In the early 1990s, Harvard radiologist Dr. Ferenc Jolesz devised a clever way for killing brain tumors with a laser. But he ran into a hard obstacle: the skull.
Jolesz wanted to send a laser beam along a fiber optic strand inserted through a hole in the patient’s cranium. The beam’s intense heat would destroy the target. But he couldn’t see where the beam was going. “It was like trying to evaporate an apple seed inside a whole apple without cutting it,” Jolesz says. “If you don’t deliver enough heat, you will only dent the seed. If you deliver too much, you’ll make a big hole in the apple.”
Jolesz thought magnetic resonance imaging could help. The right MRI machine would allow doctors to see inside the body, monitor temperature changes inside the skull, and perform surgery at the same time.
One problem: a machine like this did not exist. Then as now, most MRI machines enclosed the patient in a tunnel at the center of the magnet. This design made brain surgery impossible.
But a GE executive who knew about Jolesz’s project introduced him to Trifon Laskaris, a medical imaging pioneer working at GE’s research labs in upstate New York. Laskaris listened to Jolesz and came back with a design that sliced the multi-ton MRI magnet in half. The redesigned machine looked like a double donut with enough space between the two rings to give the surgeon access to the patient. “We could image the patient and operate at the same time,” Jolesz says. “Not only laser procedures could be done, but all types of open surgeries.”
The first MRI-guided procedure was a biopsy that took place in 1994. Today, Laskaris’ design “is still the best configuration” for magnetic resonance imaging during surgery, Jolesz says. Doctors at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital have used it for more than 3,500 surgeries, including 1,400 craniotomies, brain biopsies and other neurosurgery procedures.
Laskaris received a dozen patents for his work on the double donut machine. He holds more than 200 U.S. patents, a feat matched only by a handful of GE inventors. “Trifon’s work speaks for itself,” says Mark Little, who runs GE Global Research. “Without his decades of dedicated research into superconducting magnets, MRI technology would not be where it is today, a mainstay of hospitals around the world.”
Trifon Laskaris redesigned the MRI machine and opened the way for MRI-guided brain surgery.
Laskaris says that he liked playing with gadgets since he was a small boy growing up in Athens, Greece. “My father was a high school teacher and my mother was a seamstress,” he says. “One day, her sewing machine broke down. I was just six years old, but I connected the pulleys, installed the little motor and put in the switches.”
Laskaris studied engineering at the National University of Athens, andcame to the U.S. and GE in 1966. “At the time there was a big U.S. space program and many American engineers were going to NASA,” Laskaris says. “That drained a lot of talent from the industry.”
At GE, Laskaris started developing software simulating cooling flows inside massive power generators for nuclear power plants. But he quickly moved to GE Global Research and started working on magnets and superconductivity, a physical phenomenon that drops electrical resistance to zero in extremely cold metals. “When you power up a supercooled magnet, it can produce the same magnetic field for a thousand years with no more power required. You can do so many cool things with it,” he laughs.
In 1983, when a team of GE engineers developed the world’s first full-body MRI, Laskaris helped design the machine’s 1.5 tesla magnet. “We started by imaging grapefruits,” he says. The magnet has since become the industry standard. There are some 22,000 1.5 tesla MRI machines working around the world, generating 9,000 medical images every hour, or 80 million scans per year.
But Laskaris, now 70 years old, is pushing on. Liquid helium used to cool down the magnets is becoming scarce and his team is working on designs that need just a fraction of the fluid. The first GE MRI machine 30 years ago used 5,000 liters of helium. His latest design in development is projected to need no more than ten.
GE and Pivotal said they built the first industrial-scale “data lake” system that could supercharge how companies store, manage and glean insight from information harvested from machines connected to the Industrial Internet.
The system, which has already tracked more than 3 million flights and gathered 340 terabytes of data, can analyze data 2,000 times faster than previous methods and cut costs tenfold. It is so powerful that it crunched through a complex task that would have taken a month to compute in just 20 minutes.
