GE engineers helped inventor and aircraft designer Bill Lear create the business jet market in the 1960s, when they converted a fighter jet engine into propulsion for the first Learjet. But the company has been largely absent from the space since.
Bill Lear’s Learjet used GE’s J85 jet engines originally developed for Northrop F-5 fighter jets. Image credit: National Museum of USAF
Not anymore. In May, GE Honda Aero Engines, a joint-venture between GE Aviation and Honda, started manufacturing engines for Honda’s brand new HondaJet light jet.
The partners are not finished. Honda and GE just announced a joint project with Sierra Industries to develop a program that would use the HondaJet’s engines to retrofit legacy Cessna business jets, including the CitationJet, CJ1 and CJ1+. Sierra said that the engines would “provide the Citation Jet with improved performance and enhanced productivity.”
Jet engines come in all sizes. Here a technician is measuring the fan blades on the HondaJet’s HF120 engine. Top image: An airborne HondaJet. Image credits: GE and Honda
Sierra Industries, which is based in Uvalde, TX, has been upgrading and modifying the hugely popular Cessna jets for three decades. Sierra calls the new upgrade program Sapphire. There are reportedly as many as 660 jets that could benefit from it. Sapphire includes overhauling the engines and avionics, interior and exterior modifications, and other changes.
Scaled Composites’ White Knight used two GE J85 jet engines. Image credit: WP Pilot
GE and Honda spent the last decade developing the the HondaJet engine. With 18.5 inches in diameter and 2,095 pounds of thrusts, the jet engine, called HF120, is the smallest one in GE’s portfolio. By comparison, the largest GE jet engine, the GE9X, will have a fan diameter of 11 feet and projected thrust above 100,000 pounds.
But small GE jet engines have not been entirely missing from the skies. On October 2, 2004, two GE J85 engines, the same kind that powered the first Learjets, lifted Burt Rutan’s White Knight aircraft carrying the SpaceShipOne rocket to 43,000 feet above the Mojave Desert. There the rocket separated from the plane and became the first private manned spacecraft to reach space twice within two weeks. The feat made Rutan’s team the winners of the Ansari X-Prize.
How does a jet engine work? C’mon, quick. You get the point. We stroll casually onto planes and know little about how the engine operates. The same applies for important medical scans. We don’t know what goes on underneath the machines’ sleek curves.
But those who build them would argue that we are robbing ourselves. True, all that engineering complexity can be intimidating, but it often revolves around a handful of simple principles. Getting to the bottom of things can lead to many personal eureka moments and transform us into geniuses in front of our kids, family and friends.
Take Baratunde Thurston’s word for it. The inquisitive comedian recently visited GE labs in the U.S. and Europe and came back with deep insights about jet engines, wind turbines, MRI scanners and other technology. He and GE turned them into a series of Masterclass videos that are now available on YouTube.
MRI technology, for example, has been around for three decades, and it can do phenomenal things, like look inside your brain and see what parts light up when you think about your favorite dish, book or person. It sounds like sorcery, but it’s all physics and engineering.
The principle behind the MRI scanner is fairly straightforward. It involves the interaction of the machine’s magnetic field with hydrogen atoms inside the body, i.e. water, and a computer that figures out what it is looking at.
Take a look at Thurston’s visit to the MRI lab at GE’s Global Research Center in Munich, Germany, and don’t miss the extra credit.
Top image: This GIF shows a pineapple being scanned at 5 millimeter slices by a team of GE researchers in Munich, Germany. Photo credit: GE Global Research
GE Aviation has been flight testing jet engines in Victorville in the Mojave Desert for more than a decade. But never one like the LEAP, the world’s first jet engine with 3D-printed fuel nozzles and parts from advanced ceramic materials. The engine, which was developed by CFM International, a joint venture between GE and France’s Snecma (Safran), flew for the first time in October. CFM has received more than $100 billion in orders and commitments (U.S. list price) for over 7,700 LEAPs, even though they won’t enter service until 2016.
In the third quarter of 2014, for which GE announced results today, the company also received its first orders for its newest engine, the GE9X. Emirates, Etihad and Lufthansa put in orders valued at $3.8 billion. The engine, which GE is developing for Boeing’s next-generation 777X long-haul planes, is full 11 feet in diameter. Like the LEAP, it will also include advanced composites, ceramics and 3D-printed parts. The engines will enter service in 2020.
Discussing the quarter’s earnings, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt pointed out that innovation helped deliver other recent highlights, like 1,000 orders for GE Transportation’s most advanced Tier 4-compliant locomotive and 13 new HA-class gas turbines, the largest and most efficient of its kind in the world.
