On a clear day in July 1966, New York Central Railroad engineer Don Wetzel and his team boarded a specially modified Buddliner railcar, No. M-497. Bolted to the roof above them were two GE J47-19 jet engines. Wetzel throttled up the engines and tore down a length of track from Butler, IN, to Stryker, Ohio, at almost 184 mph, piloting the experimental vehicle into the record books as the world’s fastest jet-powered train. Today, the M-497 is still America’s fastest train and the world’s speediest self-propelled locomotive (see video at the bottom of the page).
Don Wetzel stays close to trains.
In many ways, Wetzel is an unlikely hero. He was brought up by his aunt during the Depression in Cleveland, Ohio. His mother left town to run a restaurant in Buffalo, NY. His father was a truck driver for The Cleveland Press and an occasional bookie. On weekends, he would take Don on the streetcar to the train yards in the suburb of Linndale and let him run around. “One day, I was about eight, we climbed in the cab of a steam engine and they let me blow the whistle,” Wetzel says. “I was absolutely infatuated.”
Wetzel looks out of the cabin of his jet train.
Wetzel wasn’t a model student, but he loved to tinker in a shed behind his aunt’s house. When he was 16, he souped up a Whizzer motorized bicycle and gunned through the neighborhood at 55 mph. The bike was such a sensation that he was able to trade it for a 1933 Ford Coupe.
He quickly ripped off the front fenders, stenciled “Carol” - the name of his girlfriend – on the body, and turned it into a hotrod. Since he was the only senior with a car, he would sometimes take the nuns from the St. Michael School back to their convent. “The car had a stick shift and the first time it got lost in the skirts,” he chuckles. “Afterwards, the nuns did the shifting.”
Wetzel posing with his 1933 Ford coupe before he took the fenders off.
Wetzel joined the New York Central Railroad after a stint in the Marines. He signed up for a correspondence course in mathematics and physics and ended up working at the company’s research laboratory in Cleveland.
Wetzel as a Marine.
He was a pilot in the military and he quickly used his experience with jet engines, which were still fairly new at the time, to design a patented snow blower powered by a GE jet engine. From there, it was only a step to the jet-propelled train. “We wanted to prove that we could run trains faster over conventional rail and gather technical and operating data,” he says. “We didn’t think we were making history.”
When the Audax Group acquired Aavid Thermaloy, a top maker of heat sinks and cooling systems for everything from PCs to EVs, in late 2012, the private equity firm used a loan from GE Capital to close the transaction. Sounds like a plain vanilla financing deal, but it did not stop there.
A year later, GE licensed to Aavid some of the most advanced heat management technology from its research labs. It could give equipment makers an edge in producing tablets and laptops that are wafer-thin, whisper quiet and drain less power from batteries. “Our relationship with clients does not revolve just around money,” says Rod Bollins managing director at GE Antares Capital. “Technology and research are part of a plan that helps our clients generate new revenue. Our lending competitors cannot bring that to the table.”
Top Image: GE Licensed to Aavid a technology called dual cool jet (DCJ). The cooling device has no moving parts and works like tiny bellows. It uses electricity to generate rapid pumping and sucking action. It was originally developed for moving air inside jet engines.
The Aavid deal illustrates GE’s strategy to build a smaller, more focused financial arm wrapped around GE’s industrial core and research. It also explains the company’s plan for a staged exit of the North American retail finance business, beginning with taking Synchrony Financial public, today. “This is a good transaction for GE shareholders,” said Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO. “The IPO furthers our strategy to position GE Capital as a smaller, safer, specialty finance leader, and achieve 75 percent of our earnings from our Industrial businesses by 2016. With a strong, competitively advantaged set of Industrial businesses and a valuable, commercially-focused financial services business, we believe our portfolio will deliver valuable growth for shareholders for years to come.”
Already some 75 companies are part of the new program, which straddles GE Capital and GE Global Research. They are mid-size businesses owned by private equity clients like Audax. “It’s a great relationship builder for us,” Bollins says. “It helps our clients grow and GE gets royalties from markets where we don’t normally sell.”
Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet's SciLifeLab in Stockholm recently found almost a hundred new protein-coding regions in parts of the human genome that previously seemed to lack any purpose and were referred to as junk DNA. Some of these genes are so-called pseudogenes, which may be linked to cancer.
“Our study challenges the old theory that pseudogenes don’t code for proteins,” said Janne Lehtiö, associate professor at the institute and study leader. "We had to develop both new experimental and bioinformatics methods to allow protein based gene detection, but when we had everything in place it felt like participating in a Jules Verne adventure inside the genome," Lehtiö said.
The methods used by Lehtiö’s team included a new DNA-mapping technology that is being developed by GE Healthcare’s Life Sciences unit.
Scientists have found about 21,000 human genes since they first decoded the complete human genome in 2000. These snippets of DNA are blueprints for large biological molecules called proteins.
Since proteins help regulate all living things - from viruses and bacteria to large organisms like humans - defective genes can lead to cancer, anemia, cystic fibrosis and many other serious diseases.
Genes make up just a few percent of the human genome. Most of the rest, which includes pseudogenes, lacks any known purpose. Scientists think that pseudogenes could be remnants of genes that lost their functions during evolution.
How proteins are made: DNA in the nucleus of this eukaryote cell is “read” by RNA polymerase. The process generates amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Ribosomes in the cytoplasm, the stuff that fills the cell, link amino acids into a strand. The strand then folds into a functional protein. Credit: Nicolle Rager, National Science Foundation
But Lehtiö’s team found evidence for close to 100 new protein-coding regions in the DNA junkyard. Many of the new proteins encoded by pseudogenes also could be traced in cancer cell lines. The scientists now plan to see whether these genes play a role in cancer and other diseases.
The Karolinska team used a prototype version of Immobiline DryStrip gels developed by GE Healthcare Life Sciences for their research. The technology allowed them to create detailed maps of gene expressions. “It’s like having a new high-resolution digital camera,” says Lotta Ljungqvist, head of research and development for bioprocess at GE’s Life Sciences unit.
The strips look like thin transparent plastic ribbons, about 10 inches long. Their surfaces are covered with proprietary high-resolution gel. “We can use this technology to detect the function on the junk DNA, observe the difference between healthy and diseased samples, and eventually find a way to treat diseases,” Ljungqvist says.
“Everybody was looking for genes, but now we are looking at what these genes actually mean. It gives us new understanding.”
Jose Fonollosa knows the language of machines better than many people know their mother tongue. Fonollosa, a professor at the Signal Theory and Communications Department of Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña in Barcelona, Spain, has spent two decades studying machine learning and speech recognition. In 2006, he was part of a team of researchers that devised a new way for machines to translate Spanish to English in the European Parliament.
But this spring, his fluency with speech recognition algorithms paid off in an entirely different way when he won the second round of the GE Flight Quest challenge. Fonollosa saw that there was a crossover between his specialty and making planes arrive on time.
GE calculated that if airlines could shorten each scheduled flight by just 10 miles, they could reduce annual fuel consumption by 360 million gallons.
Currently, the flight plans that set routes, speed and altitudes for passenger planes have one major flaw – it’s impossible to adjust them in real time during the flight. This means they can’t take account of constantly changing variables like wind, weather and airspace restraints. Fonollosa’s algorithms use national airspace data from Flight Stats to determine in real time the most efficient flight paths, speeds and altitudes.
“Basically, this algorithm examines all the possibilities to overcome obstacles at different heights and speeds,” Fonollosa told to the Spanish daily El Confidencial. ”It operates in a similar way to a traditional GPS, but since there are infinite possibilities, the key is working in a computationally optimal manner. That is the secret; being exhaustive but also efficient.”
