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GE Powers Internet Of Agriculture

GE helps grain-equipment company TempuTech put sensors, big-data analysis, and cloud-based reporting to work with an Internet of Things service.

GE has been a pioneer of what it calls the Industrial Internet, instrumenting equipment with sensors, capturing data at scale, and using data analysis to predict and improve performance. Now GE Intelligent Platforms, a unit of the industrial giant, is packaging up its technology and expertise and making it available to Internet of Things (IoT) wannabes.

"It's all about asset optimization," said Bernie Anger, general manager of GE Intelligent Platforms. "Customers generally ask [us] to help them deliver one of two things: better fuel efficiency or performance, or a higher level of service that gets them out of break-fix mode."

GE has realized both of these benefits with its own water and power turbines, its locomotives, its jet engines, and other products. Now it has customers in the oil and gas business, in power co-generation, and, most recently, in the agricultural industry, that are taking advantage of its data-sensing, data-analysis, reporting, prediction, and cloud-based hosting capabilities.

[What's the word from IoT naysayers? Read Internet Of Things: Limitless Dumb Possibilities.]

Among GE's latest customers is TempuTech, a Byhalia, Miss., provider of grain-management and hazard-monitoring systems that wanted to bring better intelligence to the systems it sells to agricultural storage customers. Silos are fixtures of the rural landscape, seen on individual farms across the country. Grain elevators are industrial-scale facilities used by grain distributors and large agribusinesses. What you might not know is that these storage facilities can be quite dangerous.

Silos and elevators are loaded using conveyor belts that can be hundreds of feet long and can burn out bearings and catch fire. Dust generated during loading can collect in enclosed spaces and become explosive. Even during long-term storage, grain can be plagued by moisture or insect infestations that can lead to fires deep within storage bins.

Sensors aren't new to silos and loading equipment, but TempuTech wanted a better way to connect all these sensors and help farmers and facility managers make sense of the data. The company drew up plans for the kind of application it wanted to build, but it wasn't until it stumbled upon GE's Equipment Insight infrastructure-as-a-service offering that it found a practical way to build it.

TempuTech's subscription-based Hazard Management and Grain Management apps are powered by GE's cloud-based Equipment Insight platform.
TempuTech's subscription-based Hazard Management and
Grain Management apps are powered by GE's cloud-based
Equipment Insight platform.

"We wanted something that would take us to the cloud, and it had to take into account all the parameters of monitoring temperatures and humidity and reporting that to our customers," said Adrian Merrill, VP of operations at TempuTech. "With Equipment Insight, all we had to do was tie in our sensors, write rules in GE's machine language, and it uploads everything to the cloud."

Instead of writing a custom application from scratch, TempuTech was able to use Equipment Insight's cloud-based platform for collecting, managing, and storing long-term performance data and delivering customizable, mobile-accessible reports. Equipment manufacturers use the platform to establish baseline performance norms and then set alert and alarm conditions for exception conditions related to temperature, vibration, humidity, and other conditions that can be detected with sensors.

In February TempuTech introduced a Hazard Monitoring application based on Equipment Insight that gives grain-elevator operators safe control over loading operations. The application meets OSHA requirements for slowing or stopping conveyor belts when belts unexpectedly slow or bearings get unusually hot. These are telltale signs of imminent failure. The setup includes a 32-inch monitor for the control room that displays every sensor throughout the plant. If an alarm goes off, the display provides an exploded view that shows exactly which sensor is showing an alert condition so workers can quickly fix the troubled equipment.

Sensors capture data every two milliseconds, as bearings can fail and heat up to 200 degrees in a matter of seconds, according to Merrill. Email alerts are also triggered, so managers running multiple facilities will know exactly where there's a problem.

TempuTech's second application, set for release this week, is a Grain Management System that monitors temperature and humidity while providing fan control. This application is not quite as data-intensive as the Hazard Monitoring app, but it captures temperature and humidity throughout the day and provides daily reports. Operators look for changes in temperature that indicate moisture problems or bug activity.

GE's Equipment Insight servers can be deployed on-premises, but TempuTech chose private-cloud deployment so it doesn't have do much more than set up broadband or mobile access at each new installation. "GE gives me an IP address that works the first time," said Merrill. "You plug it in, make sure your sensors are functioning correctly, and then walk away."

Anger of GE Intelligent Platforms likens Equipment Insight deployment to adding cable TV service at home and, for customers like TempuTech, it also introduces new revenue opportunities. TempuTech says intelligent installations increase deployment costs by 10% while also generating ongoing subscription fees for the cloud-based storage, reporting, and alerting services.

"For a lot of small and midsized equipment manufacturers, the notion of building this sort of infrastructure is really out of reach," Anger said. "IoT-type technology is out there, but putting it all together is over a lot of people's heads."

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Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Author
8/27/2014 | 4:16:57 PM
Re: Replacing or helping out "The Machine Whisperers"
Good point, Doug. The need will go from hardware whisperers to software refiners for the sensor data.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 7:22:12 PM
Re: Replacing or helping out "The Machine Whisperers"
Equipment Insight's cloud platform sounds like a good solution. The management of acquired sensor data should be fairly easy, but I expect it continues to be harder than it should be for many companies.
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 2:05:17 PM
Replacing or helping out "The Machine Whisperers"
Lots of industries have wise "machine whisperers" who know what's going on with equipment just by listening to it, according to GE. Unfortunately, many of these people are retiring and bringing their expertise out the door when they leave. Industrial Internet apps are often pattern-detection applications whereby preventative maintenance is a big win. Merrill of TempuTech said his company is currently bidding on an adjacent-market application whereby a stone quary wants intelligent sensoring of the conveyor belts used in its limestone operations. When those belts go down, the business loses $50,000 per day, and TempuTech's proposed IoT application will cost less than a single day of downtime.
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 1:54:30 PM
more to come
Agriculture industry also keenly interested in that other big data darling: the weather. More to come in sensors here, certainly.
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