Fifty years ago, physicist Nick Holonyak was tinkering with lasers in his GE lab when he discovered the world’s first light-emitting diode. “We knew what happened and that we had a powerful way of converting electric current directly into light,” Holonyak says. “We had the ultimate lamp.” His team called it “the Magic One.”
LEDs, which are much more efficient than ordinary light bulbs, are quickly becoming as common as a slice of bread, illuminating everything from TV sets and iPads to entire cities. LEDs made by GE will light up hundreds of new and remodeled Walmart stores over the next two years in the U.S., U.K, Asia, Mexico, Central America and Latin America.
The LEDs will help the stores reduce their energy needs for lighting by 40 percent on average. Walmart says that the savings will help it keep prices low.
LEDs made by GE will soon light up hundreds of new and remodeled Walmart stores in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America. Top image: The world’s first LED built by Nick Holonyak.
Walmart was one of the first retailers to bring LED lights to parking lots, signage and store appliances. In 2005, Walmart worked with GE on what may have been the first major rollout of an LED freezer case. “LEDs have become an integral part of our energy efficiency model for our stores and play a key role in achieving our overall sustainability goals,” said Doug McMillon, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. “We have worked to find and scale energy-efficient LED lighting solutions that are cost effective and high quality, and now working with GE, we’re paving the way to make this a mainstream solution for the retail industry.”
Walmart picked GE LEDs, in part, based on the results of a pilot program at the retailer’s first all-LED supercenter in South Euclid, Ohio. Starting in October last year, the retailer had studied lighting quality, efficiency and savings. “We’ve had a long and successful relationship with Walmart, increasing our environmental efforts together,” said Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO.
Walmart will be using LED ceiling fixtures from GE’s ecomagination program. The total energy savings from LEDs could amount to 620 million kWh over the next decade – enough to power 5,600 U.S. homes over the same period.
Walmart will start installing the GE LEDs this month in stores in the U.K.
“When I went in, I didn’t realize all that we were going to do,” says LED inventor Holonyak, now 85 years old but still teaching engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “As far as I am concerned, the modern LED starts at GE.”
In just two months some 600,000 fans from 31 countries and 3 million local tourists will turn Brazil’s airports into buzzing beehives.
Airports in large cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are already running at capacity. “Our airspace looks like a ball of spaghetti,” Capt. Pedro Scorza, director of technical operations for Brazil’s GOL airlines told the Wall Street Journal. “The whole world will be looking for news from Brazil [during the World Cup]. If people end up saying the airspace is crowded, the flights are delayed, it’s a bad image.”
That’s why Brazil started deploying a next-generation digital navigation technology from GE that relies on GPS, optimized flight paths and computer systems in the cockpit, rather than ground-based radio beacons and other 20th century technology. It’s called Required Navigational Performance and allows air traffic controllers to slot more planes along a single route, and lets pilots and airlines design the most efficient flight plans.
These digital “highways in the sky” were conceived by Alaska Airlines pilot Steve Fulton and developed by GE Aviation’s Flight Efficiency Services business. Fulton says that pilots have been responding “very favorably” to it. “Everybody understands that this is the right way to be flying,” he says. “In the past we did not have the advantage of this type of precise flying. You really were guessing sometimes before this technology. It was an uncomfortable feeling.”
RNP can guide pilots to landing along a smooth, precise, and fuel-efficient path in almost any weather. Top image: An RNP “highway in the sky” approach to Rio’s Santos Dumont airport.
They include the Santos Dumont Airport in Rio, where GE deployed the first approach paths in 2012. “Santos Dumont is a dramatic downtown airport framed by the Sugarloaf and other mountains around Rio,” Fulton says. “That type of terrain gives us an opportunity to demonstrate the technology to the industry and regulators.”
Giovanni Spitale, general manager of Flight Efficiency Services, says that once the RNP paths are deployed, GE’s software and analytics can optimize routes, validate cost savings and identify additional areas for improvements. “The good news is that there are always better ways to operate and save fuel,” Spitale says.
GE has completed more than 300 route installations in Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and the US.
Some, like in Queenstown, New Zealand and in the Sichuan province in China, are quite spectacular. But most of the deployments are in areas where terrain is not a factor – the objectives are operational efficiency and minimizing the environmental impact of air traffic operations. (RNP is part of GE’s ecomagination program.)