GE organized the competition in partnership with the open Big Data community Kaggle and Alaska Airlines. The companies challenged data scientists to develop algorithms that could improve flight efficiency and reduce the number of delays. Fonollosa’s winning model turned out to be 12 percent more efficient when compared with data from actual flights. It could potentially save the industry $3 billion a year. “Jose really had an exceptional solution to the Quest,” says Dyan Finkhouse, director for open innovation and advanced manufacturing at GE.
GE is working on plans to test the algorithm and eventually build a solution that would help airlines to save fuel, reduce carbon emissions, and get planes to their destination on time. That’s a language that every traveler understands.
The crowd at the most recent Farnborough International Airshow could see the Red Arrows before they could hear them, a fast moving streak of crimson against the blue sky. Soon the elite Royal Air Force squadron screamed over their heads.
The Red Arrows, who came to Farnborough to celebrate their 50th anniversary, are the RAF’s official aerobatic display team and the U.K.’s answer to the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.
The Red Arrows in action. Image Credit: Ronnies Macdonald. Top Image: The Red Arrows sporting their 50th anniversary colors.
The team’s current aircraft of choice is the nimble single engine Hawk training jet from BAE Systems that can go as fast as 700 mph, just under the speed of sound. “Their Hawk T1 and T2 are the premier training aircraft in the British fleet and the Red Arrows can demonstrate its best qualities,” says Chris Hodson, the military program manager at GE Aviation’s composites and manufacturing plant in Hamble, U.K. “Everybody in the United Kingdom and the world wants to see the Red Arrows when they fly.”
But Hodson and his team also get to see the planes up close. The Hawk’s canopy, the forward-facing acrylic windscreen, and its 100-gallon external fuel tank are all built at the Hamble plant. “These products are very visible parts of the aircraft,” Hodson says. “You can see them at close quarters during their low level manoeuvers.”
The view from the cockpit of a Red Arrows Hawk TMK1. In addition to the canopy and windscreen, the Hawk holds cockpit displays and instruments, a heads-up display and mission management systems from GE Aviation units in Cheltenham U.K., and Grand Rapids, MI. Image Credit: U.K. Ministry of Defense.
Workers at the Hamble plant make canopy and windscreen assemblies by fitting cast and stretched acrylic over a metal canopy frame. The assembly is a complex part that includes a miniature detonating cord, which blows the canopy off the plane should the crew need to eject. It’s the one part of the vehicle the pilots hope they’ll never use.
The Hamble facility, which GE Aviation acquired in 2007, has been building parts for the Hawk and its predecessor, the Folland Gnat, since the Red Arrows formed in 1964. Hodson has been working on the Hawk since it first took flight 40 years ago in 1974. (Hamble also makes composite and metallic parts for the next-generation Airbus A350 and for the A380 double-decker.)
Red 9 flying a loop over the RAF’s base in Scampton, Lincolnshire, the home of the Red Arrows. GE makes the external tank attached to the belly of the Hawk jets. Image Credit: U.K. Ministry of Defense.
The Red Arrows are not the only ones to fly the Hawks. RAF pilots train with the latest generation of the plane before graduating to fighter jets. Some 18 military services around the world also use the aircraft.
The demand keeps the Hamble plant busy. “The Red Arrows promote the best of the RAF and of Britain’s aircraft industry and we are part of that legacy,” Hodson says. “That makes us very proud.”
There’s no shortage of red-hot ideas leaving GE labs in upstate New York, but nothing comes close to materials scientist’s Anant Setlur’s discovery. Working with a team of researchers at GE Lighting and in Europe, Setlur found and patented a way to produce a better red light.
Here’s why this is a breakthrough. A large part of how we see colors boils down to the spectrum of light emitted by the source. (Although light appears white, we can see its colored components corresponding to the particular wavelengths during a rainbow.)
Of these colors, the red has been the most elusive to produce. Deep red makes other colors like green and yellow more vivid. But to the human eye, it appears dim since it moves quickly to the invisible, infrared part of the spectrum. “For a long time, we had to choose between brightness and appearance,” Setlur says. The result was a compromise that yielded displays and screens with a broad red profile with enough brightness, but also washed out yellows, greens and oranges.
