GE is taking manufacturing back to America. In the past two months, the company brought two new appliance plants to Kentucky, and plans to invest over $1 billion to open more. But how do you make things that matter, and where do you point your business so that it is in the right place in 10 years? Innovators, and technology and design experts, including GE’s Beth Comstock, Bill Ruh, and Christine Furstoss, discussed these and other big ideas in San Francisco this week at an event organized by GE and the magazine Monocle.
“From a GE perspective, what intrigues us is this grand mash-up of advanced technologies and craftsmanship,” said Comstock, who serves as GE’s chief marketing officer and opened the event with Monocle founder Tyler Brûlé. Comstock was talking about the “Maker Movement,” which brings together craftsmanship, new technologies like 3D printing, and new class tools like lasers.
Mark Hatch, CEO of the “Maker-Space” TechShop, said that the combination of the software and cheap, powerful and easy to use machining tools is “completely remaking the Industrial Revolution.” He said that “the making of things, being creative, is fundamental to what it means being human, and to be able to have a tangible outcome at the end of the day has a deep satisfaction.”
Comstock and Bill Ruh, GE’s vice president of software, also talked about the Internet of Things that allows machines, like locomotives, aircraft engines and power plants, exchange data and boost efficiency. “When you look at Facebook and Twitter, the idea that things are going to be part of that, I believe is our future,” said Ruh. “That’s where we think it really does get exciting. I love the convergence of physical and digital.” GE’s MyEngines system, already acts like a Facebook for jet engines. Mechanics see status updates from particular engines, optimize maintenance schedules, and minimize downtime.
Looking ahead, Jeff Jordan, general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said that “the thing you most worry about is the disruptor disrupting you, rather than incumbents attacking you from the side. It’s completely in your rearview mirror. You are looking for the startups that are going to come with different idea or a different take.”
Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media stressed the importance of engaging people with their work. “People who love what they do, spend the time and acquire the skills more than people who are just going after it to make a living,” he said. “If you look at so many industries, it begins with people having fun.”