Starting with Thomas Edison a century ago, GE engineers anticipated, invented and built many of the devices we rely on every day and consider common, and which may define the future. From electric locomotives and medical scanners to wind turbines and aircraft engines, they arc over the past decades and streak into the coming years. Come travel in time with us and take a look at how they’ve evolved.
In 1896, one year after Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen announced his discovery of X-rays, GE’s Elihu Thomson built an electrical X-ray scanner and demonstrated the use of stereoscopic “roentgen” pictures for diagnosing bone fractures and locating foreign objects in the body. 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.
GE’s latest medical scanners like the Revolution CT* produce detailed pictures of the skeleton and internal organs. The machine can capture a clear image of the heart in only one beat and take high-definition pictures of carotid arteries (top picture).
During World War II a group of GE engineers worked non-stop for 10 months inside a drab workshop near Boston on a top secret government project. Their goal was to win the war but they ended up shrinking the world. The Hush-Hush Boys, as they were called, built the first American jet engine.
GE’s latest jet engines like the GEnx-1B, developed for Boeing’s Dreamliner, use composite fan blades, advanced manufacturing methods, efficient burning technology and other innovations to reduce fuel consumption, noise and emissions. In 2011, a pair of GEnx-1Bs powered a Dreamliner halfway around the world on a tank of gas, 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.
In 1900, some 38 percent of American cars were powered by electricity, 40 percent used steam, and only 22 percent burned gasoline. There was even a fleet of electric taxis in New York City. GE made some of the first EV chargers for the vibrant market.
In 2014, the “skypump” combines a vertical wind turbine developed by Urban Green Energy (UGE) with GE’s powerful WattStation EV charger. The 4-kilowatt wind turbine supplies the charging station with electricity anyplace the wind blows.
In 1887, Charles F. Brush built the first power generating wind turbine in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a 4-ton, 60-foot monster with 144 blades and a long, comet-like tail. It generated just 12 kilowatts of electricity – enough supply no more than three modern American homes. Brush merged his electric company with Thomas Edison’s GE.
Today, GE’s largest turbines tower 650-feet above the ground, span 25 stories in diameter, and produce 2.5 megawatts of electricity each. Engineers have also started connecting wind farms to the Industrial Internet. Software and big data can make turbines more productive and competitive by lowering the cost of electricity. One such technology called PowerUp already allows wind farm operators to monitor performance in real time and boost power output by as much as 5 percent per turbine. This could translate to a 20 percent increase in profit.
It is common knowledge that Thomas Edison illuminated the world with his light bulbs. But few people know that in 1962 GE engineer Nick Holonyak built the world’s first light-emitting diode, or LED. Without it, there would be no iPad retina displays, smartphones, or efficient street lighting.
Modern LEDs need as little as one third of the power to shine like ordinary 100-watt light bulbs, and last up to 25,000 hours. GE engineers are helping with plans to build the world’s largest crystal chandelier in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. The 20-foot chandelier will use 4,200 crystal pieces and tens of thousands of LED lights and lighting modules. It will be permanently suspended 40 feet above the street from a special steel support system. The “GE Chandelier,” as it will be called, will top Doha’s Reflective Flow light piece, which measures 19 feet in height at the tallest point, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 1912, GE supplied the U.S. Navy’sfirst ship propelled by electrical motors, U.S.S. Jupiter, with a 7,000 horsepower generator.
Today, GE gas turbines based on jet engine technology are powering the world’s fastest ship, the Francisco. The wave-piercing catamaran seats 1,000 passengers, carries 150 cars and travels as fast as 58.1 knots, or 67 miles per hour. The image above shows the wake behind the Francisco cruising at 57 knots outside Hobart, Tasmania.
Fresh food did not last long in the kitchen at the turn of the last century. That changed when GE started producing the first hermetically sealed home refrigerators in 1917, and the first commercial electric fridges a decade later.
Researchers working in GE labs are now using a special magnetic material to build a cooling system projected to be 20 percent more efficient than current refrigeration technology. It could be inside your fridge by the end of the decade. The system is using a water-based fluid flowing through a series of magnets to transfer heat, rather than a chemical refrigerant and a compressor. This significantly lowers any harm to the environment and makes the recycling of old refrigerators simpler.
*Revolution 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.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology has educated some of the sharpest engineering minds and its magazine,MIT Technology Review, reports on the latest advances from the intersection of innovation, technology and business. The Review’s editors released on Monday its annual global list of the 50 smartest companies “that have displayed impressive innovations in the past year.” Their list includes GE for the third time in a row.
