There is more to the Internet of Things (IoT) than FitBits and smartphone-controlled thermostats. While consumer goods are some of the IoT’s most visible applications, they’re just one part of the vast and game-changing phenomenon that could soon encompass 200 billion connected devices and add trillions of dollars to the economy.
In fact, experts estimate that the IoT will resonate strongly in the “invisible” industrial sector, capturing and analyzing data generated by drilling rigs, jet engines, locomotives and other heavy-duty machines.
This network is called the Industrial Internet and it’s already helping companies shave costs and boost performance. Union Pacific, America’s largest railroad company, has improved productivity by wiring its locomotives with sensors that monitor parts and supply data to algorithms that try to predict whether a component might break down and when. “Industrial data is not only big, it’s the most critical and complex type of big data,” says Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE. “Observing, predicting and changing performance is how the Industrial Internet will help airlines, railroads and power plants operate at peak efficiency.”
GE is developing sensors that could be printed inside machines. Top Image: Maintenance crews can already gather data from jet engines like the GEnx.
GE is betting big on the Industrial Internet. The company believes the network could add $10 and $15 trillion – the size of today’s U.S. economy - to global GDP over the next 20 years. Its software arm has developed a software platform called Predix that allows Union Pacific, as well as oil drilling companies, wind farms, hospitals and other customers to perform prognostics, reduce downtime and increase efficiency.
Capturing Big Data and transmitting it to dedicated servers presents its own set of technological and logistical challenges. That’s why GE, AT&T, Cisco and IBM teamed up this spring to launch the Industrial Internet Consortium. The goal of this open, not-for-profit group is to break down technology silos, improve machine-to-machine communications and bring the physical and digital worlds closer together.
To do that, member companies will pool their R&D capabilities to develop common server architectures and advanced test beds to standardize key components of the Industrial Internet.
Bill Ruh, vice president of global software at GE, recently told Mike Barlow of the O’Reilly Radar blog that turning data into usable insights will require an industry-wide effort – channeled by organizations like the IIC – to produce standardized infrastructure and processes that are fast, accurate, reliable and scalable.
Massive gas turbines are also getting connected to the Industrial Internet.
While the possibilities of the Industrial Internet are just beginning to be harnessed, companies aren’t waiting around. In a speech to power company executives, Wall Street analysts and investors at the Electrical Products Group Conference this spring, GE’s Immelt said that by the end of the year, he expected GE to launch over 40 “Predictivity” industrial analytical applications, which could generate more than $1 billion in revenue for the company.
The Internet is no longer just about email, e-commerce and Twitter, says Joe Salvo, manager of the Complex Systems Engineering Laboratory at GE Global Research. “We are at an inflection point,” he says. “The next wave of productivity will connect brilliant machines and people with actionable insight.”
When the giant Plessis-Gassot landfill opened its gates outside Paris in the 1960s, Charles de Gaulle was France’s president and Brigitte Bardot its most famous movie star.
Since then, the landfill has gobbled up millions of tons of refuse thrown out by generations of Parisians. That trash is now playing a bright role in France’s renewable energy future. It supplies the country’s largest landfill power plant with enough methane-rich biogas (also called landfill gas) to generate electricity for more than 40,000 French homes.
The plant also gives off enough heat to make the nearby town of Plessis-Gassot the first French municipality with a district heating system fueled by landfill gas. The town hall, church, community hall and residences connected to its heat pipes could see their heating bills fall by a whopping 92 percent as a result.
Trucks unload waste from a tipping floor that can lift 60 metric tons to an angle of 63 degrees.
Because the plant is replacing electricity generated by conventional fossil fuels, the Plessis-Gassot plant has a 15-year contract to sell power back to the grid at a rate exceeding €0.1 ($0.14) per kilowatt hour. “It’s a great business model,” says Didier Lartigue, managing director of Clarke Energy in France, which built the plant for the energy and waste management company Veolia. “The gas is basically free and when we recover the heat from process, it’s an additional bonus.” (French off-peak and peak electricity tariffs range from €0.1 to €0.15.)
France plans to generate 23 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources by 2020. They include solar and wind power, but also biomass and landfill gas.
Wellheads vent biogas from underground landfill gas cells holding compacted waste. The bottom of each cell sits about 50 feet deep and covers 25 acres. It takes 18 months to fill a cell. Each cell produces gas for about 25 years.
The gas is produced when anaerobic bacteria decompose organic waste in an airless environment, like deep inside a compact mountain of trash. Landfill gas contains mostly energy-rich methane mixed with impurities like carbon dioxide and nitrogen. It is similar in composition to natural gas, but dirtier.