GOL estimates that RNP could shave off 22 miles and 7.5 minutes per landing approach to the airport in the capital Brasilia, compared to conventional paths. It could also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1,620 pounds and deliver $24 million in operational savings over five years.
GOL’s Capt. Scorza told the WSJ that the system could save an average of 20 gallons of fuel, or $70, per flight on the busy route between Rio and Sao Paulo. “Multiply that by the number of flights, it’s a lot of savings,” he said.
In December 2011, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner powered by two GEnx jet engines set a pair of world records for the fastest eastbound trip around the world and longest flight for an aircraft in its class.
The next-generation GEnx jet engine and two others like it still in development are now providing a record $144 billion lift - almost as much as GE’s combined revenues for one year - to the company’s business.
The company has $35 billion in orders and commitments for the GEnx, $26 billion (including service agreements) for the GE9X jet engine, and $83 billion for the LEAP engine, which is being developed by CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between GE and France’s Snecma (Safran). The engines and services agreements also contribute to GE’s record $244 billion backlog.
“The engines are standing on the shoulders of groundbreaking technologies we’ve been developing over the last decade,” says David Joyce, CEO of GE Aviation. “Our strategy is clearly paying off.”
This Boieng 787 Dreamliner is being powered by two GEnx engines. Top image: A GEnx engine at a testing stand in Peebles, Ohio.
All three engines have components made from advanced materials like aviation-grade carbon fiber composites. They allowed engineers to make the engines bigger, lighter, more fuel efficient and also quieter.
GE is so far ahead in materials that it is already working on the fourth generation of carbon fiber fan blades for the GE9X engine. No other jet engine manufacturer has blades made from the material in service.
GE spends annually between 5 and 6 percent of revenues on research and development of new technologies and materials like 3D printing and CMCs.
As a result, the CMCs are ceramics for superheroes. They are two thirds lighter than metals and tough enough to operate at temperatures 20 percent higher than their super alloy counterparts, at levels where most metals grow soft.
The materials and new designs will deliver big savings for airlines. The GEnx is 15 percent more fuel efficient than comparable GE engines and the LEAP could save airlines up to $1.6 million per airplane in fuel costs. They also generate fewer carbon and nitrogen emissions.
Making all these new engines, more than 8,000 in total, is a tall order. That’s why GE Aviation also started building seven new factories in the U.S. over the last seven years.
When they are up and running, they will create some 2,500 jobs.
In 1909, New York businessman Samuel Brown traveled to Egypt to purchase a pair of ancient mummies and two coffin bottoms for the Albany Institute of History and Art, where he served as a board member.
Brown and generations of researchers believed that he brought home a male and a female mummy. But when Emory University Egyptologist Peter Lacovara visited the Institute a few years ago, he thought that one of the mummies was in the wrong coffin.
Lacovara knew that other museums have made errors “in sexing mummies,” so he proposed to scan the remains on GE computed tomography (CT) and X-ray equipment at the Albany Medical Center.
Peter Lacovara, far right, with the 3,000-year-old mummy of the Egyptian priest and sculptor Ankhefenmut. The mummy was thought to be a woman. Top image: In 1939, GE medical scanners produced X-ray images of mummies for the New York World’s Fair (above). Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.
The tests confirmed his hunch. The 3,000-year-old mummy of a woman had a male pelvis and a man’s thicker and angular bones. The team also noticed that the upper right side of the mummy’s body “was decidedly more muscular.”
This fact, combined with markings on the coffin, led them to conclude that the mummy was Ankhefenmut, a priest and a sculptor at the Temple of Mut near Luxor, who lived between the years of 1069 and 945 BCE.
The scans yielded other treasures. The researchers found that the mummy’s bones were “well mineralized, solid and uniform,” indicating that Ankhefenmut’s diet “contained adequate protein and calcium.” They observed that “his dentition was exceptional, with no cavities or loss of teeth.” He was about 50 when he died.
Mummy board of Ankhefenmut, Credit: Trustees of the British Museum.
This is not the first time GE medical technology helped historians explore the past. In 2011, anthropologists from the Milwaukee Public Museum scanned mummies from Peru and Egypt, including the head of an Egyptian man named Djed-Hor.
Djed-Hor was first scanned in 1986. But in 2006 a newer technology revealed a hole in his skull. It led anthropologists to conclude that he had undergone a primitive form of brain surgery.