The locomotive, for example, is the first engine that can satisfy new U.S. emission standards, which will go into effect in January 2015. The HA turbine can generate 500 megawatts and has a combined heat and power efficiency exceeding 61 percent, a benchmark that has been called the Holy Grail in the power generation business. “GE performed well in the quarter, with industrial segment profit growth of 9 percent and significant margin expansion,” Immelt said. “The environment is volatile, but infrastructure growth opportunities exist, and GE is executing well.”
Top three images: The LEAP’s maiden flight on October 6 in Victorville. Credit: GE Aviation
Immelt’s quarterly earnings call with investors also included a presentation by GE Healthcare Life Sciences. This GE business is developing technologies supporting companies on the leading edge of medicine. These customers are involved in drug discovery, advanced diagnostics and bioprocessing, which is using living cells to produce components for a new generation of drugs called biopharmaceuticals.
With advances in biomedicine, biopharmaceuticals have become the fastest growing class of drugs. They have a market size of about $100 billion and account for a quarter of all spending on drugs.
GE took the first HA turbine to Greenville, SC, for testing: Image credit: GE Power and Water
In March 2014, Life Sciences completed a $1 billion acquisition of three businesses from Thermo Fisher Scientific. The businesses are developing and manufacturing the media and sera for growing cells, and aiding with protein analysis and biomedical drug discovery. “There is a lot of vibrancy in terms of demand for these products from the growth markets,” said Nigel Darby, vice president of biotechnologies and chief technology officer at GE Healthcare Life Sciences. “This correlates with the best growth opportunities.”
The Thermo Fisher acquisition ties into GE’s push into high-growth areas, its return to industrials and the sale of non-core businesses. During the last quarter, GE completed the IPO of its North American retail finance unit, Synchrony Financial, the first step of a planned, staged exit from the business. GE is targeting a complete exit from Synchrony Financial through a split-off transaction in late 2015.
In the third quarter, GE also agreed to sell its Appliances business to Electrolux for $3.3 billion, bringing total announced dispositions to $4.7 billion for the year. The sale still has to be approved by regulators.
Immelt also said that GE was on track to meet cost management goals as part of its “simplification” initiative. “Our total-year framework is intact, and we are executing on our goals,” Immelt said. “We have a big backlog, market diversity, strong recurring revenue and a well-established cost-out program.We expect to continue to deliver in a volatile world.”
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Of the many torments endured by the parents of premature babies, the inability to care for their newborns is perhaps the most acute. After birth, nurses cover “preemies,” as they are known, with tubes and wires that deliver fluids and medicine as well monitor vitals. They make dressing, nursing and caressing virtually impossible for unskilled hands.
Finland’s Nina Ignatius learned this firsthand in 2007, when she gave birth to her daughter two months too early. But the agonizing experience gave Ignatius a business idea. The successful graphic designer who worked with clients in the U.K., Japan and Australia, sold her home and set up Beibamboo to offer a line of baby clothes for preemies. Her onesies fully open and allow parents to dress their infants without having to disconnect any equipment.
The business has been a hit. Ignatius now has five employees, and the company, which makes clothing for children up to 30 months, has just moved to its first real office space at the GE Healthcare Innovation Village in Helsinki. “We are very excited about the possibility of exchanging knowledge and ideas with the hundreds of GE staff on site,” Ignatius says. “GE manufactures incubators, which means they have a lot of specialists and contacts very relevant to our end users and markets. It is also great to work with other healthcare startups too because we can exchange relevant contacts and ideas.”
It turns out that Ignatius’ company identified a real need. A pilot study carried out at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 2011 and 2012 found that infants who received care from their parents in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) were more likely to gain weight, have fewer infections and could be home sooner.
Ignatius designs her clothes for comfort with no scratching labels or seams on the insides. The fabric contains silky bamboo viscose with hollow fibers that are very absorbent and help the baby regulate its temperature.
Beibamboo says that the clothes also help limit infections, which can result from frequent removals of the intravenuous tubes, called cannulas, during clothes changes. Because parents can actively care for their own children, the clothes can help free up valuable nursing staff time as well.
Today, Beibamboo has 11 resellers and its clothes are also available at Stockmann – one of the largest department stores in Scandinavia. The company is also starting another funding round on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
“It’s great to see how their products have such a positive impact on people’s lives,” Mikko Kauppinen, finance manager for GE Finland. “With her vast experience at working overseas, Nina is as well placed as anyone I can think of to take her company forward and start exporting her products around the world.”
Wikipedia describes the art and fashion movement called Steampunk as a “sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century.” But for Jason Philpott, who oversees power equipment at the Eastman Chemical Company’s plant in Kingsport, TN, steam machines made before World War II are no fad and much less fiction.
“I’ve seen people drop their jaw when they see what we use to generate heat and electricity,” he says. “People talk about reliability and longevity, but this is a different ball game.”
Philpott is talking about an assembly of 17 steam turbine generators made by GE that produce a total of 160 megawatts of electricity for the plant. The oldest turbine entered service in 1936.