The Plessis-Gassot power plant is using 10 advanced Jenbacher gas engines to produce the heat and electricity. Using landfill gas to make electricity is not a new idea, but the engines, which are manufactured by GE in Austria, can be up to 42 percent efficient in converting gas to power. (The system total efficiency including heat is 85 percent.) They replace an older boiler system that was 22 percent efficient.
There are close to 2,000 Jenbachers at work at landfills in 30 countries, including Brazil, the Philippines and the U.S.
The Jenbacher engines, which are part of GE’s ecomagination program, belong to the company’s new Distributed Power business. Distributed power technology allows customers to generate their own power near the point of use, rather than relying on a centralized grid miles away. The concept is taking hold in the developing world, but also at industrial dynamos like France.
That’s because power generation is shifting from a centralized to a decentralized model, says Wouter-Jan van der Wurff, a GE gas engine product line leader. “We have the capability to supply engines for power generation and combined heat and power to maximize fuel efficiency where customers need it,” he says.
Top Image: This illustration shows what a Jenbacher looks like on the inside.
When soccer teams from Brazil and Croatia ran out on the pitch in São Paulo on June 12, they kicked off one of the biggest sporting events in history. The cumulative television audience for the world’s largest soccer tournament is estimated to top 3 billion - nearly half of the planet’s population. The final at Rio de Janeiro’s Estádio do Maracanã on July 13 could be one of the most watched TV broadcasts in history.
For the first time, all of the tournament’s 64 matches will be televised in ultra-high definition, which requires an average 34 cameras per game, and GE is helping make the pictures pop. The company designed and installed high-tech lights that illuminate the pitch at five of the 12 tournament stadiums, including the Maracanã.
Top and above: The Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
The lights’ optics and tight focus eliminate shadows on the field. They also generate high-intensity light near the natural spectrum so that the Brazilian national jerseys will truly look canary yellow on the green grass. “We would be in trouble if they looked orange,” says lighting engineer Sergio Binda, who works as a marketing director at GE Lighting Latin America. “The light must look authentic. Fans around the world should feel like they are in the stands when they turn on their TVs.”
Workers placed 396 GE EF 2000 projectors along Maracanã’s roof, 121 feet above the field, to obtain the best light level and uniformity.
GE engineers calibrated Maracanã’s lights on a grid of 315 points 10 inches off the field and 5 by 4.5 meters apart.
The lighting team worked closely with scientists at GE Global Research to develop precise and highly efficient flood lights that make colors look natural. “Light is electromagnetic radiation and each color corresponds to a specific wavelength,” Binda says. “We see colors when those wavelengths bounce off a specific surface, like a jersey. But if your light source does not generate, say, a true red wavelength, then it can’t bounce off and you won’t see that color on the jersey.”
Arena da Amazônia in Manaus, a city deep in the Amazon rainforest, will see action for the first time on Saturday when England plays Italy.
The lights that GE installed at the stadiums use electric metal halide lamps that emit light very close to the near-perfect white light produced by incandescent light bulbs. But they are much more efficient and durable.
Each fixture holds a reflector with a mirror-like aluminum coating and a special glass lens that trains the light beam on a specific point on the pitch. “The lamp and the optics are the secret sauce,” Binda says. “We use special software to achieve the best geometry and increase the intensity of the lamp.”
Arena Pernambuco is located in Recife in northeastern Brazil.
Each of the five stadiums - besides Maracanã they include arenas in Porto Allegre, Brasília, Manaus and Fortazela - has about 400 lights. It takes about three days for GE workers to focus them on the field. They tune two lights at a time, one from each side. They train them at a point on a special matrix superimposed on the field and then measure their output with a handheld luminometer. “It’s almost a perfect lighting down there,” Binda says.
GE lighting will also light interior spaces at the National Stadium in Brasília and the Amazonia Arena in Manaus.
A worker is measuring light intensity with a luminometer on the field of the National Stadium in Brasília.
GE is an old hand in sports lighting. In 1927, GE lights illuminated the first night game ever played in Major League Baseball. On Friday, May 24, 1935, a crowd of 20,000 people watched the Cincinnati Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1.
Lush soccer pitches are not the only green biomass supporting the Brazilian national football team as it battles for the world’s most coveted soccer trophy. The country’s GOL airline is ferrying Los Canarinhos to matches around Brazil using planes powered by a mixture of corn oil, cooking oil and jet fuel.
The team is riding a Boeing 737-800 special equipped with jet engines capable of ingesting biofuel. And the players are not alone. There will be some 200 commercial GOL flights powered by the fuel during the tournament.