“We’ve been doing this for 25 years with GE,” said Carter Lupton, the Milwaukee museum’s head of anthropology. “Every time we’ve come out, it’s a different generation of technology, better imaging, better information, better ways, and it’s faster too.”
Djed-Hor may have undergone trepanation, a form of brain surgery.
The latest imaging systems like the Revolution CT* can produce detailed images of the arteries (above) or the skeleton (below).
*Revolution CT is 510(k) pending at FDA and not available for sale in the U.S. Not yet CE market, not available for sale in all regions.
In 1926 Colliers magazine asked Nikola Tesla about his vision of the future. “When wireless is perfectly applied,” Tesla said, “the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole.”
Tesla’s brain idea has been driving the growth of social networks for a while. Now it is starting to power innovation, technological progress and prosperity, according to “The Future of Work”, a new study by Marco Annunziata, GE’s chief economist, and Stephan Biller, chief scientist for manufacturing at GE.
They write that the “global brain” will be a prime mover, together with networks of “intelligent” machines called the Industrial Internet and advanced manufacturing methods like 3D printing, behind a paradigm shift that will transform industry and shape the future of how we make things.
“We are witnessing the rise of the global brain, when a buzzing hive of knowledge, connectivity, technology and access unites the human and the machine, the physical and the digital, in previously unimaginable ways,” says Beth Comstock, GE’s chief marketing officer. “Scientific discovery, information sharing and sheer ingenuity are giving us the ability to hack our human brains to learn, do, be more. At the same time, we can model human intelligence into machines to help us gain insights, increase speed and know more.”
Everyone who sent her first email 20 years ago can see that connectivity, computers and technology are accelerating both the pace and the magnitude of change. Now every company, including manufacturers, is becoming a technology company.
Annunziata and Biller write that a new “deep and far-reaching” industrial transformation is already “fundamentally changing” the way we design and manufacture products, and what these products can do. “It is making the complex supply and distribution networks that tie the global economy together faster, more flexible and more resilient,” they say.
The keywords for the future of work will be zero unplanned downtime, open innovation, and the “brilliant factory” – a new breed of a manufacturing plant where a single digital thread links design, engineering, production, supply chain and distribution.
Annunziata and Biller note that companies are already starting to rely on open-source innovation and crowd-sourcing, “two of the most effective ways to unleash the full potential of the global brain.”
Collaboration platforms for engineers and data scientists, such as GrabCAD and Kaggle, are providing access to the global brain today. “Issues of intellectual property will have to be adequately addressed and new compensation schemes might need to be developed,” Annunziata and Biller write. “But the economic incentive is simply too compelling for this process not to move forward.”
The transformation won’t be painless. Some jobs and skills will become displaced and obsolete. “Technological progress, notably in high-performance computing, robotics and artificial intelligence, is extending the range of tasks that machines can perform better than humans can,” the authors write. But the shift “will push a growing share of the workforce towards creativity and entrepreneurship, where humans have a clear comparative advantage over machines,” they say. “They are ultimately the most defining and rewarding traits of humans in the workplace.”
The authors write that the changes will reach beyond manufacturing to education and cyber security. “The Future of Work will require time and investment, but it will reboot productivity growth and economic activity,” Annunziata and Biller write. “It will reshuffle the competitive landscape for both companies and countries, and it will fundamentally change—for the better—the way we work and the way we live.”
A global fleet of omnivorous power plants powered by a breed of advanced gas engines is already feasting on biogas produced from cheese whey, whisky mash and even discarded school lunches. Now Bulgaria is expanding the menu to synthetic gas, or syngas, made from straw and wood chips.
A new 5-megawatt power plant will burn the syngas in three Jenbacher gas engines that can generate enough electricity to power 2,000 homes. They will help the European Union member hit a target of producing 16 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The plant will produce the syngas on site. The process, called integrated biomass gasification, is much more efficient that burning the original fuel directly. GE, which makes the Jenbachers, estimates that the power plant can reach nearly 70 percent combined heat and power efficiency. (The most efficient coal-fired power plants hit 50 percent.)
EQTEC Iberia, the company behind the gasification technology, has produced syngas from almond and coconut shells, olive pits and pulp, and even grape pomace. (Systems for gasifying chicken litter, old tires and sewage sludge are in development.)
There are hundreds of Jenbacher gas engines working around the world. The engine sits at the core of GE’s new Distributed Power business, which the company launched in February.
