Connecting controls helps manage assets

Asset management: A winning industrial internet strategy starts with connected controls to help systems use more asset data, dynamically adapt in real-time to changing business conditions, and automatically upgrade as needed for better cybersecurity. Advantages include productivity gains of 22% and a maintenance cost reduction of 40%.

By Rob McKeel April 10, 2017

With the rise of the industrial internet, the pace of technological advancements has accelerated significantly, and initial tests of more interconnected controls show productivity gains of 22% and a maintenance cost reduction of 40%, among other benefits. Why the hesitation? Advancements are outpacing control system upgrade cycles. Today, the average traditional control system only can use about 3% of data from industrial assets and is unable to dynamically adapt in real-time to changing business conditions. Out-of-date systems also often cannot automatically upgrade internal software and security patches. Risks include productivity loss, security, and system integrity.

To gain and maintain a competitive edge in this new era of software-defined machines, it is no longer enough for a control system to keep a machine running reliably. Machine-level controls need to be smart enough to collect and process data locally and be connected. Connected controllers, like connected people, can take more intelligent actions. 

Predictive models, optimization

The good news is that the industry is beginning to see a new era in controls, where instead of one application running on a controller, dozens of apps all can run simultaneously. These could be machine apps like digital twins, that embed detailed engineering knowledge into predictive models, and real-time optimizers that determine the optimal way to run assets.

Such apps require more horsepower, more flexibility, and more connectivity than traditional control systems can provide. To enable these advanced capabilities, control systems are being developed for the age of the industrial internet. 

Piloting internet-based controls

For instance, a recent pilot program for the new internet-based control system connected machines such as gas turbines and MRI machines to cloud-computing capabilities.

This has dramatically increased the amount of data captured and can deliver 1,000 times more computing power than standard control systems. By combining the power of data analytics and real-time control at scale, IICS helped improve assets’ performance by 7% and productivity by 22%, reduce maintenance costs by 40%, and increase network and asset security. 

Connectivity apps

For instance, a secure health cloud platform uses advanced controls technology from an automation and controls company. The platform collects data from anesthesia machines, analyzes trends, and uncovers insights that improve patient care and boost operating room efficiency. Among customers using the system is the Department of Anesthesia at the Canterbury District Health Board in New Zealand. Benefits include reduction of fresh gas flow rates, which has a myriad of positive benefits including financial, ecological, and clinical.

This new era of controls brings an emergence of the industrial app economy. Because industrial internet-enabled controllers can run multiple apps simultaneously, benefits are increased. The industrial app economy will spur innovation by enabling a more seamless environment for people and machines to work smarter and more efficiently together.

As machines and people become more interconnected, machines will begin to use apps the same way as consumers do, to improve health, boost productivity, learn from each other, and more. Existing apps:

  • Allow wind turbines to talk to each other and coordinate the way they change blade pitch as the wind changes to maximize wind farm power output.
  • Tell jet engines how to reduce fuel consumption.
  • Check the health of gas turbines constantly and predict when a fault is likely to happen to allow intervention with preventive maintenance.
  • Allow doctors and nurses to schedule medical procedures more efficiently and collaborate in real-time on patients’ diagnoses, curing people better and faster.

With industrial internet-enabled controllers, intelligence can interface safely and securely with the brains of industrial equipment, control systems, enabling equipment and processes to act more intelligently and dynamically in response to changing conditions. Unlocking the value of the industrial internet begins at the machine level with a connected control system.

Rob McKeel is CEO of GE Automation & Controls. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


Key concepts

  • Traditional control systems unable to dynamically adapt in real-time to changing business conditions.
  • New internet-based control systems enhance connections, ease upgrades, and ensure the latest cybersecurity updates are in place.
  • Applications bring added capabilities like smartphone apps.

Consider this

Would a 1000x increase in control system computing power with more connected systems increase your productivity more than 20%?

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Learn more on related topics on the Control Engineering Industrial internet of Things (IIoT) page and see related articles linked below.