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‘Brilliant Factory’ Turns Science into Product

By Steve Bolze June 12, 2014

We can digitally link design, product engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, distribution, and servicing into one cohesive, intelligent system.

Imagine a factory that talks to itself—one able to predict, adapt, and react more quickly and efficiently than any factory of the past. By linking to the Industrial Internet, using virtual manufacturing techniques, and deploying intelligent machines on the factory floor, you have all the makings of a “brilliant factory.”

The brilliant factory is the next generation of the traditional factory floor and GE is building one in Greenville County, S.C. The factory illustrates the promise of new manufacturing technologies. Massive innovations in the industrial sector have disrupted every aspect of the manufacturing process, and new techniques and materials means we can make things in new ways.

We now have the capability to digitally link design, product engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, distribution, and servicing into one cohesive, intelligent system. This is part of the promise of what is known as advanced manufacturing.

Advanced manufacturing allows plant managers and engineers to simulate the impact of product design changes on the factory floor and reorganize supply chains and production processes in real time. It is about making things better and faster.

This brilliant factory will reorganize the supply and distribution networks that will connect this factory directly to customers, distributors, and suppliers in ways that enable even greater speed and flexibility.

Artist's concept of GE's first 'brilliant factory' slated for Greenville County, S.C.

Artist’s concept of GE’s first ‘brilliant factory’ slated for Greenville County, S.C.

This factory will take science and turn it into product, and its focus will be on rapidly developing products and processes that we can deliver to customers globally.

We will be able to change manufacturing processes and experiment with new fixtures, cutting tools, and software. We will look to make breakthroughs on component parts for products like diesel engines, and we’ll use the latest technologies such as 3D printers to support that development.

Initially, some of the technologies we plan to focus on will be Ceramic Matrix Composites or CMCs—materials that GE has been developing for two decades. In the Power & Water division we are talking about their potential to replace the nickel super-alloys we use in our gas turbines.

CMCs are a potential new material system for parts that have to endure extreme high temperatures, such as those already being used in next generation jet engines.

This flagship factory is not just a showcase, it’s a workhorse. This new facility means we will no longer be competing for space on the factory floor to test new processes or products. Fully developing these new advanced manufacturing technologies may increase the productivity and competitiveness of our factories and employees.

We’ll also be focused on ways to make our products easier to produce and at less cost.   Offering state of the art production processes will be a tremendous help to our global manufacturing teams.

Steve Bolze is the president and CEO of GE Power & Water.