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GE Tries to Make Its Machines Cool and Connected

The company is touting its Big Data cred with an office in Silicon Valley and an army of developers
GE Tries to Make Its Machines Cool and Connected
Photograph by Vladimir Weiss/Bloomberg

On Nov. 29, Jeff Immelt pulled out the really big iron. General Electric’s chief executive climbed up to take the stage at a modified film studio in San Francisco and stood next to a 6.87-ton jet engine built by his company. Inside this mass of twisted metal—Immelt told the spectators at the company’s Minds and Machines event—were 20 sensors that monitor the engine’s performance, generating part of the roughly 1 terabyte of information produced on a one-way, cross-country flight. In the years ahead, GE plans to analyze this information as it’s never been analyzed before in a quest to build smarter machines and more lucrative services that it can sell to customers.

The event capped a yearlong effort to convince people in Silicon Valley and elsewhere of the merits of the “Industrial Internet.” That’s the grand wrapper that Fairfield (Conn.)-based GE has put around the idea of a new breed of connected equipment. Be it jet engines, generators, locomotives, or CT scanners, GE wants to extract data from the hardware and enlist teams of its analysts to find ways to make the products operate more efficiently. There’s big money to be had in tweaking giant machines; as Immelt puts it, even a 1 percent improvement in the operations of commercial aircraft would translate into $2 billion less per year in fuel costs for GE’s customers in the airline industry.