“It might sound difficult to define what makes a smart company, but you know one when you see it,” writes deputy editor Brian Bergstein. “When such a company commercializes a truly innovative technology, things happen: leadership in a market is bolstered or thrown up for grabs. Competitors have to refine or rethink their strategies.”
The Industrial Internet, an emerging digital network that links people and machines with data and software, is a whole new universe of disruptive technologies, and the editors recognized GE for investing $1.5 billion in the space. They also noted that GE’s “use of big data and sensors could help revive manufacturing.”
The Industrial Internet is changing the way we live, making everything from airlines to hospitals and power plants operate faster and more efficiently. These gains could add between $10 and $15 trillion – the size of today’s U.S. economy - to global GDP over the next 20 years.
GE’s Grid IQ system, for example, combines diverse sets data from transformers, smart meters, the weather service and social media like Twitter to help utilities predict and prevent power outages. Another system, Agile Trac, is already tracking patients, doctors and medical equipment in hospitals. It can also monitor caregiver behavior like hand washing. The American Journal of Infection Control estimates that 20 to 40 percent of all hospital-acquired infections are transmitted to patients by hospital employees.
GE has launched two dozen Industrial Internet technologies since fall 2012. The 10 products released in 2012 brought in $290 million in revenues and another $400 million in orders during the first 12 months.
Last week, Fast Company also included GE on its list of most innovative companies. “General Electric is best known for its machine making,” the magazine wrote, “but it’s gotten smart and branded itself as a big-data company, too, by pushing its vision for an “Industrial Internet”—the notion that machines should be connected like the web in order to increase efficiency and reduce downtime.”
Last year, a group of directors who either won or were nominated for Oscar made short films that illustrate Industrial Internet applications in air travel, medicine, and electricity distribution. Take a look.
It took billions of tiny polyps half a million years to build the world’s largest structure made by living creatures, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. But much bigger organisms, humans, have spent the last half century bleaching and killing their work. “Water quality, and behind that climate change, are among the main factors which are having an impact on the health and resilience of the reef,” says Dr. Eva Abal, chief scientific officer the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
The GBR runs along 1,600 miles of Australia’s Queensland coast, covers 900 islands and 2,500 reefs plunging as deep as 6,500 feet, and includes more than 1,600 types of fish, 600 types of coral, 100 different kinds of jellyfish, and other sea life. Together, they form a unique ecosystem vital to the state’s environment and economy. But protecting it is a massive undertaking.
The coastal cities of Cairns and Townsville in northern Queensland have been doing their part. They are using advanced water filtration technology developed by GE Power & Water to treat 50 million gallons of wastewater and agricultural runoff per day. The system can catch particles of sediment, microbes and bacteria as small as 0.04 microns before they reach the reef.
Some 900 islands and 2,500 coral reefs form Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
The technology, called ZeeWeed, is using special membranes punctured with thousands of tiny holes 400 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The membranes move in the water like seaweed in the ocean. The perforations let water molecules through but capture sediments, pathogens, protozoa and bacteria.
“The water coming out of these plants doesn’t contain any solids, which further reduces the discharge of nutrients which endanger the reef, because these are often attached to solids,” said Chris Harpham, a regional technology leader for GE Power & Water. “This ZeeWeed water filtration process also removes the vast majority of the pathogens because they are too large to penetrate the membrane.”
Water filtration in both urban and rural areas will be key to preserving the Great Barrier Reef in the decades ahead.
“You can’t compartmentalize the threats and say ‘it’s just about climate change, or just about water quality,’ because all of these factors are having an impact,” Dr. Abal told GE Reports Australia.
“One thing we do know is that by reducing one threat we improve the likelihood that the reef will respond well in the face of other threats, protecting the reef by making it more resilient.”
Thomas Edison and Charles F. Brush were born just two years and 70 miles apart in small Ohio towns strung along the Lake Erie shore. They both started out as backyard inventors, launched successful electricity companies that later formed the foundation of GE, and grew old as wealthy men. But while Edison’s ingenuity has never left the public imagination, Brush’s genius is only now starting to shine.
In 1887, Brush built the first power generating wind turbine in Cleveland, a 4-ton, 60-foot monster with 144 blades and a long, comet-like tail. It generated just 12 kilowatts of electricity – enough supply only two or three modern American homes – but offered a glimpse of the future.