Top images: This GE turbine made in 1936 just won EPA’s ENERGY STAR award. Photo credit: Eastman Chemical Co.
The combined heat and power (CHP) system, which also includes two generators made by ABB and 17 boilers, is working so well that it recently won the ENERGY STAR CHP award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA noted that the power plant is more than 78 percent efficient in converting mostly coal to electricity, and needs 14 percent less fuel than grid-supplied electricity and conventional steam production. The agency estimates the technology saves Eastman about $45 million per year.
A historical image of the Schenectady Works factory where GE turbines made the Eastman turbines. Photo Credit: The Schenectady Museum of Science
The machines also allow the plant to cut its greenhouse gas footprint by some 358,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. That’s enough to offset emissions produced by a conventional power plant to generate electricity for 44,000 homes, the EPA said.
The average age of the 17 GE turbines at the Eastman plant is almost 54 years. GE technicians have been monitoring and servicing the units since the oldest started producing power 78 years ago.
Turbine production is called heavy industry for a reason.
GE manufactured the septuagenarian turbine in Schenectady, NY, and the company still makes steam turbines there. They serve customers in Algeria, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere around the world.
Steam turbine rotors on the factory floor in Schenectady in 2011.
GE launched the steam turbine business in Schenectady in 1897, 15 years after Charles Parsons and Gustaf de Laval had built their first turbines in Europe.
Workers who made steam turbines in Schenectady between the wars even had their own band. But it probably did not have punk rock in its repertoire.
Rural Grand Gedeh County covers thousands of square miles of lush Liberian rainforest far from epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in the capital of Monrovia. But that doesn’t mean it’s been spared. “Right now the burden of the disease is the worst in the capital,” says Rebecca Rollins, interim chief communications officer for the Boston-based health NGO Partners in Health (PIH), one of the groups helping to fight the disease. “But we believe the rural areas will be the hardest hit next.”
Rollins returned from Grand Gedeh last week. She said that Ebola has paralyzed the region’s already weak healthcare systems. People with symptoms make the 10-hour trip along a rutted road to the capital and others decide to stay away from doctors altogether, setting the stage for a larger healthcare crisis. “People are afraid,” she says. “They are not getting any routine vaccination, prenatal care and other treatment. This is an area with malaria and measles. When we arrived at the local hospital, it was dark and empty of patients and medical supplies.”
Grand Gedeh is 10 hours away from the capital of Monrovia. The roads can be tricky. Top image: The Partners In Health Advance Ebola Response Team visits the Martha Tubman Memorial Hospital in Zwedru, Liberia, in the southeastern region of the country. Photo by Rebecca E. Rollins / Partners In Health
According to World Bank estimates, there are fewer than two doctors for every 100,000 people in Liberia and Sierra Leone. (There are about 2.5 doctors per 1,000 people in the U.S.) Even staffed Ebola treatment centers can’t provide enough care and lack properly trained healthcare workers. In rural areas like Grand Gedeh, the situation is even worse.
That’s why PIH recently joined the local non-profit Last Mile Health to fight the crisis. Last week, the two groups received $2 million from the GE Foundation to help fund the effort, whose budget could reach $100 million over the next year.
A rural clinic in Grand Gedeh. Image credit: Last Mile Health
The coalition plans to use the money to build a force of 500 health workers to staff 47 health centers in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They will also train an additional corps of 800 community health workers who will work in villages and focus on education, surveillance and monitoring.
In the future, the coalition will help the local Ministries of Health transition from the Ebola response to a more robust health system. “We need a clear and comprehensive strategy to fight Ebola and improve healthcare in the villages,” says Dr. Raj Panjabi, Last Mile Health’s founder. “Ebola started in the rainforest and it could have stopped there if we had a health care system in place.”
Panjabi is a protégé of Paul Farmer, PIH’s founder. Farmer started his organization in 1987 to bring healthcare to residents living on Haiti’s mountainous Central Plateau. PIH has since become one of the leading NGOs fighting disease around the world, from tuberculosis to HIV.
A team from Partners in Health including Paul Farmer, in the middle with a tie, visited Grand Gedeh last week. Image credit: Rebecca Rollins, Partners in Health
Panjabi was born and raised in Monrovia. His parents immigrated to Liberia in the 1970s, but the family moved again after civil war broke out two decades later. “We were lucky and got on a cargo plane,” he says. “I’ve never forgotten the people we left on the tarmac.”
He attended medical school in the U.S. and returned back to Liberia after graduation. “There was devastation everywhere,” he says. “In the rural areas, people lost their lives when they got sick just because the closest care was two days away.”
Last month, the Partners In Health Advance Ebola Response Team visited frontline health workers from Last Mile Health in Grand Gedeh. Image credit: Rebecca Rollins, Partners In Health
Taking a page from Farmer, he started Last Mile Health to bring basic care to remote villages in the country. His network could now serve as an important bulwark in the fight against Ebola.