LED displays with PFS phosphor makes colors pop.
Setlur and his colleague at GE Lighting applied the Goldilocks principle and started looking for a red that was just right. They found clues in a material called potassium fluorosilicate (PFS). “This material looks like pure yellowish powder that does not do much, but when you dope it with manganese, it emits a beautiful narrow red line,” he says. “We were able to coax that manganese to do the heavy lifting for us.”
Setlur says that the new LED technology could “vastly improve” the color and crispness of LED and LCD displays for everything from smartphones and tablets to TV sets. “We were able to make LEDs emit the color red in a narrow band that makes everything look sharper and cleaner than the current state-of-art technology,” Setlur says. “It really makes the pictures pop.”
This yellowish potassium flourosilicate powder manufatured in GE labs was key to making a better red light. Top Image: PFS radiates clean red light under a UV lamp in the lab.
GE has already licensed the technology to Japan’s Sharp Corp. and Nichia Corp. Both companies are manufacturing and packaging LEDs containing the PFS phosphor material for use as LED backlights in a wide range of LCD display products. Several display companies have recently launched tablets, smartphones and large screen TV’s containing these LED devices supplied by the two licensees.
Says Setlur: “It took us a few years to get there but soon everyone will be able to see the light.”
Whether by choice or necessity, many Americans are moving to cities and living small in neighborhoods like downtown L.A. or Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. Home appliance designers are working hard to make sure modernity can move in with them.
The online design community FirstBuild recently launched a design challenge to develop a “micro kitchen,” the culinary equivalent of the Swiss Army knife that holds everything required to prepare a late night snack as well as a Thanksgiving feast. Today, it cut the ribbon on an open-design “microfactory” to produce it.
The microfactory will tap FirstBuild’s global, collaborative group of designers, fabricators and enthusiasts to crack engineering and design challenges. The plant’s small size will allow it to customize appliances through small-batch production and fast-track them to market. “FirstBuild will able to create, design, build and sell new innovations for the home faster than ever before,” says Venkat Venkatakrishnan, R&D director at GE Appliances.
Tomas Garces is changing a tool on the ShopBot CNC Router at FirstBuild, a micromanufacturing facility in Louisville, Ky.
But It’s not just the cool, young crowd that’s getting excited about small, smart and open-sourced appliances. Many empty-nested baby boomers are looking to scale down move into smaller, more efficient homes.
Lou Lenzi, who runs industrial design at GE Appliances, told Gizmodo that this “will have a huge impact on smaller living.” Says Lenzi: “It’s GE’s bet that they won’t want to lose any of the luxury or convenience they’ve had in their lives.”
Top image and above: FirstBuild’s micro kitchen concept.
Few products say ‘American’ more than the otherworldly curves of the silver Airstream trailer. Since the first one left the factory in the 1930s, it’s become part of the country’s design pantheon, along with the Coca Cola bottle, Converse sneakers, and Levi’s denim jeans.
But like most businesses, Airstream, a division of Thor Industries, went through a rough patch during the financial crisis of 2008. “We took a very hard hit,” says Airstream’s CEO Bob Wheeler. “The market shrunk by 60 percent and our situation was pretty typical.”
Airstream RVs, which can cost upwards of $70,000, are usually made to order. “Our business is very much based on dealer confidence,” Wheeler says. When discretionary spending disappeared, things started to looked dire.
But the wheels did not come off. Many Airstream dealers rely on GE Capital for inventory financing and the financial unit stuck by their side. “They are the oxygen to the industry,” Wheeler says. “They were an invaluable resource when the recession struck. They stayed while others left the business.”
Airstream’s production line in 1934.
Airstream pulled through the economic pot hole and its business has been booming since. Orders were up 50 percent last year and another 36 percent so far this year. The company has nearly tripled its workforce since 2008, from 158 to 460 employees. “We’ve had a fantastic run, no matter how you slice it,” he says.