“Big Data is growing so fast that it is outpacing the ability of current tools to take full advantage of it,” said Bill Ruh, vice president of GE Software. Dave Bartlett, computer scientist and chief technology officer for GE Aviation, said that industrial data lakes will help companies predict future problems and run machines more efficiently, sustainably and profitably. They will also help GE maintain and service machines better. “We are getting the most life out of our assets,” he said.
The industrial data lake will have numerous applications across many industries and types of hardware, from jet engines and locomotives to medical scanners.
Bartlett says a data lake can swallow massive streams of data and store it in whatever form it arrives, much like a large body of water drinks from its tributaries.
This is different from a standard data warehouse, where data is classified and categorized at the point of entry. “Instead of slicing, dicing and classifying the data, we capture the metadata, which is data about the data,” Bartlett says. “Metadata provides a more robust and varied context at the time of analysis that’s been missing from conventional data storage.”
Bartlett says that a data lake allows companies to ask many more questions from a given data set than they used to. “A numeric sequence in a database is only as meaningful as the context that can be applied,” he says. “By itself, it is just a number that the data warehouse might translate to what you paid two years ago to overhaul a particular kind of jet engine. But a data lake can provide the metadata to drive numerous analytics associated with that event, including the reasons behind the overhaul and how to better avoid or predict such overhauls in the future.”
Bartlett, who studied biology and ecosystems before he jumped into computer science, uses a biological metaphor to describe the data lake concept. “A data lake is like a pond in the woods – a richly diverse ecosystem,” he says. “You have complex food webs composed of millions of organisms, from algae and plants all the way up to top predators. Other factors such as water depth, available oxygen, nutrient levels, temperature, salinity and flow create the context of an intricate, interconnected ecosystem. If you throw a line in the water you never know what you will catch. It is an exciting place to fish! The questions and analytical opportunity are almost limitless.”
"On the other hand,” he says, “a more traditional database is more like a fish farm where all the species have been pre-classified and fed the same diet and health supplements. Some intensive tanks even employ biosecurity measures – a far contrast from the rich open natural ecosystem. If you throw a line in the water here, you have a pretty good idea of what you will catch! While useful, it has more limitations as to what it can teach us.”
Some 25 airlines are already streaming data into GE’s and Pivotal’s data lake system to better manage and maintain their fleets. The robust system is allowing service crews to better analyze performance anomalies. When a jet engine reports a temperature that’s higher than usual, for example, the system seeks insights and looks for similar events in the past, based on the type of engine, its age, service history and many other factors. “The magic happens when you marry the traditional engineering approach with the data science enabled by the data lake,” Bartlett says. “It opens up a whole new world of possible ‘what if’ questions.”
The industrial data lake works with GE’s Predix industrial software platform and massively parallel processing architecture systems like the open-source Apache Hadoop. Bartlett says the combination will have numerous applications across many industries and types of hardware, from jet engines and locomotives to medical scanners.
“When you dive into the data lake, you start seeing questions you didn’t even know how to ask,” Bartlett says. “It gives a transformational ability to your business model.”
Koalas have it rough. Cars and dogs kill some 4,000 of the tree-climbing Aussie icons every year. Now the entire koala population, which could number anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000, is at risk from another, unlikely villain: chlamydia.
Although koalas fall prey to strains of chlamydia bacteria that are only related to the type that causes the sexually transmitted disease in humans, the illness can lead to conjunctivitis, blindness, urinary and reproductive tract infections, infertility, pneumonia, and death. In some parts of Australia, up to 90 percent of the koala population is infected. The disease strikes koalas living in the wild as well as in zoos.
Researchers at the Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney are working with GE Healthcare to catch chlamydia infections in koalas early. “It turns out that koalas look remarkably like humans when you put them under an ultrasound,” says Fiona Mildren, GE Healthcare’s regional clinical marketing manager for general imaging ultrasound. “In koalas with chlamydia, you see a thickening of the bladder wall, similar to what you see in people when they have a urinary tract infection.”