These are no flights of fancy. “The adoption of eco-efficient technologies has a number of benefits,” says Gilberto Peralta, president and chief executive of GE in Brazil. “They allow airlines to boost productivity and reduce environmental impacts, losses and operational costs all at the same time.” GE is a partner in the joint-venture that made the jet engines.
The Brazil’s team Boeing sports a giant mural created by artists Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo. They are known as “Os Gemeos” and this picture shows the Pandolfo twins at work.
GOL, a sponsor of the Brazilian team, estimates that the biofuel flights will reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by approximately 218 tons. Sergio Quito, chief operating officer of GOL, says that the airline is committed to cleaning up Brazilian skies and making the civil aviation sector more sustainable.
GE has been testing and using biofuels in military and commercial jet engines since 2007. In 2008, Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 747 with four GE engines using biodiesel flew from London to Amsterdam. On Earth Day 2010, a GE-powered Navy F/A-18 fighter jet called the Green Hornet broke the sound barrier with tanks filled with a mix of biofuel and kerosene.
Says Mike Epstein, chief technologist leading the alternative fuels efforts at GE Aviation: “Developing alternative sources for jet fuel is fundamentally good for the aviation industry and the environment.”
The Green Hornet broke the sound barrier with a biofuel mix in the tank.
The first production HondaJet business jet took off from an airstrip at Honda Aircraft’s global headquarters in Greensboro, NC, last Friday. The flight was part of FAA certification and the company expects the aircraft will enter service in 2015.
The maiden voyage also marked GE’s return to the executive jet business, a market the company helped create in the 1960s when engineers converted the J85 military jet engine into propulsion for the first Learjet.
The HondaJet uses a pair of distinctive jet engines jointly developed by GE and Honda and mounted over the wing. With 18.5 inches in diameter and 2,095 pounds of thrusts, the jet engine, called HF120, is the smallest in GE’s portfolio. The engine received its FAA certification last year.
“With this first flight, the HondaJet program has entered the next exciting phase as we prepare for delivery,” said Michimasa Fujino, Honda Aircraft’s president and chief executive.
The company says that the plane’s engine and wing design, composite fuselage and other advanced technologies make it the fastest, most spacious and most fuel efficient jet in its class. Fujino says that the HondaJet is “the world’s most advanced light jet.”
During the 84-minute flight, the plane climbed to 15,500 feet and reached a speed of 348 knots (about 400 mph). The crew completed several checks during the flight, including low-speed and high-speed handling characteristics, avionics and functionality of systems such as landing gear, flaps and speed brake operations.
The HondaJet is designed to fly at a maximum speed of 420 knots (483 mph) and a maximum altitude of 43,000 feet. It seats up to five passengers and has a range of 1,357 miles. The company selling it in North American and Europe through its dealer network.
Honda Aircraft’s manufacturing plant and airport in Greensboro, NC.
A few years ago, Matt Webster decided to dispatch with the annual birthday surprise dilemma and asked his wife whether she’d like as a gift an activity monitor. She was not impressed.
The problem wasn’t him asking, but the technology itself. “If it doesn’t automatically track the calories I eat, then I don’t want it,” she told him.
Although there is no such automated device on the market, Webster, who works as a senior scientist at GE’s labs in upstate New York, was not deterred. His specialty is diagnostics and biomedical research and he decided to build a device that could count calories in any food. “I thought that this was crazy and impossible, but I took it as a challenge,” he says.
Webster started by chomping through a massive food library compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The database holds nutritional information for 6,500 foods. “I wanted to boil it down to a simple recipe that determined calories from a small handful of data points,” Webster says. “Perhaps I could measure those data points with sensors and use them to calculate the calories in any food.”
Advanced microwave sensors look for fat and water molecules in food.
Applying the elimination method, he started with a menu of fat-free foods, before moving onto more complex items. “I walked through it rationally,” he says. “I eliminated fat and accounted for water to figure out what the average calorie density was.”
The analysis allowed Webster and his team to write an equation that estimates calories in food with just three simple measurements: weight, fat content and water content. “The equation takes the fat, water content numbers and assumes values for the rest,” he says.
The rest is a combination of sugars, carbs, proteins and other ingredients. “You actually don’t need to know the details,” he says. “We just have to account for it. That’s the secret sauce.”
To gather that data, the team is developing advanced electronics and sensors that shower food with microwaves and look for fat and water signatures in the waves that pass through. “You can do this because water and fat interact with microwaves very differently,” Webster says.
The GE team together with researchers at Baylor University’s Department Electrical and Computer Engineering is now testing the system on simple mixtures of oil, water and sugar. They have built a prototype, but the prize is a push-button device that could be in every kitchen.