Wheeler’s experience reflects the latest findings of the Middle Market Indicator, a survey of 1,000 executives like Wheeler from the 200,000 U.S. businesses with annual sales between $10 million and $1 billion. The results for the second quarter of 2014 show that the segment is bullish about its future growth prospects. “The U.S. middle market appears to have shrugged off the weak first quarter GDP results,” says Thomas A. Stewart, executive director of the National Center for the Middle Market, which published the results today.
An Airstream caravan. Photo Credit: Airstream
The executives’s confidence in the U.S. economy reached 68 percent during the second quarter, the highest point since the indicator launched in 2011.
The segment’s revenue grew 6.6 percent over the last 12 months, and more than two thirds of the surveyed companies expect their revenues to keep climbing over the next year. S&P 500 companies expanded their revenues by just 3.4 percent during the same period.
The Airstream International Signature Series RV from the inside. Photo Credit: Airstream
Job growth for mid-market firms is looking promising as well. Employment within the sector increased by 3.2 percent over the past 12 months, adding an estimated 750,000 jobs. If mid-market companies deliver on projected job growth of 3.3 percent, the sector will create 59 percent of all new jobs in 2014. (Take a look at our infographics for details.)
The National Center for the Middle Market was founded as a partnership between Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business and GE Capital in 2011. Along with producing the quarterly MMI reports, the Center also funds research in areas such as globalization and innovation.
There’s more than one way to get energy out of natural gas. For decades, one of the most promising methods – and also most difficult to pull off ‑ has been the fuel cell.
A fuel cell works like a battery, using a simple chemical reaction to provide energy. In fuel cells, this reaction involves hydrogen molecules abundant in natural gas and oxygen from ordinary air.
It sounds easy enough, but the process is full of pitfalls. Car companies, for example, have tried to make fuel cells work as a replacement for the internal combustion engine for more 20 years without commercial success.
But scientists in GE labs recently cracked an important conundrum involving one iteration of the technology called solid oxide fuel cell, or SOFC. The breakthrough allowed the company to start building a new pilot fuel cell manufacturing and development facility in upstate New York. The resulting technology could soon start producing electricity around the world.
The new system’s power generation efficiency can reach an unprecedented 65 percent. Overall efficiency can grow to 95 percent when the system is configured to capture waste heat produced by the process. The basic configuration of the system can generate between 1 to 10 megawatts of power.
Unlike other systems, the new fuel cell is using stainless steel in place of platinum and rare metals.“The cost challenges associated with the technology have stumped a lot of people for a long time,” says Johanna Wellington, advanced technology leader at GE Global Research and the head of GE’s fuel cell business. “But we made it work, and we made it work economically. It’s a game-changer.”
Wellington says that the fuel cell, which received financial backing from GE’s ecomagination program, can generate electricity at any location with a supply of natural gas. It can get going quickly, does not need new transmission lines and produces lower emissions than conventional power plants.
The fuel cell has no moving parts. The guts of the cell look like a stack of cookies. Each cookie is a metallic plate with a maze of flow channels cut into the bottom and a square of black “icing” on top.
Wellington, left, inside GE’s new fuel cell facility. Top image: Manufacturing equipment inside the new facility.
That icing is the core of the breakthrough that makes the solid oxide fuel cell work. It contains three layers made from special ceramic materials: the cathode on top, the anode on the bottom, and a dense layer of solid oxide electrolyte in the middle.
GE is using additive thermal spray technology originally developed to protect parts working inside jet engines to deposit the anode and the electrolyte. The cathode is screen-printed on the tile. “GE Global Research is the intellectual horsepower behind this technology,” says GE materials scientist Kristen Brosnan. “Our materials are easy to apply, can handle large temperature swings and last a long time.”
The system generates electricity by feeding hydrogen-rich fuel heated to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit through the channels cut under the anode. Equally hot air travels over the cathode. An electrochemical reaction mediated by the solid electrolyte between the hydrogen in the fuel and the oxygen in the air generates electricity, water, heat and synthetic gas, or syngas.
