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GE’s ‘Brilliant’ Full-Court Press Invests $500B

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GROVE CITY, Pa. — By 2020, General Electric Co. expects it will spend more than $500 billion on high-tech digital systems that it says will revolutionize its capabilities and reset the benchmark for manufacturing.

To date, GE has invested $5 billion in converting six of its global manufacturing and remanufacturing sites into what it calls “brilliant” showcase factories, that is, factories heavily guided by digital technology systems. These systems reduce waste and downtime while increasing productivity.

Aside from GE Transportation’s Grove City remanufacturing plant, plants in Vietnam and Japan produce high-tech equipment for the health care industry, a plant in Italy produces components for the oil and gas industry while another in India is regarded as a “flexible” plant that can accommodate several product lines.

A fifth plant in Muskegon, Mich., manufactures jet engines and celebrated its grand opening this year. GE invested $14.5 million to upgrade this factory into a showcase plant.

“Muskegon is leading the way for GE’s transformation in the way we use big data to run our plants more efficiently and effectively,” John Bowman, general manager there, said in a statement.

Another site in Greenville, S.C., served as a pilot site for the program.

By the end of this year, the company plans to have 17 of these showcase factories up and running so it can demonstrate the effectiveness of the system to other customers. One of those factories is a second GE plant in Grove City that manufactures new locomotive engines.

Central to GE’s advances in digital is its Predix system, a software platform that governs machines and industrial processes through a cloud-based application.

With this technology, operators and managers can analyze and examine real-time data from operations on the manufacturing floor, helping to reduce costs and improve efficiency and productivity.

GE is also accelerating other areas of advanced manufacturing, especially 3-D printing.

The corporation is developing its Center for Additive Technology Advancement near Pittsburgh to make it a “customer experience center,” or CEC, where existing and prospective customers can experience firsthand GE’s advanced manufacturing forays into 3-D printing. The center would also be used to encourage additive manufacturing processes across GE’s corporate portfolio.

“We are thrilled to expand our concept of customer centers in the United States with a facility already at the leading edge of additive technology development,” says Robert Griggs, general manager of the customer experience centers for GE Additive.

Additive manufacturing uses materials such as metal or plastic to build a part from the ground up. The technology uses a 3-D printer that reads a digital design and produces the component layer-by-layer.

GE has invested $1.5 billion into additive manufacturing technologies, developed additive applications across six of its businesses, created new-services applications across the company, and earned 346 patents for powder metals used in the additive manufacturing process, the company says.

Pictured: The GE Transportation Remanufacturing plant at 660 Barleyville Road in Grove City employs 330 hourly workers and 70 managers.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.