One day the team could link the device with a smartphone app or a workout wristband. Says Webster: “I am working on my wife’s dream present.”
Top image and above: A mock up of a push-button calorie-counting device.
Three decades ago, engineers at GE research labs in Niskayuna, NY, built one of the first magnetic resonance machines and peered inside a colleague’s head. The result was the world’s first MRI image of the human brain. “This was an exciting time,” says John Schenck, a lead scientist on the project and also the test’s subject. “We worried that we would get to see a big black hole in the center. But we got to see my whole brain.”
That revolutionary picture may soon feel like a silent movie in the age of Avatar. A few doors down from Schenck’s office, who still works at the lab, is a new MRI system that could one day probe the microstructure of the brain with unprecedented resolution.
One group of researchers is looking at imaging the mobility of water molecules in the brain to better understand how the organ is wired, as well as the health and function of these connections, sort of a wiring diagram of the brain.
In the future, medical scanners could be used to study diseases ranging from stroke to Alzheimer’s, as well as depression. Take a look at some of the images captured by the team so far.
Scientists at GE Global Research are developing magnetic resonance methods to image the brain’s white matter tissue and study the organ’s structural connectivity. Today, 25 to 30 percent of all MRI scans are brain scans. As disease modifying drugs for neurodegenerative diseases become available, the use of these drugs is likely to require more frequent monitoring through repeated scans.
Top Image and GIF: This image shows complex patterns of connectivity of the human cortex measured in vivo with MRI via diffusion of water molecules in axons in the white matter. The colors depict average directional anisotropy of white matter voxels (fractional anisotropy of a diffusion tensor model) - blue: more anisotropic, yellow: less anisotropic. The data was acquired and processed on a GE MRI scanner at 3 Tesla (MR750), using diffusion spectrum imaging accelerated with compressed sensing, a technique developed at GE Global Research. Credit: Luca Marinelli, Ek Tsoon Tan
Bottom Image: Diffusion tractography of the brain, displaying some of the long white matter bundles (red: left-right, green: anterior-posterior, blue: head-foot). Visible are the cortico-spinal tract fanning out in the corona radiata (blue/purple), the long cortico-cortical association bundles (green), and ponto-cerebellar fibers (orange/red). The data was acquired and processed on a GE MRI scanner at 3 Tesla (MR750), using diffusion spectrum imaging accelerated with compressed sensing, a technique developed at GE Global Research.
More than a century after Thomas Edison got into the light bulb business, his bright idea is getting brainy.
Engineers at GE, the company Edison founded, have helped develop an affordable LED light bulb that can talk to its owners’ tablets and smartphones. The bulb, which starts at just under $15, contains a chip that can wirelessly connect to the Internet and communicate with users via a mobile app called Wink.
Wink is also the name of a new software business launched by the collaborative design company Quirky.
The company stands on an idea jointly conceived by Quirky and GE: design and develop a line of smart home appliances connected to the Internet of Everything. So far they’ve launched a handful of connected devices, including an air conditioner called Aros. The Wink app serves as a remote control and also helps the AC get smarter over time. It learns users’ schedule, location, weather information and past usage.
Ben Kaufman, Quirky’s founder and chief executive, recently told The New York Times that innovations like Wink are about to connect all sorts of home devices through a simple app and make the Internet of Things affordable for everyone.
The smart home market is already taking off. Sales in eight major categories of networked home products — led by lights, thermostats and video cameras — are expected to more than double by 2018, reaching 25 million units worth $3.5 billion, according to research firm Parks Associates.
The new Link light bulb will let owners turn lights on and off when they are at work or on vacation, or just customize a room’s lighting from the couch. It can also be used to subtly ease users through sleep and wake up transitions.
Link provides the same energy-efficiency and long life that GE’s LED bulbs are known for, using 80 percent less energy than traditional bulbs. Starting at less than $15, it’s also the most affordable connected LED on the market. There are three types of the Link bulb: a 60-watt LED bulb for table and floor lamps, an indoor LED floodlight, and a combination indoor and outdoor spotlight LED.
John Strainic, a general manager at GE Lighting, says that the new bulb represents “a fundamental lifestyle shift for consumers and the way they’ve lit their homes for more than 100 years.”
GE will partner with the innovative Southern California venture capital firm Frost Data Capital on a business incubator focused on machine data, predictive analytics and the Industrial Internet. “Frost is looking to incubate really big problems that drive revolutionary change,” says Bill Ruh, vice president of GE Software. “That’s how we found them.”