The business unit brings together GE’s power generation technology like the Jenbacher and Waukesha gas engines, and also the so-called “aeroderivatives,” a family of nimble gas turbines built around GE’s jet engines.
Jenbachers already supply power to remote towns and villages, help cities integrate renewable energy into the grid, and also serve as a community anchor in a time of crisis.
For example, when Typhoon Haiyan struck central Philippines last November, one structure that survived the storm’s 150-mph winds in Bogo City was a Jenbacher. It became a place where locals came to recharge their phones, access the Internet, and get updates about their families.
On the other side of the globe, in Germany, a group of Jenbachers is helping the Bavarian town of Rosenheim incorporate solar and wind power into the grid.
“This is why distributed power is so attractive,” says Scott Nolen, field application and technical solutions executive for Distributed Power at GE Power & Water. “You have the capability to supply the engines all over the place where people need heat and power and get maximum efficiency out of every precious hydrocarbon molecule you have to burn.”
Mark Johnson is no Don Quixote humbled by windmills. He makes wind turbines beg for forgiveness.
Johnson is in charge of engineering and testing GE wind turbines, including the largest ones that generate the same thrust at the world’s powerful jet engine and have their blade tips flying at 190 mph, faster than the takeoff speed of a fighter jet. “They must handle huge forces and hurricane wind gusts,” says Johnson, wind engineering leader at GE Renewable Energy. “I’d rather have a torture chamber in the lab than in the field.”
Johnson’s got his wish last fall, when GE partnered with Clemson University in North Charleston, SC. Clemson’s new wind turbine testing facility holds the world’s most advanced rig for trying and validating wind turbine drivetrains, the machinery that connects the spinning main shaft and gearbox to the electricity generator.
Clemson’s test bed will allow Johnson and his team to put GE’s next-generation drivetrains through 20 years of stress in just a few of months.
A wind turbine nacelle in the bay of a test cell at Clemson. Top image: The site also includes a massive grid simulator nicknamed Stargate, after the science-fiction movie.
The team starts the test by attaching the drivetrain to a powerful motor, switchgear and variable frequency drive built by GE Energy Management. The set-up is capable of delivering 7.5 megawatts of power and subjecting the drivetrain to hurricane-force torques. “Imagine putting a seven-ton Mack truck on a lever arm that’s more than a football field long,” Johnson says. “That’s how much torque we can deliver.”
The largest wind turbine blades weigh as much as 13 tons and the rig can also simulate groaning real-life bending momenta created by the blades in bad weather. “This rig is similar to what we have for certifying jet engines in Ohio,” Johnson says. “We take the turbines to their limits.”
GE’s wind design and component and development test teams install over 200 sensors inside the turbines. They gather design and performance data during the test from the gear box, bearings, generator and other technology, and feed it to a GE computing center for analysis. Workers tear down each turbine after they finish testing and inspect it for denting, pitting, rubbing and other internal damage.
The Clemson site also includes a 15-megwatt grid simulator that will allow Johnson and his team to mimic grid conditions the turbines may encounter around the world. The turbines must be able to handle disturbances sail through interrupted grid service. “When you go to countries with weaker grids, like India, you have to prove to local regulators that your machines can turbines can work there,” Johnson says.
Wind energy is fast becoming a key part of global energy generation. In U.S. alone, wind farms have delivered 30 percent of all new power generating capacity for the last five years. Wind also supplied more than 4 percent of all U.S. electricity for the first time in 2013. States like Iowa and South Dakota now get more than a quarter of their power from wind.
“Testing and validation allows us to drive down the costs of electricity and maintain high reliability,” Johnson says. “Clemson will help us push the edge of what’s possible.”
'Tis baseball season again. Night games are as common as peanuts and Cracker Jack these days, but that has not always been the case.
For many decades baseball was a daytime pursuit. But weekday games didn’t mesh with the company clock and stands were often empty. Until Robert J. Swackhamer’s homerun.
Swackhamer, a GE lighting engineer, was thinking about freight trains, not baseball, when he hit upon his idea. In the 1920s, a railroad company asked him to design an array of high-wattage lamps that would allow it to keep rail yards open overnight.
The lights worked so well that Swackhamer convinced his bosses to test the arrays at the General Electric Athletic Field at Lynn, Mass.