The world’s first wind turbine generated just 12 kilowatts of electricity. Brush built it behind his mansion, in the middle of a 5-acre backyard running along Cleveland’s fashionable Euclid Avenue.
Today, GE’s largest turbines tower 650-feet above the ground, span 25 stories in diameter, and produce 2.5 megawatts of electricity each. But engineers keep looking for ways to make them more productive and competitive, and to lower the cost of electricity. Andy Holt, general manager for projects and services at GE Renewable Energy, says that the advent of Big Data and the cloud, which stores and sorts the information collected from the turbines, allow engineers to step out in a new direction.
For example, new GE software and hardware technology called PowerUp allows wind farm operators like EDP Renewables to monitor performance in real time and boost power output by as much as 5 percent per turbine. This could translate to a 20 percent increase in profit.
EDPR plans to install the system at five wind farms in Oklahoma, Indiana and Illinois. The technology could squeeze as much as 420,000 megawatts-hours of extra electricity from the farms’ combined 402 turbines, enough to power 33,000 average U.S. homes. “That’s huge,” Holt says.
New software could boost power output by as much as 5 percent per turbine. This could translate to a 20 percent increase in profit.
The system is using turbine data to manage the speed and the torque of the turbines, the pitch of the blades and the yaw of the nacelles. It is monitoring air flow and other parameters, and continuously “tuning” the turbines and looking for the best settings. “The technology gives us a bunch of dials and levers that let us tune the different elements of the wind turbine to make it operate at an optimal level,” Holt says.
That is something wind farm operators have been looking for. “At ERDP we like to be a leader in innovation and explore creative ways to make the most of our units,” says Brian Hayes, the company’s executive vice president. “Collaborating with GE has been a win-win for us.”
PowerUp is one of 14 new GE systems released last year that link wind turbines, jet engines and medical equipment to the Industrial Internet, an emerging digital network connecting people and machines with software and data.
When railroad engineer Don Wetzel and his colleagues with the now defunct New York Central Railroad decided to build a high-speed train in the 1960s, they salvaged a pair of GE jet engines from an Air Force bomber and attached them to the roof of a stock commuter car. On July 23, 1966, Wetzel put on a white pilot’s helmet and sped down a straight section of Ohio tracks at 183 miles per hour. The train set a world record for self-propelled trains and got recognized by Guinness World Records.
The rail speed record still stands in the U.S., but jet train was scrapped long ago. However, LEGO “virtuoso” Aleksander Stein recently recreated the vehicle from LEGO bricks. To mark the occasion, GE Reports managing editor Tomas Kellner talked to Wetzel, who is 82, about his record-breaking ride, jet-powered snow blowers, and “LEGOmaniacs.”
LEGO “virtuoso” Aleksander Stein recently recreated Don Wetzel’s jet train from LEGO bricks.
Tomas Kellner: How did you get the idea to build a jet train?
Don Wetzel: I was employed as assistant director of technical researchat the New York Central Railroad. The research department was charged with the responsibility to make trains run safer, faster and cheaper. High-speed rail was just coming into vogue and the Pennsylvania Railroad was an arch competitor. We thought we could prove the validity of high-speed transport over conventional rail.
TK: Why did you pick jet engines?
DW: They were the cheapest 5,000 horsepower engines we could find. They were also the most reliable. They were widely used in many Air Force aircraft. The engines we used were GE J-47-19 jet engines removed from a Convair B-36H bomber named the “Peacemaker.” We found them at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. There was a company called Page Airways that was selling them on the surplus market.
The jet-powered M-497 set the North American rail speed record of 183.85 mph on July 23, 1966. The record still stands. Photo Credits: From The Collection Of Donald C. Wetzel
TK: That sounds too easy. How much did you pay for them?
DW: They were readily available and so we bought them. We paid $5,000 for the entire pod. They put it on a tractor-trailer and sent it from Arizona to our Cleveland Collinwood rail yard.
TK: How did you learn to work with jet engines?
DW: I am a former military pilot. I had previously invented and patented a railroad snow blower utilizing the GE J-47 jet engines so I had a lot of experience with them. The engines could be easily adapted to burn diesel as opposed to jet fuel. The snow blowers were used all over the country. They also used them in Saudi Arabia to blow sand from the tracks.
Wetzel’s patented jet engine snow blower.
TK: Did you modify the engines?
DW: We talked to GE Aviation in Cincinnati and got some advice from them. We also got some advice from NASA here in Cleveland. They helped us convert the engine to a 28-volt DC starter and ignition system.