The incubator, called I3 for Industrial Internet Incubator, practices lean methodology techniques that allow its startups to scale quickly. GE and Frost Data executive teams will start by identifying ideas for potential new businesses. “We don’t look at outside business plans like a typical VC,” says John Vigouroux, managing partner and president at Frost Data Capital. ”We validate the ideas through the marketplace and with real customers. This is our expertise. If the problems are genuine opportunities for startups, we’ll start a company and hire a CEO.”
Vigouroux says that this approach allows Frost Data to start companies with a small amount of capital and operate them more predictably. “It’s a great model, not a home run-or-bust model,” he says. “Since we don’t need gobs and gobs of money, we can do singles, doubles, triples, whatever works for the customer. We think that seven out of 10 startups could grow up to be successful.”
The partners did not disclose the amount of funding behind I3, but Vigouroux says that the incubator is designed to participate in any financing round. I3 will be incubating and taking to market several companies simultaneously. Big Data pioneer Stuart Frost, who started Frost Data after he sold his company Datallegro to Microsoft for $275 million in 2008, calls this model “parallel entrepreneurship.”
Besides business ideas, GE brings to the incubator its expertise in predictive analytics and experience with “intelligent” machines connected to the Industrial Internet. “We will bring them the problems, the customers and industrial capability,” Ruh says. “We believe that this will move the [analytics] market even faster and give customers what they are looking for. The first mover advantage is also very important.”
Frost Data has started 17 companies so far, with GE investing in three of them. Ruh says that GE and Frost Data have already started five new companies over the last 60 days alone. He said that a big company like GE could not move so fast by itself. “We’ve discovered someone who is really good at this,” Ruh says.
The initiative could have multiplier effect on the growth of the Industrial Internet. The Wall Street Journal pointed out yesterday that the value of the Industrial Internet will increase as more people and companies get connected to it, following Metcalfe’s law.
"Just like the development of the commercial Internet, that will require investment and innovation from lots of different people and companies," the paper wrote.
“We’re looking at trying to decode the signals the brain sends and receives in controlling limb movement,” Ashe says. “If you can understand the brain’s language, you’ll be able to understand the nature of how one particular disease has affected a certain function.”
Ashe, an electrical engineer, reached out to Brown because of the university’s decades-long experience with brain implants. His team is contributing expertise in microelectronics and non-invasive, wearable and wireless medical devices. “Our sensor designs will be tiny, and they will be able to record the electrical signals coming from the individual neurons,” Ashe says. “Being able to record and separate the signals from the individual neurons, we can then interpret the information the neurons are creating and the functions their circuits should be producing.”
Ashe believes that scientists are on the cusp of understanding how groups of neurons work together to control brain function. “We know a lot about individual neurons, how they function and how they carry electrical and chemical signals, but we don’t know how they are all interconnected,” Ashe says.
The team will develop sensors that will allow scientists to record more neurons from more parts of the brain than ever before. They strive to develop a more complete understanding of how the brain communicates and, ultimately, devise improved ways to correct lost function. “We want to take that outside the body via an external device that can mimic these signals and restore motor control,” Ashe says.
A scientist works with a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) wafer in the cleanroom at GE Global Research in upstate N.Y. GE innovations in micro-electronic design and fabrication has led to the development of tiny switches that could be a key component of implantable devices for the brain. Implants could benefit patients suffering from neurodegenerative disease as well as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even depression.
Worldwide, there are over 450 million people living with neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.1 The costs of caring for 14 million Alzheimer’s victims will likely exceed $1 trillion in the US annually over the next 40 years.2
GE has been working with universities, hospitals as well as the National Football League to better understand the brain.
For example, GE and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai are developing technologies that blend neuroscience with new biomarkers and bio signatures. The objective is to eventually detect underlying cellular changes that lead to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, so diagnoses happen earlier and treatments can be developed more effectively.
In March 2013, GE Healthcare and the NFL entered into a $60 million collaboration to speed diagnosis and improve treatment for mild traumatic brain injury for the benefit of athletes, members of the military, and society overall. The partners are also investing up to $20 million in an open innovation program called the Head Health Challenge to generate ideas for new and improved safety equipment.
Imagine that you are in charge of the service center for a global energy infrastructure company. It’s Friday afternoon and you are ready to go home when you receive an urgent call from a customer. She needs a critical oil pump component within the next 12 hours or her business will lose millions of dollars. Concerned? Don’t panic.
“Previously, managers would have to check their inventory and then start calling and emailing other locations to locate the part,” says Peter Koudal, supply chain technology leader at GE Global Research. “Companies often store this information in disconnected databases, computers and spreadsheets that need to be checked manually.”
Now they can tap into the all-seeing “Elastic Cloud.”
