IoT, M2M and opportunities for infrastructure, tech industries

By 2020, 50 billion machines will be connected to the Internet and will be able to communicate with each other. That's a prediction the CEO of GE Australia, Steve Sargent, is backing, adding there’s a lot of untapped opportunity that infrastructure and technology organisations can take advantage of.

Speaking at an Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) analytics summit in Canberra, Sargent gave examples of how GE is making use of the big data being harvested out of the Internet of Things and from machine to machine communication technologies.

“With our Jet engines, we are using [low cost] sensors to capture data and then transmit to be able to use that data for improving the performance for what we do for our customers. Today, we get 5,000 data points a second off our most recent engines. That engine downloads a terabyte of data a day remotely,” he said.

The engines communicate to ground operators, feeding real time data on their current condition. “We are tracking all sorts of data with regards to fuel flow, oil pressure, air temperature, aircraft angles, vibrations, etc. The engines communicate directly with our customer service and scheduling software… so we have no unplanned downtime.”

GE’s wind farm is another example. Sargent said wind turbines equipped with sensors are able to determine the strength and flow of a breeze so that it can change position if it’s too strong and avoid getting damaged.

“Before when that sensor broke it used to turn off because we didn’t know how fast the wind was blowing. So as a safety measure, even if it broke, it turned the machine off. That meant down time for our customers. And it’s not that as if wind farms are in easily accessible places, so you have got to send service crews to go and replace these tiny low cost sensors.

“Today what happens is if that sensor breaks it talks to the turbines around it to it and asks ‘are you still blowing?’ And if they are OK, it says ‘even though my sensors are not working, I’m OK and I’m going to keep working’.

“It saves cost for the customer, and we don’t need to send service people, and it also generates revenue.”

Read: How General Electric is using sensors and big data technology to detect temperature anomalies while parts are being made in 3D printing.

Sargent said its new jet engines used by Qantas and Jetstar mean the companies are seeing 20 per cent improvement in fuel burn.

“For a flight from Sydney to London, before a plane would use 450 tonnes of aviation fuel and another 450 tonnes on return. So the next time you fly to New York or London, recognise the fact there’s two tonnes for you. If you save 20 per cent on 900 tonnes, you save more money than the entire Australian profitability in the aviation industry,” he said.

“If we look at our own customer base, improving ... jet engines, gas and wind turbines, locomotives and so on, just 1 per cent improvement can improve our customers profitability by $20 billion a year.

“Looking at freight being moved across the world rail networks - if we improve their efficiency by 1 per cent, that will yield to $27 billion in fuel savings.

“A 1 per cent efficiency gain globally in healthcare could yield more than $63 billion in savings.

“A 1 per cent efficiency improvement in global gas-fired power plants fleet cloud yield $66 billion savings in fuel consumption.”

However, all of this cannot be possible without cooperation and collaboration between both the infrastructure and tech industries, Sargent said, emphasising the importance of having open data between them.

“If I can only share the data with your company then there’s not much of an outcome. If I can only show the data within one country, then there’s not much of an outcome. If I can show you the performance data on heavy duty gas turbines where we generate 65 per cent of electricity on the planet, then we can show you some amazing things.

“The challenge is in some countries that’s tough where data is not allowed to be shared across borders.”


Sargent knows all too well the importance of pooling ideas together for innovation. But that goes beyond pooling ideas within the company, it even goes beyond pooling ideas within the same industry.

As an exercise, Sargent decided to release a months’ worth of data on Kaggle for aeronautical engineers around the world to ‘tell GE what it doesn’t already know’, and award them $100,000 to make a new discovery in the data GE hasn’t yet found.

“This was just an exercise for someone who did not need to know anything about the data or a jet engine. The winner was a dentist in Singapore, someone who had a fascination for data.

“So we are now using this to design parts, where previously we would have over-engineered them. So we put the specs online and we invite people to come in with their best design and we pay them an award of say $20,000.”

Sargent believes there is going to be more and more work or projects being shared across country borders, as businesses start to realise no one company has all the answers; “the best ideas can come from anywhere".

But there are challenges to wade through in immigration law, data sharing and security, he pointed out. Despite this, he said collaboration is a must in today’s world and, quoting Jack Welch of GE, “when the external environment is changing faster than your internal environment, you’re dying."

Closer collaboration with universities and education institutions is also important to ensuring circulation of ideas, he said. “There are some educational institutions that are actually creating industries within the university. For example, Silicon Valley, Standford, Southern California University, where entire industries are being created while at university. I think that where we’ve got to get to is much higher levels of collaboration and innovation.”

Follow Rebecca Merrett on Twitter: @Rebecca_Merrett

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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