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Irish Power has been running a data analytics platform from GE for the last six months, combining operational data to help it improve efficiency of its Whitegate plant, a 445-megawatt gas combined-cycle power plant located 25 miles east of the city of Cork.
The software is part of GE’s digitisation strategy to offer software-powered services for the so-called industrial internet.
GE is one of the world’s largest industrial companies with products ranging from turbines to jet engines to medical equipment. But while heavy machinery is what it has been known for, the company is among the pioneers of digitisation, creating software-powered, cloud-based services to improve the efficiency and reliability of its equipment and help its customers derive greater value.
GE has been developing software for many years and provides monitoring services for remotely monitoring equipment. In parallel, the company has fleshed out its software capabilities, using a common platform called Predix, which provides core analytics for GE.
Two years ago GE CEO, Jeff Immelt discussed how software would power emerging business models. At the time, he told a customer event in London: "Small changes drive big outcomes."
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For GE, these small changes are built on top of Predix and realised through using an industrial cloud platform. "We have been focused on building applications to generate these outcomes," Immelt said.
Predix is an industrial application platform, which can be used by other parts of the GE business to create value-added, software-powered services.
Rory Griffin, operations engineer at Irish Power's parent company Bord Gais Energy, said: “GE’s software technology is an ideal solution to help increase our plant’s reliability and availability while making the most of our planned maintenance outages."
Ramon Paramio, general manager for GE’s power generation services business in Europe, said: "The Whitegate project’s scope establishes a data-driven foundation, based on reliability while delivering capabilities that enable the operator to make better business decisions based on real-time operational readiness."
In phase two of the project’s implementation, Irish Power plans to roll out an operations module for process optimisation. This phase will provide a more flexible operation and connect the plant performance to the real-time energy marketplace. These analytics will help customers identify actions for lowering production costs, increasing plant capability and improving system reliability, said GE.
In an interview with Computer Weekly, Dick Ayres, general manager of power generation software at GE, said: "We want to help customers make better decisions in the medium and long term.” Speaking about the Irish Power contract, he said: “Having a deeper dataset gives us a much better baseline and stronger reliability."
For instance, applying analytics built on the Predix platform can enable GE to offer its customers like Irish Power anomaly detection or enable cost savings by reducing the need for preventative maintenance, thanks to the visibility of the operational data GE can now provide.
Using this analytics platform, GE has been able to collect operational data, IT-related data and unstructured data such as social media and ambient temperature. Ayres said an analytics feature enables GE to use real-time operational data to predict or prevent downtime. “We can take advantage of technology to deliver new insights and outcomes.”
For instance, he said the software takes SAP data from the maintenance management system or workflow data and make connections across maintenance reports, workflow and work orders to correlate to uptime or downtime. Ayres said: "We are taking different data sets to improve reliability and understand principal drivers."
The application – Reliability Excellence – is now used in North America, Pakistan, Italy and other industrial customers in the Middle East.
Ayres said: "We want to combine our expertise to deliver better reliability and performance capabilities."
GE offers Reliability Excellence as software as a service (SaaS) or as an application. Using blueprints and fuel accounting models developed by GE, Ayres said it enables customers to identify areas of power generation that can be improved and provides actions to help them improve. He said the power generation companies are given an analytics sandbox, to upload maintenance records, documentation and reliability data into their own data repositories. Data can be connected to training records to help companies identify where staff need additional training.
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According to Ayres, the Reliability Excellence software could enable power plants to run more flexibly. He said: "If plants have more flexibility to deliver ancillary services, they can gain access to new markets."
What GE is starting to achieve with Predix and products such as Reliability Excellence is analogous to what happened in the software industry when SAP took everything it had learnt about how multi-nationals run, and encapsulated it into SAP R/3. Key to the success of the Predix platform is creating a vibrant ecosystem, where third parties can build value-added services. The question is whether GE has the appetite to extend its platform to partners or competitors. As Ruh remarked earlier this year: "Many of our businesses say, 'don't you dare sell to our competitor', but our software has to work with other products."