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Convergence of IT and Operational Technology in the Energy Industry


By Steve Fearn
Global Chief Technologist


When talking with clients about HPE’s alliance with GE to expand the Industrial Internet of Things, we are often asked about the strengths each company brings to the partnership. These discussions aren’t just about specific technologies, such as HPE’s Edgeline Converged Edge IoT systems or GE’s cloud-based Predix platform for analyzing industrial data at scale. Clients want to understand the inherent capabilities of the two organizations, and how they complement each other. And, they want to learn about how this partnership manifests itself in actual projects on the ground. We’ll first talk about the partnership, and then give some energy industry examples of HPE + GE working with clients.


HPE20160512154_800_0_72_srgb.jpgGE is a very diverse company, making everything from light bulbs to jet engines, and most things in between. The company has been at it for more than 100 years, and has built an unparalleled powerhouse of knowledge in operational technology. The knowledge is not siloed--GE will take best practices from discrete manufacturing for large, complex machines such as engines and apply those learnings to different verticals, not only for internal projects, but also for large industrial clients in every vertical. So, what GE learns in the process of manufacturing a locomotive can be used in making an MRI scanner or potentially a nuclear reactor. There is a great deal of sharing of operational technology intellectual property across verticals.


GE also has a very rigorous approach to QA, applying Six Sigma improvements to reduce or eliminate defects in mass manufacturing. If you produce a million light bulbs and those light bulbs need to be exactly the same, then the process optimization, the understanding of the tolerances used in the machinery, and even the best ways to package those particular consumables will become extremely relevant in many other vertical contexts.


HPE20160923057_800_0_72_srgb.jpgMeanwhile, HPE has this enormous wealth of IT knowledge and research expertise going back decades. Not only does HPE build some of the most advanced industrial-grade hardware in the world, we have deep experience with the systems and software required to implement complex IT rollouts. We know that whenever a client is deploying a new system, it will use the same types of processes and encounter the same types of problems that we see elsewhere. Because we work on these systems with clients all over the world in many different verticals, and use our deep experience, technological insights, and industry-leading products to help them overcome the inevitable challenges, industrial companies considered HPE to be the go-to partner for applying cutting-edge IT solutions for their current and future needs.


There’s one other thing worth mentioning about HPE’s approach to innovation, which is something we share with GE. Innovation is more than imagining the future. Our approach involves proving new hardware, software, systems, and services through doing. This means working closely with manufacturers and users of HPE products--as well as compatible products and services offered by partners like GE--to understand how they are being used. This will inform the next generation of products and solutions offered to our clients. This is a key value proposition we bring to our clients.


IoT in the energy industry

 So, HPE brings robust IT capabilities to the table, and an industrialized product line--Edgeline--devoted specifically to bringing compute and storage resources to the edge of the network, out in the field or on the factory floor. GE has strong roots in operational technology, not to mention Predix, which can be used for optimizing industrial operations as well as asset management and predictive maintenance. But what does the partnership mean when it comes to implementing IIoT for clients in mission-critical settings?


Consider smart meters. These small IoT devices are installed in your home or place of work and record how many kilowatt-hours of electricity you are using, or how many cubic meters of gas have been delivered to the building. In the old days before smart meters, technicians would make site visits to manually record changes in mechanical meters. Nowadays, smart meters do away with mechanical processes and on-premises visits. Sensors in the meter gather the data and transmit it wirelessly. Those little devices have to get their payload information--energy usage--back to billing applications.


This is not an easy thing to do. The devices have to be powered, the wireless connection has to be reliable and secure, and the system has to process data from hundreds of thousands or even millions of meters. HPE and GE are working with a number of large utility companies to build an end-to-end solution that will transfer data from the meters, back across the network--whether it’s 3G or LoRa or Zigbee or some other method--and get it back to a location where it can be processed.


One client, Saudi Electricity Company, is developing a fully integrated model that not only controls the distribution of power, but also predicts how much power to generate or purchase from other sources. It further allows a variable consumption model for consumers, giving them the option of using power during off-peak periods, when it’s cheaper.


Predix lies at the heart of the system. The plan is to develop advanced forecasting models that  take all of the consumption data from smart meters (both consumer and industrial), and, using advanced algorithms, determine what is going to happen. The models are incredibly complex, and incorporate variables including consumption, weather patterns, and the movement of individuals in office blocks or homes or shopping areas at particular times.


When it comes to distribution, the models will automatically regulate the transformers and other equipment, using the IT infrastructure that HPE is developing. There won't be anyone flipping switches or looking at a board and saying, "I need more power in Sector 9." The system will do it automatically.


Meanwhile, the smart meters in homes and businesses are not just one-way conduits for electricity usage data. They are actually going to be bilateral devices that can act on insights and instructions coming from Predix. For instance, the electric car parked in the garage won't start charging as soon as someone plugs it in to the charging socket. The car will know how long it will take to charge up, and it also knows it will get a signal from the smart meter when power is least expensive. It will wait for the optimal time to start charging.


There are many more chapters to the HPE + GE story that we will explore in the coming weeks. They include a high-tech QA solution for one of the world’s biggest electronics manufacturers, as well as a case study from the wild frontier of the oil and gas industry, where specialized sensors are greatly increasing operational efficiency. We’ll also take a look at how Edgeline and Predix are helping mitigate the risk of a broken packaging machine shutting down an entire assembly line.


Want to learn more about Industrial IoT and Predictive Maintenance? Download the predictive maintenance whitepaper here.

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About Steve Fearn

Steve Fearn profile pic.jpg

Steve is a Global Chief Technologist, he divides his time between working with customers and partners to integrate IoT Initiatives and solutions into their business strategies, developing IoT solutions for HPE and its partners and as a technology evangelist.   He has a background in software development and has also held leadership roles in Infrastructure design / delivery, platform modernisation and enterprise architecture. He has experience of leading large global teams and has a keen interest in developing talent within organisations having led the technology graduate training program for General Electric program in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for a number of years. He holds a BSC in Information technology from Sheffield University and is based in the United Kingdom.


HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems are powered by Intel Xeon.


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