Koudal and his team of software engineers built an inventory system that allows supply chain managers in distress to look up millions of parts from their browsers. Koudal calls the technology Elastic Cloud because it’s able to access, sort, index, model and merge complex information stored inside computers anywhere in the world, and transfer it to a large enterprise cloud server.
“We have the ability to see everything instantly by location and warehouse, and create customized dashboards where you can select what you need,” he says. “Within seconds, the manager will know if he has the part, if he can assemble it from spare components, or whether some of the components need to be shipped or quickly manufactured.”
GE machines work in northern Norway and other remote corners of the world.
The system is so fast because it works with data stored in computer memory, rather than rooting through traditional hard disk storage. The idea is not new, but falling memory prices made it economical.
Computer scientists Hasso Plattner and Alexander Zeier compare this in-memory access to getting a glass of water out of the kitchen faucet, rather than fetching it from a well half way across the world. “This orders-of-magnitude difference in access times has profound implications for all enterprise applications,” they write in their book on the topic. “Things that in the past were not even considered because they took so long, now become possible, allowing businesses concrete insight into the workings of their company that previously were the subject of speculation and guess-work.”
Koudal’s system uses advanced mathematical models to locate and sort the data, and even identify demand patterns for individual components. “This is a key part of the system,” Koudal says. “You can see instantly everything that’s available in the network, even things that are being manufactured. This gives your business great predictability.”
Koudal says that companies ranging from healthcare to transportation could use the system to shrink and optimize their inventories and supply chains, and reduce costs and downtime. It could also help GE and others build the “Brilliant Factory,” an enterprise of the future where designers, suppliers and production engineers collaborate online, develop products and virtually test production without actually touching any materials or machines.
GE’s Oil & Gas business is already using the Elastic Cloud platform to track inventory in its artificial lift business, which builds pumps that extract oil from deep wells. Many of the business unit’s warehouses are located in remote parts of the world, and the system helps with optimizing inventory. The idea is that Friday afternoon fire drills will become a distant memory.
Alstom’s board of directors accepted GE’s updated offer to acquire the power and grid businesses of the French industrial group for $13.5 billion (€12.35 billion) on Saturday. The deal includes three joint-ventures: in grid technology, renewable energy, and global nuclear power and French steam power.
The acquisition, the largest in GE’s history, will create 1,000 new jobs in France, preserve local decision making, provide the French government with access to nuclear steam turbine technology and support Alstom’s train signaling business.
“We will now move to the next phase of the Alstom alliance,” Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Alstom team to make a globally competitive power and grid enterprise. We also look forward to working with the French government, employees and shareholders of Alstom.”
Alstom CEO Patrick Kron (left), French Minister of Economy Arnaud Montebourg (center) and Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO, at the signing of the acquisition on Saturday.
Immelt said the acquisition preserved the value of the original April 30 offer for investors. “Our synergies remain intact. It is immediately accretive to our earnings, furthers the transition of our portfolio towards industrial businesses, and broadens our product and service offerings for customers,” he said.
The joint ventures will lower GE’s projected earnings per share from the transaction by approximately $0.01-$0.02 per year. EPS from the deal was initially projected at $0.08-$0.10 per year. Overall, GE still expects $1.2 billion in synergies from the transaction by year five.
“If this was Hearts, Jeff shot the moon,” said Nicholas Heymann, an analyst at William Blair & Co., told Bloomberg. “He got 90 percent of what he was shooting for, but he also made sure the business wasn’t locked and inaccessible for life between the company’s principal competitors.”
Alstom and GE will continue operating as two separate companies until the acquisition closes in 2015.
Under the new structure, GE will acquire the power and grid businesses of Alstom, as previously announced on April 30. Once closed, GE and Alstom would form three joint ventures.
One will create a global grid business based in France by combining GE’s and Alstom’s grid assets. The second will form a renewable energy company based in France, consisting of Alstom’s offshore wind and hydroelectric units.
GE and Alstom will also create a 50/50 global nuclear and French steam alliance, with the French government holding a preferred share giving it veto and other governance rights, to assure the security and growth of nuclear steam technology for France. This will include Alstom’s equipment for nuclear power plants around the world, and Alstom’s steam turbines in France.
In addition, the intellectual property related to Alstom’s Arabelle nuclear steam turbine technology will be transferred to a special purpose vehicle wholly owned by the French government, which will allow the government to license the technology to third parties if GE were not to supply Arabelle technology to an EDF/Areva nuclear project.
GE has also made a long-term commitment to ongoing development of the Arabelle technology and servicing of the EDF installed nuclear base.