A recent study published in the journal of the Australian Veterinary Association said ultrasound can be an effective tool for spotting the disease early. That could give vets more time to treat the animals and stem the spread of the disease.
Mildren says that the hardest part of scanning koalas is getting them to keep still. The procedure is painless and simple, and keepers are developing a special perch to make the scan less intrusive for the animal.
“What we learn about preventing or treating diseases will ultimately also help the populations in the wild,” says Chad Staples, senior curator at Featherdale. “If we’re not careful, koalas will become extinct. The more we can learn about how to treat and prevent threats like chlamydia, the more chance we have to save them.”
Mike Keiller, who runs the Bowmore distillery on Scotland’s Isle of Islay, doesn’t like to see his single malt whisky spilled. “We wouldn’t generally recommend smashing a bottle of Bowmore,” he says. But he is willing to make exceptions, especially when they involve the Queen.
Last month, Queen Elizabeth II used a bottle of Bowmore Surf (tasting notes: bursting with warm smoke, oak and hone and balanced with a hint of zesty lime) to launch the Royal Navy’s latest and largest vessel, the eponymous HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The whisky came from a special barrel set aside in 1980, when the Queen came to Bowmore, her first and only visit to a whisky distillery in an official capacity.
Queen Elizabeth II at the naming ceremony. Top Image: A tug pulls the ship out of her dock. Image Credit: The Aircraft Alliance
The 65,000-ton steel ship was assembled in Rosyth, Scotland, hence the use of whiskey instead of champagne. It is the first of two ships in the Royal Navy’s new class of aircraft carriers called the Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC). When completed, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will be the second largest aircraft carriers in the world after America’s Nimitz Class ships.
The British vessels will also be the world’s first all-electric aircraft carriers. They will rely on technology from GE’s Power Conversion unit, which built the aircraft carrier’s integrated full electric propulsion systems and electrical power control and management systems.
HMS Queen Elizabeth floats outside the dock in Rosyth. The Royal Navy typically launches ships by smashing a bottle of champagne against the hull. Submarines are an exception. They are launched with bottles of “home brew” beer.
The electrical systems allowed ship builders to shrink the overall size of the cables, equipment and propulsion machinery that power the propellers, and leave more room for crew and aircraft. The Royal Navy will be also able to operate the vessels more efficiently.
“With mechanical ships, you usually have one engine driving the shaft and another driving the [power] generator, and neither would be running at full power or at their best,” says Mark Dannatt, naval director at GE Power Conversion. “With the QEC carriers, we have engines that just produce electricity for the ship. That enables us to run the ship at the most efficient operating point and only generate the power we need.”
GE power systems are already at work on board of the Royal Navy’s new Type 45 Destroyer class ships, the U.S. Navy’s stealth destroyer USS Zumwalt, and many other vessels, including giant LNG carriers and passenger ships.
HMS Queen Elizabeth took to the water for the first time on July 17. Sea trials are expected to begin in 2016.
Said U.K. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond before last month’s whisky-soaked launch: “This will be an occasion when it’s OK to spill a drop.”
Africa’s economic expansion was largely driven by commodities over the last decade. But today, satisfying demand involves more than just pulling ore and minerals from the ground faster. Companies like South Africa’s platinum producer Lonmin are embracing the Industrial Internet and Big Data to go smarter about their jobs.
In 2007, when platinum prices hit an all-time high, Lonmin wanted to maximize its smelter’s production and efficiency and open bottlenecks. But workers and machines were struggling to keep up. Delays in the filtering and drying of the raw material going into the smelting furnaces, for example, led to process interruptions, which increased equipment wear and tear.
The slag plant, which concentrated and recycled the material coming out of the furnaces on the other end of the process, also experienced frequent spillages that wasted precious production time.
Many managers in this situation would start thinking about spending capital on new equipment. But Lomnin invested in software, hoping that better information and understanding of what’s happening at the mill would lead to improvement.
The Industrial Internet helped workers at Lonmin’s platinum smelter in South Africa become more productive. Top Image: Smelter illustration.