PIH and Last Mile Health will use the money from the GE Foundation to mobilize Last Mile’s network of rural health workers and build local treatment units. “We started out by training village health workers, providing them with equipment so they could become professional healthcare practitioners and handle medical conditions ranging from malaria to hypertension,” Panjabi says. “We are now teaching them to recognize Ebola, and isolate and care for those who got sick.”
Rollins says that doctors have to start treating patients where they get infected. “An important part of managing the crisis is tracing the patient’s contacts,” Rollins says. “You cannot do that with patients who traveled many hours to reach you.”
A natural bridge in Grand Gedeh. Photo credit: Last Mile Health
The Ebola outbreak appears to be far from over. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control together with World Health Organization reported that as of September 23, there were 6,574 cases of the hemorrhagic fever caused by the Ebola virus in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. Those cases, which are almost certainly an undercount, resulted in 3,091 deaths.
“The reports we are hearing in the US is that people in West Africa are dying of a powerful disease that can’t be cured,” Rollins says. “The truth is that people are dying because of inadequate health care. We can help.”
Best friends in Grand Gedeh. Photo credit: Last Mile Health
Earlier this year, a Brazilian landfill started using three massive Jenbacher gas engines to burn methane produced by rotting garbage. They now generate enough electricity to power 13,000 homes.
A few thousand miles north, in the United States, more Jenbachers, which are made by GE in the Austrian town of Jenbach, are gorging on biogas from cheese whey, brewery waste water and even old school lunches. Over in Europe, their kin are feasting on gas from whisky mash, and in Cambodia on biogas from discarded rice hulls.
The gas, which is mostly methane, is produced by microbes during anaerobic digestion (see the graphic above). It can contain impurities like sulfur, which make it smell like, well, farts. But the engines’ strong stomachs don’t mind. The latest and most efficient version of the Jenbacher, the J920 FleXtra, can be more than 90 percent efficient in converting gas to energy when combined with a heating plant.
Since the 20-cylinder engine can ramp up to full power in just 5 minutes, it is already helping the Bavarian town of Rosenheim blend intermittent renewable power from solar and wind farms into the grid. Six more will be soon on their way to South-Central Texas, where they will supply peak power to 17,000 customers.
The science-minded comedian Baratunde Thurston recently traveled to Jenbach and Rosenheim to find out how exactly the big engines work. He came back with a Jenbacher masterclass (above and below). Don’t miss it!
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Last October, the biologist and former GE Healthcare chief scientist James Rothman received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for solving the mystery of how cells shuttle molecules of insulin and other substances to the right place in the body. This year, two other former GE scientists looking for new sources of light, Bob Hall and Nick Holonyak Jr., almost felt the glow of a Nobel themselves.
The Nobel Committee awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics to a trio of scientists, two Japanese and one American, for inventing in the 1990s “efficient blue light-emitting diodes [LEDs], which has enabled a bright, energy-saving white light source.”
Robert Hall in his GE lab. Top image: Nick Holonyak at his University of Illinois office in 2012.
The blue LED had been the lighting industry’s Holy Grail for three decades, ever since Hall invented the semiconductor diode laser in 1962, and Holonyak quickly followed with the first practical LED emitting visible red light later that year. (Russia’s Oleg Losev, who worked in St. Petersburg in the 1920s, has been recognized as the inventor of the first glowing diode.)
Hall, 95, and Holonyak, 85, were working in GE labs in upstate New York when Hall developed a precursor of the modern LED, the world’s first semiconductor laser. Today, diode lasers based on his research are everywhere, from grocery store checkout scanners and TV remotes to DVD players.
A 1962 group picture of Nick Holonyak (with glasses in the front) and his GE technical support team. In back from left to right: B. Hess (technician); S. Bevacqua (lab technician); F. Carranti (technician); C. Bielan (chemist); S. Lubowski (electronics technician).
But Hall’s laser diode only emitted invisible infrared light. “Bob beat me to the first laser out of a semiconductor, but you needed a snooperscope to see the light,” Holonyak says, referring to a type of night vision telescope. He kept tinkering with his semiconducting crystals and made them emit visible red light a few months after Hall’s breakthrough. “Nobody could get the photons out of the semiconductor crystals,” he says. “But we used a process called stimulated emission to get them out. We knew that in 1962, and Bob is the next person I would have given the Nobel Prize.”
Hall retired from GE and Holonyak left the company in 1963, shortly after his discovery. He started teaching electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, where he remains today as professor emeritus.
In the fall of 2012, on the 50th anniversary of his invention, GE Reports visited Holonyak at the university and made a short film (above) about his discovery. We also interviewed Bob Hall. Take a look.
