The internet of things: industry’s digital revolution
Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is the busiest railway in North America, and also the most grumbled about. Its reliability is about average for the government-owned network — about one in five of its trains ran significantly late last year — but because it connects the centres of US financial and political power, it is the subject of the loudest complaints about slow service.
Out of sight of the disgruntled passengers, however, Amtrak’s engineers are being supported by some of the world’s most advanced technologies to prevent those delays. Siemens, the German group that built some of the locomotives used on the Washington to New York line, is deploying what is known as the “industrial internet of things” to predict problems before they happen.
By analysing data from 900 sensors on each of its locomotives, Siemens can understand why equipment failures occur, and recommend interventions that will prevent them in the future.
Delays were down 33 per cent in 2016 from 2015, and performance on some measures is “almost an order of magnitude better than in the past”, says Rick Shults, Amtrak project manager for the Siemens locomotives. “They are able to introduce a concept for change well before we have even noticed there is a problem.”
1: Data on air pressure in the equipment, any impact on the strips and other information are collected and stored on the train
2: Each time the train is in a station, diagnostic information is uploaded through a wifi link. The data are collected at Siemens data centres in the US and Germany
3: Engineers at Siemens’ Data Analytics and Applications Center in Atlanta look for signs that carbon strips are about to fail
4: Messages are sent to Siemens and Amtrak staff at maintenance depots, telling them which strips need to be replaced and identifying what caused the damage
Siemens’ work for Amtrak is at the vanguard of a revolution that promises radical change for industries including manufacturing and energy as well as transport. The plunging costs of sensors, communications, data storage and analytics have made it possible to record and process huge volumes of information about physical systems, from trains to oil refineries to wind turbines. Analysis of temperature, pressure, vibration, movement and flows of electrical current can be used to prevent failures, streamline maintenance, improve performance — and even change the way products are designed and made.
By 2020, companies will be spending about €250bn a year on the internet of things, with half of all that spending coming from the manufacturing, transport and utility industries, according to the Boston Consulting Group.
“It’s a huge opportunity for all industrial companies,” says Bill Ruh, chief digital officer for General Electric, the US conglomerate. “Data analytics and machine connectivity are the way to get to the next level of productivity.”
Along with advanced robotics and 3D printing, the internet of things is one of the technologies that are expected to transform manufacturing over the next couple of decades.
“I am not saying it can change: it will change, one way or the other,” says Roland Busch, chief technology officer of Siemens. “And there will be winners and losers.”
Any industrial company that wants to still be around in 20 years is building up its digital skills and technology, often through acquisitions. GE last year bought four companies to strengthen its digital business. Honeywell this month bought an Israeli company called Nextnine, to reinforce its business offering internet security, a critical issue for industrial operations.Read full article at Financial Times