haiphong last year. Run by our Vietnamese management team, the factory showcases GE’s latest digital industrial solutions and plant optimisation capabilities and it’s making a major impact on all fronts – especially economically. This facility now exports manufactured parts, particularly for renewable energy, to Europe, the United States and China worth more than $500 million since inception.

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