Over the last several weeks, crews at GE Aviation’s flight test base in Victorville, CA, at the edge of the Mojave Desert, installed a next-generation jet engine with ceramic components and 3-D printed parts to the wing of a modified Boeing 747, and readied it for its maiden flight. The engine, called LEAP, successfully took to the skies on Monday.
The LEAP engine was developed by CFM International, a joint venture between GE and France’s Snecma (Safran). The engine’s unique design and materials make it 15 percent more fuel efficient than comparable CFM engines already powering thousands of Boeing and Airbus planes. It is also lighter, quieter and produces fewer emissions. CFM estimates that the LEAP can save an airline as much as $1.6 million in fuel costs per plane per year.
There are three versions of the jet engine: the LEAP-1A for the new Airbus 320neo passenger jets, the LEAP-1B for Boeing’s 737MAX aircraft, and the LEAP-1C for China’s COMAC C919 planes.
The first LEAP flew on Monday over the Mojave Desert.
The LEAP is the bestselling family of jet engines in GE history. CFM has received more than $100 billion in orders (U.S. list price) from airlines like United, Air Asia, American Airlines and easyJet. They will use them on single-aisle aircraft, the fastest growing market in commercial aviation. A recent Boeing study projected that plane manufacturers will deliver more 23,000 single-aisle planes over the next 20 years. That’s almost 70 percent of all commercial plane deliveries estimated over the period.
The first test flight lasted three hours and CFM said in a statement that the engine “behaved well and completed multiple aeromechanical test points at various altitudes.” The company said that over the next several weeks, the engine will complete a comprehensive test schedule that will measure engine performance, operability, stall margin and acoustics.
"The LEAP engine behaved like a real veteran as we took it through its aerodynamic clearance points," said chief test pilot Steven Crane.
The flight was part of the most extensive certification program in CFM’s history, which includes several dozen ground-based and flight test engines. The LEAP-1A is scheduled to enter service in 2016, the LEAP-1B the year after, and the LEAP-1C in 2018.
Dave Bartlett is a data scientist who spends much of his time sifting through gigabytes of data and seeking useful bits of information. But on his best days, he digs up treasures he hasn’t even been looking for.
Earlier this year, Bartlett, who is the chief technology officer at GE Aviation, and his team discovered that jet engines flying between certain pairs of cities in the Middle East and Asia performed differently than identical engines serving on other routes. “We looked deeper at the data coming in and saw that the engines experienced different wear patterns,” Bartlett says. “We started seeing correlations and patterns involving air quality, the weather and pilot behavior. This finding gave us new clues in why it was happening and possible courses of action to manage it.”
Bartlett and the team can gain such insights because of Predix, a powerful new software platform GE developed specifically to connect people, data and machines over the Industrial Internet. The company just announced that it will open Predix to other software developers.
Bartlett is in New York today to attend GE’s Minds + Machines conference (you can watch a Livestream the bottom of the page). He talked to GE Reports editor Tomas Kellner about Predix, the Industrial Internet, and the value of big data.
Tomas Kellner: I want to start by asking about the Predix platform, but first: I’m getting caught up on the word “platform.” What does it mean in the software context?
Dave Bartlett: Let’s start with a train platform, which is a useful analogy. It’s a safe, secure, efficient and reusable structure that allows you to easily board a train. It’s also very scalable, allowing a single rider as well as a crowd to get on and off. It also provides other services. It has kiosks where you can buy a ticket, a cup of coffee and a paper. When I lived in New York, there was one platform I used where I could even drop off and pick up my dry cleaning. Without a platform, getting on the train would be pretty dangerous and it would require a lot of effort. It would be different every time, depending on the speed of the train and whether there is someone waiting to pull you up.
TK: Let’s ride that train to the tech world. What does a technology platform look like?
DB: It is similar in many ways. One platform that everybody can relate to is the smartphone. You can use it as a base to develop new applications or to download new applications for personal use. You can use it to make a call, but you can also use it to do many other things safely and efficiently, like surf the internet, take photos, listen to your favorite music or check email. Many of these apps are like that dry cleaning kiosk. They provide a valuable service that makes people more efficient.
TK: Can you take me from a smartphone to Predix?
DB: Predix is also a technology platform, not deployed on a phone that you hold in your hand, but rather behind the closed doors of a data center connected to data lakes and other forms of big data storage. Like Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS operating systems, it has a set of software services that help developers quickly build apps for the industrial internet.
You can also deploy Predix in the cloud to make it more widely accessible and available. There’s even a version that can run on machines like jet engines, gas turbines, and locomotives. But it’s all there to do the same thing - to run apps that allow us to do big data analytics, monitor machines remotely and have them ‘talk’ to each other. Like the cement train platform, it provides a stable and scalable way to quickly develop and deploy new applications.
TK: Still, do we really need Predix?