Wetzel’s team used two surplus General Electric J47-19 turbojet engines to power the train. Each engine was capable of producing 5,200 pounds of thrust.
TK: You said that you used diesel. How did you change the fuel system?
DW: Diesel fuel is more viscous than jet fuel. We had to increase the pressure to the fuel nozzles so the fuel would atomize and ignite in the combustion chambers. That was easily done. We made our own throttle with a Vickers hydraulic flow control valve, instead of the complicated throttle used on the airplane.
TK: The train’s sleek cab would make Ferrari proud. How did you design it and found a place for the engines?
DW: My wife is a commercial artist and she did the streamlining design. The original design had the jet engines on the rear end of the car, but we changed it to the forward end. She said that the car looked a lot better with the engines on the front. There’s an old pilot legend that if an airplane looks good, it usually flies good. We felt that if the jet train looked good, it would run good.
The staff of New York Central’s Collinwood shop who created, built and manned the M-497 pose in front of the train before the trials began.
TK: How did you decide on the rail car?
DW: We picked an ordinary commuter car. We found a 13-year-old Budd “Beeliner” Rail Diesel Car in Detroit. It had the NYCRR number M-497. We removed the seats to make room for the structure supporting the engines. The instruments that measured speed and stress were in the baggage area. We installed fuel tanks in the mail section.
TK: Tell us about the record ride.
DW: If I recall it correctly, there were four runs total. I was a locomotive engineer on steam, electric and diesel locomotives – including diesel locomotives manufactured in Erie, Pennsylvania by General Electric. As I said, I was also a former pilot. I guess those skills made me the obvious person to run the M-497.
The instrumentation bay of the M-497. Besides speed, the New York Central team measured stress, temperature, vibration and other behavior.
TK: Where did you run it?
DW: We took the train to a straight stretch of track west of Toledo, Ohio. It was conventional track and roadbed. There was only a small section that was welded. On my second run our speed reached 196 mph and we were decelerating when we went through the timing traps. They told me that they wanted the train to run through at 180 mph. Everybody thought that it was quite funny that we set a world record while decelerating. We were going 183.35 mph when got through the gate.
The M-497 setting the U.S. rail speed record of 183.85 mph on July 23, 1966.
TK: Were you scared at any time?
DW: No, but the crew told me that once or twice it seemed that the M-497 was airborne. It failed to close the track circuit and the track-occupied light turned off at the dispatcher’s office at the Toledo train station. It made them anxious. I knew that we weren’t actually airborne, we just didn’t complete the track circuit due to the M-497′s light weight.
TK: What happened to the jet train next?
DW: It had its moment of glory at a press conference in New York City. But then we sent it back to Beach Grove, Indiana, removed the engines and put them into snow blowers. We also rebuilt the commuter car and it re-entered regular service on the line between Poughkeepsie and Harlem, New York. The railroad scrapped it in 1984.
TK: This story has a sad ending.
DW: It doesn’t. The goal was to prove that high-speed rail was possible in the U.S. We absolutely proved the validity of the concept that very high speeds could be attained using conventional rail equipment.
TK: Do you know that the M-497 now lives on as a LEGO model?
DW: I do. My granddaughter, Stephanie Donovan, now Stephanie Cullum, and her husband Doug are “LEGOmaniacs.” On their first date, Dough brought her a bunch of LEGOs instead of flowers. She knew right then that he was the one. They even had a LEGO wedding. All of the decorations were made of LEGO bricks, including the gentlemen’s boutonnieres. The bride’s bouquet had clear LEGO bricks wired through as sparkle. They still have thousands of LEGO pieces at home, including the latest LEGO sets. They told me about the train.
TK: This has the all the makings of another great story! Congratulations, and thank you for the interview.
Don Wetzel’s granddaughter Stephanie Cullum and her husband Doug are “LEGOmaniacs.” Here they are pictured on their wedding day in June. They told Wetzel about the LEGO jet train.
Love and the heart go together like chocolates and Valentine’s Day. Starting with the ancient Egyptians, and maybe even sooner, humans believed that the heart was where the soul, emotions and wisdom dwelled.
It was the only internal organ the Egyptians did not remove during mummification “so that the Goddess Ma’at might weigh it against the feather of truth in the afterlife and punish the heavy-hearted,” writes cultural historian Iain Gately.