This syngas, which contains residual hydrogen, still holds enough energy for more power generation. Wellington’s team feeds the syngas to a Jenbacher engine attached to the fuel cell to generate additional electricity, bringing the electrical efficiency to 65 percent.
The fuel cell business grew out of GE Global Research, but it now operates as an independent unit with its own board of directors. GE is building a new pilot development and manufacturing facility near Saratoga Springs, NY, that will be manufacturing the cells. The pilot facility is already filling up with robotic thermal spray equipment, fuel cell test stations, screen printers and towering bulk gas storage tanks.
Wellington runs her pilot facility with a startup mentality. “We have all of the speed, agility and focus of a small start-up while leveraging the strength of a big company” she says.
Until recently, few engineers dared to put a part made from anything other than metal inside a spinning turbine. But Krishan Luthra had his eye on ceramics. “I thought it would be the Holy Grail if we could make it work,” says Luthra, chief scientist for manufacturing and materials technologies at GE’s lab headquarters in upstate New York. “We could get more power and savings out of our engines. It could really make an impact.”
Ceramics are strong, light and heat resistant. These traits that are high on the wish list of many industrial designers. But the kitchen variety has one fatal flaw. “When you hit it with another object, it fails catastrophically,” Luthra says.
But Luthra was not deterred. He and his team partnered with the Department of Energy and started studying a promising new family of ceramic materials called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). One group in particular retained all the good qualities and it was tough, too.
Luthra’s team flung a steel ball flying at 150 mph at their ceramic composite to prove that it would not shatter like a plate. (Chipping was okay since it did not release large pieces of debris into a turbine.) Top image: Brain research is on the Next List.
Starting in the 1990s, it took Luthra’s team two decades to come up with a version of the material good enough for mass production. The return on their research, however, is already massive.
CMCs have found applications in the hot section of the latest gas turbines and the next-generation LEAP jet engine. Although the engine won’t enter service until next year, it is already the bestselling engine in GE history with $96 billion (U.S. list price) in orders. “We took the long view and the high potential payoff justified the high risk,” Luthra says. (The LEAP was developed by CFM International, a joint-venture between GE Aviation and France’s Snecma.)
There are other new technologies leaving GE’s labs that could help define the future. One is a new fuel cell that could free people and businesses from being connected to the grid and revolutionize localized power generation.
The fuel cell is part of the “Next List,” a set of six guiding principles for GE research and development in the near future. They include mind mapping, extreme machines, the Industrial Internet and data analysis, as well as a new generation of “super materials” that builds on the legacy of Luthra’s project (see infographic).
GE spends 5 percent of its revenue on R&D, and employs more than 2,000 scientists at eight research centers around the world. The ninth will open in Brazil this fall. “Just like we did with CMCs, we are ready to solve the world’s toughest problems,” says Mark Little, senior vice president who directs GE Global Research. “We are focused on what’s next.”
Little also talked to Re/code about the list last week.
Subscribe to GE Reports to keep track of the latest research and look for stories tagged Next List.
On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission’s lunar module carrying astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. touched down on the surface of the moon.
Over the next six hours the pair checked the lander’s systems, ate a meal of four bacon squares, three sugar cookies, peaches, pineapple-grapefruit drink and coffee, and rested. Then at 10:39:33 pm EDT, Armstrong popped the hatch, climbed down the lander’s ladder and uttered one of history’s most famous sentences into his mouthpiece: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Top Image: Buzz Aldrin is wearing The Missions sneakers.
He made that leap in boots made from a special silicon rubber developed by GE. (The company also supplied the Apollo missions with other technology. See here.)
GE, which is at its core a materials science and engineering company, decided to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first manned moon landing by launching a limited edition of a moon boot sneaker called The Missions. The company also invited Aldrin to take over GE’s SnapChat account on Wednesday and talk about his trip to the moon and back.
Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. Credit: NASA
They were wearing boots from a silicon rubber developed by GE. Image Credit: NASA
GE worked on the sneaker with the shoe maker Android Homme and the website JackThreads. The sneaker has parts made from lightweight carbon fiber used for jet engine components and sports a hydrophobic coating similar to materials that prevent ice from forming on wind turbine blades.
The moon boot sneaker will go on sale at JackThreads.com on Sunday, July 20th at 4:18 pm, the time the Apollo 11 lunar module arrived on the moon. Only 100 pairs will be sold, priced at $196.90, to commemorate the anniversary.
Follow @GE_Reports on Twitter for more pictures, videos and stories.
GE reported a double-digit increase in industrial profits for the first half of 2014 today. The growth has been fueled by the company’s long-term strategy to build up its industrial units, shrink its financial services business and grow investment in new technologies and research.
The company’s R&D spending, currently at 5 percent of revenues, in advanced technologies like Tier 4 locomotives, gas turbines, new materials and next-generation jet engines added to GE’s record $246 billion backlog, up $23 billion compared to the same period a year ago. This week, for example, GE and CFM International, a joint venture between France’s Snecma (Safran) and GE Aviation, announced more than $36 billion in wins for jet engines, services and other technology at the Farnborough airshow.
Images: GE manufactures, tests and repairs heavy duty gas turbines at its plant in Greenville, SC. Photography by @seenewphoto.
GE’s successful bid for the power and grid units of the French industrial company Alstom will help accelerate the company’s strategy to achieve 75 percent of earnings from its industrial businesses by 2016. The offer was accepted by the Alstom board of directors and approved by the French government in June. The deal is expected to close in 2015.
GE’s industrial revenues grew 7 percent in the last quarter. The company has benefited from an improving global economy and a rising demand for industrial goods in emerging markets. “GE had a good performance in the quarter and in the first half of 2014, with double-digit industrial segment profit growth, 30 basis points of margin expansion, and nearly $6 billion returned to shareholders,” said Jeff Immelt, GE Chairman and CEO. “The environment continues to be generally positive.”
GE’s financial arm, GE Capital, kept shrinking the size of its non-core portfolio during the second quarter.
The Middle East is quickly becoming a new global aviation hub with big plans for the future. Nowhere are those plans better visible than at giant airshows like the one in Farnborough, UK, which finished this week. Emirates and Qatar Airlines, for example, finalized multi-billion orders for Boeing’s next-generation 777X long-haul planes, building on a momentum from last year’s Dubai airshow.
The growth is giving a nice lift to GE’s aviation business, which is developing new GE9X jet engines for the 777X aircraft. A single service order from Emirates added $13 billion to GE’s Farnborough deal tally, which exceeded $36 billion. Combined with $40 billion in new business from Dubai in 2013 and other deals, GE’s aviation unit now sits on a huge $126 backlog in engines and equipment. Take a look at our infographic illustrating GE’s Farnborough dealmaking.
Top Image: Qatar’s Dreamliners are powered by a pair of GEnx engines. Photo Credit: Adam Senatori
Power management chips are like second-born kids. They do a lot of hard work, but don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
Like microchips inside computers and laptops, power management chips are pieces of semiconductor as small as a cornflake. But they move electricity (watts), not data (bytes). Their circuits help extend battery life and reduce power consumption for a broad range of devices: from smartphones and tablets to wind farms, brain scanners and jet engines. They can make machines smaller, lighter, and more efficient.
The best ones, made from a material called silicon carbide, can work at temperatures that are twice the boiling point of water where ordinary silicon chips falter. They handle megawatts of power, an order of magnitude higher than silicon, and operate at much higher frequencies, which makes them much more efficient.
But until recently, they’ve also been very difficult to make.
Manufacturing a silicon carbide chip requires as many as 300 steps performed in a clean room, and companies have to negotiate pitfalls produced by the complicated interactions between silicon, carbon and metal oxides. (The full name of the device is silicon carbide metal-oxide semiconductor field effect transistor, or SiC MOSFET.)
