In November, GE announced it would invest $1.5 billion in efforts to fine-tune its machines’ performance and capture big efficiency gains by connecting them to its enterprise software and to the wider Internet. GE thinks that cheaper computing power and sensors are now poised to usher in a new era of big data for industry. Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO, has called the idea a revolution, and the company’s top economist has suggested it could help increase worker productivity by as much as 1.5 percent a year.
GE hs already built a $170 million factory which has more than 10,000 sensors spread across 180,000 square feet of manufacturing space, all connected to a high-speed internal Ethernet. They monitor things like which batches of powder are being used to form the ceramics at the heart of the batteries, how high a temperature is being used to bake them, how much energy is required to make each battery, and even the local air pressure. On the plant floor, employees with iPads can pull up all the data from Wi-Fi nodes set up around the factory.
The sensor data has yielded some useful insights, says Rausch, including the finding that some battery parts failed quality tests after spending too much time on the manufacturing line. GE now tracks how long these parts “soak” in the factory’s ovens and how much time they spend elsewhere on the production line; alarms flash near parts approaching their limit.