GE and Alstom have also signed a memorandum of understanding to create a global alliance in transportation, and GE will sell its rail signaling business to Alstom.
Finally, GE has committed to create 1,000 new jobs in France over the next three years. They will be located in high-value areas such as manufacturing and engineering. This goal will be enforced through an independent auditor and financial penalties.
The grid, offshore wind, hydroelectric, and steam turbines businesses will have headquarters in France. GE’s European power headquarters have been in Belfort since 1999.
GIF Sequence: Made in France: GE manufactured the world’s largest and most efficient gas turbine, the 9HA, at its plant in Belfort, France. The turbine recently traveled by truck, ship, boat, and rail to GE Power & Water’s plant in Greenville, South Carolina, for a year of rigorous testing.
GE Aviation will open a new assembly plant in Indiana to build the world’s first passenger jet engine with 3D printed fuel nozzles and next-generation materials, including heat-resistant ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) and breakthrough carbon fiber fan blades woven in all three dimensions at once.
Though the engine, called LEAP, will not enter service until 2016 on the Airbus A320neo, it has already become GE Aviation’s bestselling engine, with more than 6,000 confirmed orders from 20 countries, valued at more than $78 billion (U.S. list price).
The LEAP is being developed by CFM International, a 50-50 joint venture between GE and France’s Snecma (Safran).
The partners have designed three versions of the LEAP engine for three next-generation single-aisle passenger planes: the A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC C919. Boeing estimates that the single-aisle market will represent 70 percent of all commercial airplane deliveries and 47 percent of total delivery value over the next two decades.
The new $100 million plant will be based in Lafayette, IN. It will employ 200 people by 2020. They will operate an advanced assembly line equipped with automated vision inspection systems, radio frequency parts management and other new technologies designed to improve production.
The Lafayette plant is the seventh new GE Aviation factory in seven years. Combined, the plants support more than 2,500 new jobs.
The first LEAP-1A on a test stand in Ohio. (Also in top image.)
GE and partners have about 34,000 commercial jet engines in service. The number will grow by a fifth, to 41,000, over the next six years. GE Aviation’s multi-year backlog for equipment and services reached $125 billion at the end of 2013, a 20 percent jump in just one year.
To meet that demand, GE Aviation plans to invest more than $3.5 billion in plant and equipment between now and 2017. Most of the money will be spent in the U.S.
The LEAP engine has benefited from GE’s $1 billion annual investment in jet propulsion R&D. Scientists at GE Global Research have spent the last two decades developing some of the most advanced parts of the new engine, including CMCs, 3D printing methods and controls systems.
Each LEAP engine has inside 19 3D-printed fuel nozzles (pictuted above), fourth-generation carbon-fiber composite blades, and parts made from CMCs.
The 3D-printed nozzles are five times more durable than the previous model. 3D printing allowed engineers to use a simpler design that reduced the number of brazes and welds from 25 to just five.
The CMC parts help with weight and heat management. They are two-thirds lighter than the metal equivalent and can operate at temperatures 20 percent higher than their metallic counterpart, at levels where most alloys grow soft.
“When you start thinking about design, the weight savings multiplier effect is much more than three to one,” says Michael Kauffman, GE Aviation manufacturing executive. “Your nickel alloy turbine disc does not have to be so beefy to carry all those light blades, and you can slim down the bearings and other parts too because of a smaller centrifugal force. It’s just basic physics.”
The new technologies allowed the design team to cut the engine’s weight by hundreds of pounds compared to the same size engine built by using metal parts, increase the internal temperature and make it more efficient. “We are pushing ahead in materials technology, which gives us the ability to make jet engines lighter, run them hotter, and cool them less,” Kauffman says. “As result, we can make the engines, and the planes they’ll power, more efficient and cheaper to operate.”
The tests will evaluate various engine systems and operability. The engine will go through 60 different “builds” for both ground and flight testing. (A build is defined as the same engine that has been disassembled for inspection and then rebuilt to continue testing. It may or may not include new hardware.) Ultimately, the tests will put the engine through the equivalent of 15 years of airline service by 2016.
Says Chaker Chahrour, executive vice president at CFM: “We get to put the engine through its paces in the most comprehensive test program we have ever undertaken.”
The modern light bulb wasn’t Thomas Edison’s only flash of brilliance.
In 1879, the inventor exposed thin slices of bamboo to scorching heat at his lab in Menlo Park, NJ. The cellulose inside the bamboo quickly carbonized and transformed the splinters into super strong carbon fibers.
Able to conduct electricity and endure intense heat, Edison used these fibers as filaments in his first light bulbs, before replacing them with tungsten.