On June 24, 1927, five towers supporting 72 flood lamps lit up the first night baseball game in history between Lynn and Salem.
Salem won 7-2 and the packed stands, which included players from the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Americans who played in Boston that afternoon, got the GE sales team thinking.
The first night baseball game ever played. Salem beat Lynn 7-2 at the General Electric Athletic Field at Lynn, Mass. in June 1927.
It was a hard sell as teams initially viewed the idea of night games with trepidation. “They wanted to turn me over to the sheriff in 1930 when I put in the first [minor league] baseball lighting system in Des Moines and said it wouldn’t be long before the major leagues would do it,” Swackhamer told the writer David Pietrusza.
John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants manager, warned that “undoubtedly an attempt will be made to introduce night baseball in the major leagues, and it cannot be considered lightly.”
The packed stands at Lynn included players from the Boston Red Sox and Washington Americans who came to see Swackhamer’s innovation.
It took GE three years to sign up a handful of minor league teams as customers. But in 1935 the sales team finally had a hit with the Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds were on the brink of bankruptcy at the time. No more than 3,000 fans would show up for a weekday game on average. Owner Powel Crosley and general manager Leland “Larry” MacPhail took a gamble and invested $50,000 ($850,000 adjusted for inflation) in the GE lights.
Swackhamer’s drawings for lighting the GE stadium in Lynn.
The first night game in Major League’s history took place at the Red’s Crosley Field on Friday, May 24, 1935. A crowd of 20,000 people watched the Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1. It was narrow win, but it caused a revolution in baseball. “As soon as I saw the lights come on, I knew they were there to stay,” said Cincinnati’s announcer Red Barber.
The fans also liked them. The team played seven night games in 1935 before 130,000 fans, or 18,500 visitors on average per game. The rest is history.
Cincinnati Reds owner Powel Crosley asked GE to install the lights above Crosley Field.
Other teams soon followed the Reds’ lead. By 1941, 11 of the 16 Major League baseball fields installed GE lights, including the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Swackhamer was vindicated when even the Giants came to see the light.
The Reds played seven night games in 1935 before 130,000 fans, or 18,500 visitors on average per game. The rest is history.
The father of chaos theory Edward Lorenz once wondered whether the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas. He called it the butterfly effect.
Scientists at GE Global Research are taking a closer look. Not at Lorenz’s question but at the wings themselves. They are using nanotechnology to mimic the iridescent sheen of butterflies from the Morpho genus and develop fast and super sensitive thermal and chemical imaging sensors. In the future, the technology could be used in night vision goggles, surveillance cameras and even medical diagnostic devices.
Morpho butterfly wings could inspire the next generation of thermal imaging sensors.
Imitating nature is not a new idea. Swiss engineer George de Mestro invented Velcro after his dog came home covered with thistle burrs, Speedo came up with fast sharkskin swimsuits, and every aircraft engineer since Leonardo has been aping birds.
When the GE team put Morpho wings under a powerful microscope, they saw a layer of tiny scales just tens of micrometers across. In turn, each of the scales had arrays of ridges a few hundred nanometers wide. This complex structure absorbs and bends light and gives Morfo butterflies their trademark shimmering blue and green coat.
Scientists at GE Global Research discovered that the nanostructures on the wing scales of Morpho butterflies have acute sensing capabilities. This could allow scientist to build sensors that can detect heat and also as many as 1,000 different chemicals.
But the GE team also observed that the color of the wings changed when they came into contact with heat, gases and chemicals. Working with DARPA, the scientists started exploring and enhancing the wing’s properties and geometry to build better sensors.
Detectors based on their research could one day they help doctors create visual heat maps of internal organs, assess wound healing, test food and water safety and monitors power plant emissions.
The findings could also lead to new sensors for detecting warfare agents and explosives.
Morpho butterfly wings change their natural color (A) after exposure to ethanol (top B) and toluene (bottom B).
Radislav Potyrailo, principal scientist at GE Global Research who leads the photonics program, found that when infrared radiation hits the wing, the nanostructures on the wing heat up and expand, causing iridescence and color change.
He and his team added tiny nanotubes to the wings and were able to increase the amount of radiation the wings can absorb, improving their heat sensitivity.
“This new class of thermal imaging sensors promises significant improvements over existing detectors in their image quality, speed, sensitivity, size, power requirements and cost,” Potyrailo says.
He and his team are starting to make sense of the chaos of colors.
