When you’re part of a global company that operates multiple R&D sites around the world, the engine of innovation literally never stops. And with manufacturing competitiveness greater than ever, we don’t have a minute to spare.
In my role as Advanced Manufacturing technology leader for GE, I have the privilege of leading a global team of innovators who are inventing the future of manufacturing. In fact, we thought it would be fun to take a spin around the globe to see what’s happening at our different Global Research sites. Along this “journey,” you will see manufacturing in a whole new way. You won’t believe how cool it can be. Check out the video below to begin your journey. If you want a preview to the technologies featured, read on.
3D Printing … how about 3D Inking?
You will see a new additive technology called “Direct Write.” It involves printing, or should I say, “inking” miniaturized sensors right onto parts so that we can place these sensors in sections of our products where they could never be placed before. It will allow us to collect new data points to perform real-time analytics and condition monitoring for our customers. If you think 3D printing is cool, just wait until you see this Direct Write process.
Leveraging automotive smarts in automation
At our Advanced Manufacturing and Software Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, you will see how GE’s version of automation and machine design is taking shape. Michigan, with its deep automotive manufacturing roots, has been leaders in automation, machine design and new thinking in manufacturing. We’re looking at our manufacturing processes in a whole new way, integrating this knowledge to develop automated, robotic processes to manufacture large, complex shaped parts for GE’s products such as aircraft engines. It will help us be leaner and go faster in the production of new parts.
Drilling holes that is Super High Tech
At first glance, drilling holes doesn’t seem all that exciting. But when you consider the holes GE needs to drill into metal parts of an aircraft engine that experience some of the hottest temperatures (nearly five-times higher than your oven), you’ll find a whole new level of appreciation. We drill holes in these parts to establish cooling pathways that are critical to enabling metal parts to function in environments in which they would otherwise melt. We’re helping them keep their cool. When drilling these holes, the measurements and pathways need to be precise. If you over drill, you will damage the part. If you under drill, you won’t achieve the desired cooling effect.
At our China Technology Center in China, you will see a process called electrical discharge machining (EDM). Basically, it involves putting two electrodes together to create a spark and then control that spark to carve the desired path in a metal part. Using advanced control and monitoring, holes can be drilled very precisely, which has allowed us to dramatically increase the yield of good parts that can be made.
Understanding the “health” of materials
In healthcare, GE has driven great innovations in medical imaging that have enabled non-invasive ways to understand what’s happening in the human body to diagnose a disease or other illness. We’re adapting and applying some of these same techniques to studying the health of materials.
In manufacturing, you want to understand whether the part you made has any defects before you integrate it into a product. And if possible, you want to try and inspect this part without having to stop your manufacturing process.
At our India Technology Center in Bangalore, you will see … how we are applying technologies like Computed Tomography (CT) to non-invasively inspect parts for defects. With technologies like CT, it’s amazing how deeply we can interrogate the materials we use. We can understand materials down to the microstructure level, which is pretty deep.
Building the Digital Factory step-by-step
In Europe, the manufacturing of Jenbacher gas engines is fast becoming a digitally driven process. One area where this has made their factory more efficient and cost-effective is in the production of one the central components of the combustion system called the crankcase.
Interestingly, the process for making the crankcase produces iron burrs. These “burrs” are little pieces that form on the edge of a case. If left in place, they could potentially cause a breakdown in the engine if they were to break off from the case. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen because the crankcases go through a “deburring” process to remove the burrs during the production process. Previously, this process was done manually, which takes time and can vary part-to-part.
At our Global Research Center in Munich, you will see a faster and more reliable solution developed by GE researchers using robotics. The team came up with an innovative solution combining robotics, lasers and smart algorithms to create an intelligent robotic system that can spot and then remove burrs from the case.
We hope you enjoy this trip around the world to see advanced manufacturing innovation in motion. Minute-by-minute, we’re shaping a new, exciting future in manufacturing.