Lonmin brought in GE’s Mine Performance system built around its Predix industrial software platform. The company first used the system to monitor and evaluate the filtering and drying process. The gathered data allowed Lonmin to increase throughput in the section that feeds the furnaces with raw material by 10 percent.
The results were so good that Lonmin decided to apply Mine Performance to the slag plant. Today, spillages have been eliminated and platinum recovery from slag is up by 1.5 percent. Although other factors were also involved, the process optimization software played a major role.
Finally, the smelter used the system to bring high sulfur dioxide emissions into allowable range, and to better manage equipment maintenance and reduce downtime. A new software monitoring tool flags inefficiencies and helps the team apply resources where they are most needed. “Once Mine Performance is running and the people are used to it, it’s very difficult to manage without it,” says Percy French, the smelter’s automation manager. He says that without the system, “we would incur additional cost for inefficiencies and we would definitely have equipment damage due to our inability to control the process in the same way as an analytically driven system.”
Lonmin is an important model for Africa’s future. Although the base of Africa’s economic growth has become broader in recent years, the continent still depends heavily on commodities to drive its booming trade with the world and especially China.
Before manufacturing picks ups, companies like Lonmin will have to power Africa’s growth. Embracing the latest technologies is a smart way to lead.
People come to Durban, South Africa, for its beaches, sunny climate and busy nightlife. But visitors interested in the future of Africa come for another reason. A few miles outside the city is the Bisasar Road landfill, Africa’s largest refuse site and a big source of renewable energy. The landfill is using seven Jenbacher engines made by GE to burn biogas produced by the trash and generate enough electricity for the local grid to power 3,500 households. “It’s basically green energy coming from waste,” says Peter Seagreen, who runs the engines at the landfill (see video). “It also makes me think why is this not being expanded across Africa.”
The Bisasar Road project is a big deal when you consider that just three out of 10 Africans have electricity in their homes. “If we can bring distributed energy outside the urban areas, we’ll have better healthcare services, better education and improved quality of life,” says Lorraine Bolsinger, CEO of Distributed Power, GE’s newest business unit designed specifically to solve the global energy shortage using small-scale power generation technology.
But even those in Africa with electricity are having a bumpy ride. The World Bank estimates that manufacturers on the continent face an average of 56 days a year without power. Although Africa as a whole is growing 2 percent faster than the rest of the world, the lack of power acts like a potent brake on Africa’s economic expansion and standards of living. Controlled power outages to avoid overloading the grid shaved an estimated 2 percent on average from the continent’s economic growth. “Lack of infrastructure is the biggest obstacle to faster economic development,” says Marco Annunziata, GE’s chief economist.
Economists, politicians, and business and NGO leaders from the United States and Africa will be discussing the continent’s growth, infrastructure, education and other bedrock issues at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which starts today in Washington, D.C.
GE is hosting a special conference on investment, infrastructure and innovation during the event, the key areas required for producing self-sustain growth on the continent. Annunziata says Africa remains “overly dependent on commodities” and must focus on building out infrastructure and a common market, educating people and supporting innovation. “African businesses are well aware of the opportunity,” he says. “While the challenges are substantial, Africa’s willingness to be an enthusiastic early adopter of new technologies could be a massive advantage.”
GE will be assembling locomotives in South Africa. Top Image: GE recently brought its Garages workshop focused on innovation and advanced manufacturing to Nigeria.
The new commitment will include a $250-million multi-modal manufacturing plant in Nigeria that will create 2,300 local jobs, a power generation project in Ghana and a training center in South Africa. Just in the last year, GE has announced $5.7 billion in business transactions on the continent.
“GE has long been committed to unlocking Africa’s potential, but as our most recent deals in the region show, we believe there is still more that we can do,” says Jay Ireland, president and CEO for GE Africa. “Our investments in infrastructure and people only strengthen our role as a key partner in building Africa’s future.”
But Africa is just one example of GE’s growing footprint. Take a look at our infographic illustrating the company global reach.
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.