GE Garages, a moveable feast for makers replete with 3D printers, injection molders and laser cutters, arrived in Washington, DC, last week, just a few blocks from the White House.
Adults and kids alike can learn about rapid prototyping and advanced manufacturing, participate in hands-on training and listen to guest speakers.
Later this afternoon, for example, a group of students from Washington’s TransTech STEM Academy will take part in a 3D printing workshop led by industry experts. Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation for the White House, will walk over for a “townhall” discussion with students starting at 3pm.
The first GE Garages opened at the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin inside a customized shipping container in March 2012.
GE Garages is much more than high-tech tinkering. The technologies working in the space have real-world applications in industries ranging from aviation to healthcare.
“The potential of 3D printing and other forms of additive manufacturing, for example, makes us excited about what we can do,” says Luana Iorio, chief consulting engineer at GE Aviation. “We’re looking at applying it to polymers, ceramics, metals, all kinds of materials for many different components across the GE product line. It’s one of the biggest things to happen in manufacturing in some time.”
GE Garages spent the last two years traveling around the U.S. It will go global later this year. GE developed it in partnership with Skillshare, Quirky, Make and Inventables. The fab lab is using machines from TechShop.
Visit the GE Garages website for opening hours. The fab lab will stay in the capital until April 9.
The Internet is no longer just about email, ecommerce or Twitter. “We are at an inflection point,” says Joe Salvo, manager of Complex Systems Engineering Laboratory at GE Global Research. “The next wave of productivity will connect brilliant machines and people.”
But before that happens, they must find a common language. “It’s still like the Tower of Babel,” Salvo says. “We need to bring them together in powerful new networks.”
That’s why GE, AT&T, CISCO, IBM and Intel launched the Industrial Internet Consortium, today. The open, not-for-profit group will work together to break down technology silos, improve machine-to-machine communications and bring the physical and digital worlds closer together. The members will be developing common architectures and advanced test beds for real-world industrial applications.
"I don’t think anything this big has been tried before" in terms of sweeping industrial cooperation, Bill Ruh, vice president of the GE Global Software Center, told the New York Times. “This is how we will make machines, people and data work together.”
Salvo, who will represent GE in the group, says that the consortium is really an ecosystem play to make the Industrial Internet an innovation engine. We need open standards to unlock the true value of the Industrial Internet.”
GE estimates that the Industrial Internet could add $10 to $15 trillion to global GDP over the next two decades. Although there are already some 10 billion connected devices, they represent just 1 percent of what’s possible. That number will grow to 50 billion by 2020.
Ruh says that the combination of operational technology ‑ the hardware and software that monitors and controls machines ‑ with the Internet and information technology that allows machines to “think” is already disrupting how industries operate. “This is not just about writing new standards and hoping people will pick them up, but delivering real solutions that allow us to advance the Industrial Internet,” Ruh says.
Ruh pointed to telecom networks, which tore down their own siloes and became connected. “We see that we can apply this as a parallel across other industries.”
GE’s Smart Grid system called GridIQ, for example, is already digesting diverse sets data from transformers, smart meters, the weather service and social media like Twitter to help utilities predict and prevent power outages.
Wind PowerUp, a Big Data system from GE Renewables, will soon start working at five wind farms in Oklahoma, Indiana and Illinois. It’s sensors and algorithms could squeeze as much as 420,000 megawatt-hours of extra electricity from the farms’ combined 402 turbines. That’s enough to power 33,000 average U.S. homes.
But this is just the beginning. Says Guido Jouret, vice president of the Internet of Things Business Group at Cisco: “With 99 percent of everything still unconnected, connecting things over the Internet is creating the next industrial revolution.”
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 GEnx jet engine is so powerful that five of them together can produce the same thrust at sea level as one Space Shuttle rocket engine.
It takes just two to lift a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and Air France-KLM will use these engines on a fleet of 37 new Dreamliner jets. The airline will own 25 of the planes and lease the rest. The value of the engine order tops $1.7 billion.
GE makes two versions of the engine: the GEnx-1B for the Dreamliner and the GEnx-2B for Boeing’s 747-8 aircraft. The GEnx is the fastest-selling engine family in GE Aviation history, with more than 1,300 engines ordered.