DB: Well, theoretically I guess not, but good luck jumping on a moving train! The software world works pretty much the same way. If you don’t have a platform, every time you want to write software, you have to start from scratch, and create and invent everything. That’s not a very efficient or responsible way to do business. Many of the apps for the Industrial Internet share common base services or features to manage how they perform work and share data. Predix gives you those services and that translates to speed to market of new apps which means faster value for customers.
TK: Predix is a big data software platform and GE has been a big iron company. Why did GE start developing software?
DB: Software is key to transforming big iron into brilliant iron. Lots of companies can do analytical work. What makes GE so unique is our installed machine base with the deep domain expertise of the engineers that built them, tightly coupled with a global network of data scientists. To do this right, you first need the physics-based analytical skills of the engineers who understand why something is happening. Secondly, you need the data scientists who, like miners of minerals, go deep down into the lode of data looking for valuable things to surface. They look for patterns and connections that we may have not even thought about. It’s this marriage of the physical and digital that creates the most powerful result.
TK: I’ve heard data scientists talk about the marriage of operational technology and information technology, or OT and IT. What is it and why is it important?
DB: Most people are familiar with IT, which is a big family that includes desktops, laptops, servers, phones and many other devices. OT, on the other hand, are the machines, the jet engines, MRIs and turbines that can now communicate data over the Industrial Internet. Bringing these two worlds together is analogous to the union of data scientists and engineers. We need OT and IT together to monitor the machines remotely, detect and adapt to changes, and predict future behavior.
TK: Predix can predict the future?
DB: In a way, yes. It seems like ancient history, but not too long ago, if you wanted to make a phone call, you actually had to find a physical phone handset wired to the wall. A similar situation still applies in many factories. When you want to check on a machine, you have to go where it’s located and watch it run and maybe do some diagnostics right there. But our implementation of the Industrial Internet frees us from that just as smart phones moved us away from the old limited telephony models.
Predix is a game changer. It gives us the intelligence to tell us what’s going on in a machine, whether something’s wrong, and what we can do about it before it affects our customers. Like doctors, we can also use analytics to predict when they might fall ill in the future.
Let me give you an example. Like any other machine, a jet engine collects dirt and corrosion and you have to wash it on a periodic basis. This is a big deal since a water wash can increase its efficiency anywhere from 1 to 18 percent. But here’s the rub. If you do it too often, it becomes unnecessarily expensive. If you wait too long, you burn more fuel and wear your parts more, which will also cost you. But with a Predix app, you can tell precisely when its’ the right time to schedule your next water wash of your engine.
We call these apps Predictivity solutions. They run on Predix just like apps run on a smartphone in a secure, scalable and consistent way. Predictivity apps can also keep an eye on locomotives, collect data about heat and vibration, and predict when you need to perform maintenance or replace parts. We have many solutions like this across all GE industries. In fact, this year we are on track to drive over $1 billion of value from them.
TK: If Predix provides such a good value to GE, why is GE opening it up?
DB: A software platform becomes more powerful the more people use it. GE will continue using it, but making it available externally will also allow our customers and business partners to write their own software and become more successful. We want Predix to become the Android or iOS of the machine world. We want it to become the language of the Industrial Internet.
TK: What’s next on your agenda?
DB: The opportunities for solutions based on Predix are almost unlimited. They will enable our teams in field to more effectively capture data from devices such as borescopes, wearables, and new robotics, as they are deployed. They will unlock new insights and value from data to help our customers be more profitable and provide better customer service, and they will help us get the most out of our supply chains and industrial assets.
The Predix train to better business value and customer outcomes is well on its way. Announcing this week that the platform is open to the public is our way of shouting, All Aboard!
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Nobody wants to be late. But at a busy airline hub like Atlanta or Chicago, even a brief delay in aircraft arrival can result in missed connections and cascade into a major inconvenience. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that this year alone, more than 750,000 flights operated by U.S. carriers arrived late and over 25 percent of flights were delayed by 15 minutes or more or cancelled. The estimated economic costs of these delays, both for airlines and for passengers, are in the billions.
Two years ago, GE Aviation partnered with the consulting firm Accenture to tackle the problem. Their joint-venture, called Taleris, developed a software system for the Industrial Internet that feeds on data coming from sensors on planes, air traffic, weather and other sources. It could help a large domestic airline prevent 1,000 delayed departures and cancellations and help more than 165,000 passengers get to their destination on time. “A connected device or a machine becomes something entirely new, because interconnectedness opens up entirely new dimensions,” writes GE Chief Economist Marco Annunziata in his new report on the topic. “Combining the digital and the physical accelerates value creation in a way that we are only beginning to understand. GE is building a new kind of industrial company.”
GIF credits: GE’s Datalandia series.
Over the last three years, GE has invested more than $1 billion in software and analytics, and opened up software centers in the U.S., Europe and China.