Eighty years later, NASA engineers rediscovered carbon fibers as an ideal material for spacecraft. Their combination of toughness and light weight gave them an edge during the space race with Soviet Union.
Designers soon began crafting composite parts made from layers of carbon fiber mats pre-impregnated with resin. Tougher, stronger and lighter than steel and aluminum alloys, they quickly started replacing metals in the fuselage and other structural parts of planes, rockets and missiles.
NASA’s E3 program helped GE develop the experimental GE36 open rotor engine in the 1980s. It used carbon fiber composite blades and a hybrid design combining turbofan and turboprop engines. It demonstrated fuel savings of more than 30 percent compared with similar-sized jet engines with conventional fan systems.
At $400 per pound, the early carbon composites were prohibitively expensive. But production innovation brought down price, and composites quickly spread. Today there are cars and planes with carbon fiber bodies, carbon fiber golf clubs and tennis rackets.
New York’s Museum of Modern Art included a GE90 blade made from carbon fiber composites in its Architecture and Design Collection.
GE spent several decades developing carbon fiber composites that could replace the metal fan blades at the front of a jet engine to make it lighter and more efficient. “This was a huge, expensive and risky project,” says Shridhar Nath, who leads the composites lab at GE Global Research. “We planned to replace titanium with what is essentially plastic. We were starting from scratch and we did not know how carbon fiber blades will respond to rain, hail, snow and sand, and the large forces inside the engine.”
Boeing’s Dreamliner has sections of its fuselage made from carbon fiber composites.
But they succeeded, and GE is already on the fourth generation of the material. “Carbon fiber composites have been around for some time, but it’s very hard to mass produce them consistently,” says Rick Kennedy, GE Aviation spokesman. “That’s the secret sauce and we’ve got it.”
The material let GE engineers shed hundreds of pounds from the fan and build the GE90, the world’s largest and most powerful jet engine. The fan blades and fan case in the GEnx, GE’s latest and most fuel-efficient large jet engine, are also made from the material.
Carbon filaments did the trick but they darkened the inside of the light bulb. Edison replaced them with Tungsten wire.
The company is now experimenting with carbon fiber wind turbine blades, riser pipes for the oil and gas industry, and patient tables for X-Ray and CT machines that are transparent to radiation and improve image quality.
“Over the next 15 years you are going to see carbon fiber explode across areas where we have not seen it before,” Nath says. “Everybody is interested in reducing weight and increasing strength. That’s what’s carbon fiber composites got.”
The carbon fiber fan blades of the GE90-115B, the world’s most powerful jet engine.
Few of us think of how a refrigerator works when we reach inside for a can of cold soda. When we do, our memory might bring up compressors pumping chemical coolants. But Venkat Venkatakrishnan and his team are thinking about magnets. Their new magnetic cooling technology could soon upend the very foundation of modern refrigeration.
Such feats of innovation don’t happen by accident. Venkatakrishnan’s advice? First learn a lot of physics and then find a group of like-minded tinkerers and scientific explorers.
Top Image: President Barack Obama looks at Lindsay Lawlor’s 17-foot-tall, 2,200-lb robotic giraffe on the South Lawn of the White House during the first White House Maker Faire. Photo: Pete Souza
Venkatakrishnan, who works as a director of research and development at GE Appliances, was there. He followed President Obama’s call “upon all Americans to observe this day with programs, ceremonies, and activities that encourage a new generation of makers and manufacturers to share their talents and hone their skills.”
The White House held the event to celebrate the Maker Movement and and its impact on innovation. “Today, more and more Americans are gaining access to 21st century tools, from 3D printers and scanners to design software and laser cutters,” the President said in his proclamation. “Thanks to the democratization of technology, it is easier than ever for inventors to create just about anything.”
The President said that American manufacturers have never stopped chasing the next breakthrough, and the Maker Movement has already moved inside factories. GE has recently partnered with Local Motors, a design innovator that built the world’s first open-source car, to bring co-creation and “microfactory” production to the appliances business. Their platform, called FirstBuild, will prototype new designs and sell them in small quantities. “This is going to be a brand new community of engineers, fabricators, designers and enthusiasts,” says Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors. “GE is already full of experts and they will meet the community half way.
GE and Local Motors used the White House gathering to bring the 3D printer manufacturer MakerBot inside FirstBuild. Its 3-D printing technology will help build parts for the microfactory’s products. TechShop, a creative community of makers and hackers, will join FirstBuild and launch a challenge to co-create appliances of the future.
Maybe one day, FirstBuild will make Venkatakrishnan’s magnetic fridge.That would make the Maker Movement even cooler.