The GEnx is GE’s most advanced jet engine in service. Tom Brisken, the GE Aviation manager who led the engine development, said that when Boeing started building a new generation of advanced passenger planes more than a decade ago, it wanted engines to match them. “Boeing was pushing hard on weight, so we really pushed hard on engineering,” Brisken told GE Reports.
A GEnx-1B jet engine at the 2013 Dubai Air Show. Photo Credit: Adam Senatori
His team used carbon fiber composites for the fan case and fan blades, redesigned the combustion system, and shed hundreds of pounds from the engine.
Today, 10 years after the launch of the GEnx program, the engine has beaten expectations and set new records.
In 2011, a GEnx-1B-powered Dreamliner flew halfway around the world on a tank of gas, and then finished the job on the next tank. The journey set a weight-class distance record for the 10,337-nautical-mile first leg, and a record for quickest around the world flight: 42 hours and 27 minutes.
Compared to GE’s older 747 workhorse, the CF6 engine, the GEnx engine can improve fuel consumption by as much as 15 percent and cut carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount.
The engines are also whisper quiet. A few years ago, concerned Californians called the San Bernardino Port Authority to complain that Boeing was flying a new 747-8 freighter over their homes with the engines off.
They could be forgiven. Pilots have been known to glance at their fuel gauges to make sure the engines are still running.
For most of history, sick people swallowed simple chemicals to get better. From penicillin to Prozac, most common drugs have molecules with a few dozen atoms that are relatively easy to produce.
But advances in research have brought a new class of complex drugs, built from thousands of atoms strung into proteins. They are called biopharmaceuticals. Insulin, used for treating diabetes, may be the best known therapeutic protein, but other biopharmaceuticals can be used to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other disease. The group also includes many vaccines.
With advances in biomedicine, biopharmaceuticals have become the fastest growing class of drugs. They have a market size of about $100 billion and account for a quarter of all spending on medicines.
But making biopharmaceuticals is not easy. Biotech companies do it by expressing snippets of DNA inside host cells. These cells live and multiply in special vessels called bioreactors.
“Because of that chemical and structural complexity, you need to invest a lot of effort in manufacturing,” says Nigel Darby, vice president of biotechnologies and chief technology officer at GE Healthcare Life Sciences. “Once you express your protein, it swims in a mixture of hundreds if not thousands of other proteins. Your second challenge is to find the incredibly complicated molecule and make it into a single, well-characterized pure product so that you get a safe drug.”
Bioreactors can help with vaccine development. The image above shows an influenza virus (red) infecting a MDCK cell expressing a microtubule GFP fusion protein (green). Top image: Lung cancer cells stained for actin (green), mitochondria (red) and DNA (blue).
GE Healthcare Life Sciences is a leading manufacturer of the technologies that pull the right strands out of the protein soup, the “downstream” part of biopharmaceuticals production.
Today, the GE unit completed a $1 billion acquisition of three businesses from Thermo Fisher Scientific to boost its presence in the “upstream” part of the industry. The businesses are developing and manufacturing the media and sera in which the cells grow, and aid with protein analysis and biomedical drug discovery. “Traditionally, we’ve been absent from that upstream part of the market,” Darby says. “But over the last six years we’ve acquired a number of companies that work in bioreactor technology and cell culture. If you get everything right, offering the upstream and the downstream from a single technology portfolio will enable our customers to get their drugs to the patient in a quicker and more cost effective manner.”
Darby says that biopharmaceuticals are “a very important class of molecules,” which is getting increasingly refined to hit precise targets in the body.
The acquisition of three Thermo Fisher businesses will help GE play a larger role in the $100 billion biopharmaceuticals market.
One new way to attack cancer has been antibody therapy, which mimics the immune system response and uses molecules precisely designed to hit cancer’s weak spots. “This is the story of increased refinement through molecular medicine, in terms of how you find targets, and the types of molecules you use to do it,” Darby says.
All of the largest pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, Amgen, GFK and Merck, are already working in the field, in addition to many small and medium companies. Several bestselling drugs like Abbvie’s Humira for rheumatoid arthritis and Roche’s Herceptin for breast cancer are biopharmaceuticals.
Darby is quick to stress that we should not think of biopharmaceuticals as medicines restricted to the US and European markets. “If you look today, some of the biggest sources of growth we see both in use and manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and vaccines is in places like India, Korea, and China,” Darby says.
“There is a lot of vibrancy in terms of demand for these products from the growth markets. This correlates with the best growth opportunities.”