Annunziata says that GE is in a unique position to connect people, data and machines because its deep engineering expertise, the size of its industrial base, and Predix, its software platform for the Industrial Internet. There are some 28,000 GE jet engines in service, over 21,000 GE locomotives and 1.4 million GE healthcare devices like MRIs and CT scanners.
That’s a lot of machines, which is particularly useful when they get connected and trigger the network effect, also known as Metcalfe’s Law. In the 1980s, the American electrical engineer Robert Metcalfe stated that the value of a telecom network grows exponentially with the square of the number of connected users. He was talking about phones, but the law applies to computers, smartphones and industrial machines as well. “The simultaneous development of interconnected hardware and an enabling software platform under the same roof redefines the very nature of a company,” Annunziata writes. He says that the union of “physical and digital” is transforming GE “from a traditional industrial equipment producer to a full-range customer solutions provider, able to maximize customer outcomes and profitability.”
Click on the infographic to explore the growth of the Industrial Internet.
Predix is already supporting dozens of applications ranging from railways to healthcare, where doctors can use it to track equipment, manage wait times, monitor medicine dosage and better utilize staff.
Customers like Air Asia, Norfolk Southern and Columbia Pipeline Group have embraced the software as a tool that will help them save costs and make them more competitive. Annunziata writes that GE is on track to earn $1 billion this year from software applications, and that “digital-driven industries” will enjoy faster growth and higher margins than traditional industrial players.
GE is also applying big data at home. Annunziata writes that the company is connecting research, design, engineering and manufacturing to speed up the development of new products and respond to customer demand faster. GE calls this approach the Brilliant Factory.
“We have argued in previous works that the Industrial Internet and advanced manufacturing are not only transforming individual machines and systems, but they are also changing the nature of economies of scale, transforming the economic landscape and blurring the lines between manufacturing and services,” Annunziata writes. “In a similar way, industrial companies that combine the digital and the physical become fundamentally different in the way they operate and in the value they can provide to customers and shareholders.”
You can find the full version of Annunziata’s paper here.
When the power goes out, electricity providers are often left in the dark along with their customers. That status quo is what’s keeping Naresh Acharya up at night. He is now planning to use some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers to help keep the lights on, while also allowing wind farms to produce more electricity and making the electrical grid more efficient.
“Right now, the power grid isn’t transparent,” Acharya says. “Grid operators don’t always see when something happens. We want to help them maximize the use of their assets in real time.”
GIF credits: GE’s Datalandia series.
Acharya works as a senior engineer at GE’s global research labs in upstate New York. He says that in order to keep their systems safe, grid operators sit down every few months to figure out the maximum amount of power that can run safely through their systems in the worst conditions.
“These analytical tools have been in place for decades and they are very rigid,” Acharya says. “The worst-case scenario may apply to just a few days during a heat wave or a winter storm. This type of thinking is leading us to overdesign and overbuild the grid. With real-time knowledge, we could be getting much more out of our assets without building out a new grid.”
Acharya’s team at GE Global Research is now working with GE Energy Consulting, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Southern California Edison on a software system that could simulate and control the grid in real time.
Many of the tools currently used by utilities to manage the grid were designed for computers with a single processing core, like traditional PCs. As a result, they cannot take advantage of high-performance computers with multiple cores, which are available today. “Utilities can monitor the health of the power grid, but the problem is that anything can go wrong at any time,” Acharya says. “Today, we can’t find out quickly what are the best actions to take.”
The team is building grid analytics tools for powerful multi-core computers, like the machines at the national laboratory, that can carry out multiple tasks at a time. This method, called parallel processing, allows the team to screen data coming over the Industrial Internet, from sensors, generators and other equipment distributed along hundreds of miles of high voltage wires that make up the grid. The software is able to extract from the data deluge a few dozen key signals that have the biggest impact on the stability of grid. “It tells us where we might have a weak spot,” Acharya says.
Grid operators will be able to use the system to quickly answer questions like which generators should increase or decrease output, and what is the optimum amount of electricity that should be flowing through the grid at a given time.
The team is already able to apply parallel processing to existing GE power management software developed by GE Energy Consulting, and to speed it up. The scientists will now use their findings to develop new software specifically designed for parallel processing.
The long term goal is to help utilities maximize the use of their systems. This, in turn, could increase the amount of renewable power flowing through the grid.
Some wind farms, for example, turn the blades of their turbines out of the wind when the grid cannot take any more electricity. “The new system will help utilities to predict outages and fix equipment before it breaks down,” Acharya says. “But it will also help them bundle in more renewable power from wind and solar farms without building new grids, which is becoming harder to do.”
“Crickets”, says Dominic von Terzi, “You can’t imagine the noise they make.” He’s talking about an unexpected hurdle his team from GE’s European Research Center in Munich ran into while looking for ways to make wind farms work better and quieter.