But scientists at GE Global Research have figured out how to bypass silicon carbide’s limitations and came up with new ways to make power management chips that could revolutionize power electronics industry and bring in big savings for users. They will provide their technology and intellectual property valued at more than $100 million to a new power electronics manufacturing consortium in Albany, NY, announced today.
GE manufactures silicon carbide chips inside a clean room at it lab in Niskayuna, NY.
The research consortium, which includes GE, New York State, the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and other industry partners, will open a shared fabrication plant that will develop and produce silicon carbide power devices on six-inch wafers.
It may not sound like much, but for the power electronics industry this is a big deal. “This will dramatically open up silicon carbide applications,” says Danielle Merfeld, global technology director for electrical technologies and systems at GE Global Research. “We want people to come to New York and take advantage of the technology.”
Ljubisa Stevanovic, chief engineer for energy conversion at the GE lab’s advanced technology office, says that scaling up production from the current four-inch wafers to six inches will nearly triple the number of chips per wafer and reduce manufacturing costs by a factor of two. “This will be revolutionary,” he says. “We could soon compete with existing silicon chips on price with a better technology. Silicon carbide is more robust, requires much less cooling and can deliver cleaner power than ordinary silicon.”
GE plans to use the new fabrication plant to manufacture power management chips for its own machines ranging from oil and gas pumps to MRI scanners. The company will license its technology to other companies using the fab to bring products to market.
Merfeld and Stevanovic estimate that the chips could make trains, planes and automobiles run up to 10 percent more efficiently, reduce the energy footprint of datacenters by 5 percent, and improve the efficiency of wind and solar farms by more than 1 percent (our inforgraphic has more examples).
Says Merfeld: “This opens a design window that did not exist before.”
GE is taking mass production to a lofty new level. The company is pulling 3D printing out of the lab and installing it at the heart of the world’s first factory for printing jet engine fuel nozzles in Auburn, Ala.
The company has spent the last several years developing technologies ranging from data analysis to machine monitoring and preventive maintenance to get 3D printing ready for production prime time. “We need to have systems in place that anticipate a failure before it happens,” says Steve Rengers, principal engineer for additive manufacturing at GE Aviation. “This has not been done before.”
A high power laser prints fuel nozzles from layers of fine metal powder. Top Image: The nozzles supply fuel to the jet engine and keep it lit. Here a GEnx engine is powering through a water ingestion test.
When it opens in 2015, the Auburn plant will be producing fuel nozzles for the next-generation LEAP jet engine, which was developed by CFM International, a joint venture between France’s Snecma (Safran) and GE Aviation.
The nozzles are five times more durable than the previous model. 3D printing allowed engineers to design them as one part rather than 20 individual parts, reducing the number of brazes and welds that would have been necessary using traditional methods.
The 3D-printed nozzles are five times more durable than the previous model.
With more than 6,700 orders from 20 countries, adding up to nearly $96 billion (U.S. list price), the LEAP is GE Aviation’s best-selling engine in history. Over the weekend at the Farnborough Airshow, EasyJet and American Airlines placed new multi-billion orders for the engines. Emirates airlines signed a services agreement for the GE9X valued at $13 billion.
The nozzles pipe fuel into the jet engine’s combustion chamber.
The new plant will be using a 3D-printing method called direct metal laser melting (DMLM). The method grows parts directly from a 3D computer drawing by melting together thin layers of fine metal powder with a high-powered laser.
The machines deposit the powder in layers that are as thin as 20 microns– a fifth of the thickness of a human hair. They generate the whole part by adding one layer on top of another- sort of like rebuilding a loaf of bread from individual slices and joining them together.
Monitoring quality throughout the entire build process is crucial, since it can take days or weeks to print a part, depending on its complexity. “We are really pushing the envelope on process monitoring,” Rengers says. “By using sensors to collect data, we can determine the mechanical properties of the part.”
The $50 million plant will operate several additive manufacturing machines simultaneously to meet demand, while employing approximately 300 workers at full capacity.
Subscribe to GE Reports to follow news from the Farnborough airshow.