Von Terzi leads a team of researchers from the center’s Aerodynamics & Acoustics Laboratory. They recently spent two weeks using sophisticated algorithms and software to precisely measure the noise produced by a Kansas wind farm. “Actually the loudest noise measured from this farm came from the crickets,” von Terzi says.
The crickets were so loud they forced the team to review their calculations and re-calibrate equipment to better differentiate between cricket chirping and wind turbine noise.
The European Research Centre in Munich, which opened 10 years ago this week, has developed a specialty in these field trials. They have given researchers and engineers key insights into how to build better wind farms.
Several years ago, for example, a field experiment at a wind farm in the Netherlands showed that adjusting the activity of upstream turbines could optimize and improve the performance of downstream turbines.
The result led to a radical shift in how researchers viewed wind farms. It pushed them away from “turbine centric” thinking - measuring individual wind turbines - to a more holistic “wind park” approach. “The focus has changed,” von Terzi says. “Before it was about the performance of individual wind turbines in a given location, now it is about overall farm output.”
The research has already helped GE launch two new wind farm applications. They help customers recapture lost power output caused by wakes behind wind turbines, and manage farm noise.
Von Terzi and other GE scientists are studying changes in wind flow after it passes through a wind turbine. Image credit: Graham Brooks
As turbine technology evolves, field trials are becoming more necessary and frequent, von Terzi says. New wind turbines will be equipped with software, sensors and analytics that will allow them to work better with each other and with other streams of data, like weather forecasts.
Von Terzi’s lab is working closely with Technical University of Munich, which has an academic chair in wind power engineering and regularly hosts major academic conferences on the topic. “We have done a lot of bilateral work with the university particularly in the area of algorithms,” von Terzi says. “It’s about making best use of the entire eco-system between the turbine, farm, location, grid and aspects such as weather conditions to get the best efficiencies and operational performance.”
On the Farm: GE Turbines at Tehachapi, Calif. Image credit: GE Power & Water Top image: A GE wind turbine at a wind farm outside, Izmir, Turkey
Besides Kansas, Von Terzi’s team has recently been twice to a farm in Illinois and ran tests in other parts of the US and Europe. “We will often be in a location for a few weeks or go install our equipment and look at the results remotely over a period” of time, he says.
It turns outs that crickets are not the only troublemakers. “Keeping cows fenced off from the cables, all sorts of things like this happen in the field,” von Terzi says. ”It’s all a world away from a high tech research lab.”
Last summer, GE invited the DJ and musician Matthew Dear to listen to the sounds of jet engines, MRIs and turbines, and turn them into a dance track. In September, the company brought the dancer and Internet sensation Marquese Scott to its bootcamp for jet engines in Peebles, Ohio, and asked him to choreograph a dance performance to the track, called Drop Science. His stage was the cavernous cell where GE tests the GEnx, the LEAP and other jet engines.
Marquese was dancing in silver Mission “space sneakers” launched by GE in July to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. GE developed the silicon rubber for Buzz Aldrin’s and Neil Armstrong’s original moon boots. Likewise, the Mission sneakers use carbon fiber fabric, hydrophobic coating and other advanced materials. Take a look.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the state’s appetite for electricity. No other state consumes more power, a whopping 10 percent of the national total.
All that demand, however, is straining the local grid. Large power plant owners in Texas have been raising alarm about the possibility of regular rolling blackouts unless the state overhauls its wholesale electric market and adds capacity. But one independent power developer just found a solution: a 20-cylinder gas engine the size of a school bus made by GE in the picturesque Alpine town of Jenbach in Austria.
The J920 is the size of a school bus. Image credit: GE Distributed Power
The engine, called the J920 FleXtra, is the largest and most efficient gas engine GE has ever built. It is making its American debut in Texas. Power developer Sky Global Partners will use six of them to supply 50 megawatts of peak power to the San Bernard Electric Cooperative. The co-op has more than 17,000 members spread across seven counties in South-Central Texas.
The engine is so nimble that it can ramp up to full power in just 5 minutes when preheated. That’s warp speed for utilities. It can help stabilize the grid when demand peaks and the price of electricity shoots up, like during a heat wave.
“This project is the center of our power strategy going forward,” said Billy Marricle, president and general manager of San Bernard. “It provides us with unprecedented system security, protection from wholesale price spikes and the opportunity to increase the value of our cooperative.”
The engine is equipped with turbocharging technology similar to systems used by Formula 1 cars. It helps the engine convert nearly half of the energy from burning gas to electricity. Its combined power and thermal efficiency can reach a chart-topping 90 percent or more.
Six Jenbacher engines will generate 50 megawatts of peak power for 17,000 customers. Photo credits: GE Distributed Power
The world’s first J920 FleXtra has been commercially operating in Rosenheim, Bavaria, since 2013. It’s helping the town meet the strict demands of Energiewende, Germany’s power overhaul program. Its goal is to generate 80 percent of all electricity from renewable resources by 2050.