The idea stuck. “Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night,” mused Romeo three thousand years later, and hearts of many sizes and designs will be ubiquitous everywhere today, on Valentine’s Day.
An image captured by GE’s Revolution CT scanner shows a human heart with stents typically used to treat narrow or weak arteries.
But science has moved on and our rational understanding of the heart followed. In 1628, English court physician William Harvey described for the first time that the heart was a pump pushing blood around the body.
Doctors and researchers have been delving deeper into the heart ever since. Where Harvey and others relied on autopsies and detailed drawings, modern physicians are using high-tech imaging tools that can peer inside the body.
One of them is GE’s Revolution CT* scanner, which can take a clear, fast image of the heart in just one heartbeat. The machine is one of many devices designed by GE engineers to improve healthcare, advance medical knowledge, and fix “broken” hearts. Take a look.
This stained newt chromosome seems to be getting in shape for Valentine’s Day. The image, which was captured by the high-resolution “OMG” microscope from GE Healthcare Life Sciences, shows an RNA splicing factor in red and polymerase II in blue. The image could help scientists solve developmental biology riddles.
Doctors and researchers are using the latest CT technology to peel away layers of the body and study in detail the heart and other organs.
The Revolution CT scanner produced this image of the heart in just one heartbeat.
Scientists at GE Global Research are working with tiny, gas-filled “microbubbles" that can flow through the bloodstream and clarify ultrasound images of the heart (pictured here) and other organs. The technology could fit inside the ambulance and help medical staff diagnose patients on the spot, potentially saving lives.
Vascular muscle cells, which typically surround blood vessels in the body, can be used to study abnormalities in several genetic syndromes. Australian researcher Leslie Caron captured this image with GE’s IN Cell Analyzer.
A cell model used to study ischemic heart disease. The picture was captured by imaging technology developed GE Healthcare Life Sciences. Image by Yoshiko Fujita, National Cardiovascular Center, Japan.
*Revolution 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.
On a typical day, the reptilian machine slithers through narrow gaps deep underground like some prehistoric beast forgotten by evolution, spits copious liquid at its prey, which fights back with clouds of black dust, and sinks a pair of spinning helix jaws into its exposed flank, over and over again.
Meet the GE Fairchild F330 continuous miner, one of the strangest devices made by GE. The machine weighs as much as a fighter jet, stretches the length of a bus, and crawls through cracks no taller than a one year old. It can mine narrow coal seams sandwiched between soft sedimentary rock, and extract coal miners used to leave behind. “There are coal seams so low and narrow that it would be impossible to get to them without the F330,” said Craig Setter, general manager at GE Mining.
The F330 is the only system in the world that can safely separate high-quality, low-ash coal from rock at the mine face. Purer coal helps preparation plants above ground reduce dust and coal refuse.
The machine cuts the coal with a pair of unique helix shearers, each powered by a 155 horsepower electric motor. The jaws move the lumps onto a conveyor belt running along its flat back. It takes about 12 minutes to mine a 20-foot gap.
The highly targeted movement of the shearers allows the machine to extract coal largely uncontaminated by other types of rock. The F330 also douses the coal seam with water to create a safer environment for miners, minimize coal dust, and dilute methane.
When a coal seam has been fully extracted, the F330 conducts a final pass through the mine, drills through the supporting pillars to extract the remaining coal, and allows the roof to collapse as it leaves.
Watch a video of the machine at work:
The F330 is not the only unusual machine made by GE Mining. The business unit also designed a “mine cruiser” that can whisk up to 14 miners through underground mazes. It has a 4.3-liter, 4-cylinder diesel engine sporting a special “water jacket” to prevent sparks and excess heat. Says GE Mining’s Sean Lynch: “All the components are designed to go into a hazardous zone.”
When Mark Baker looks up at the moon at night, he does not see magic or mystery. He ponders megawatts.
Twice a day, like clockwork, the moon’s gravity makes the seas ebb and flow. For Baker, a marine renewables business manager at GE Power Conversion, the tides are the perfect source of energy, more predictable and reliable than wind or solar power. “Some U.K. locations have significant tidal head ranges,” he says. “They offer a tantalizing energy generation potential.”
GE Power Conversion is testing tidal turbine generators and other underwater technology in turbines standing on the sea floor near the Orkney Islands in Scotland and at Ramsey Sound in Pembrokeshire, Wales.
Tides “offer a tantalizing energy generation potential,” says GE’s Mark Baker. The technology harnessing the potential is featured in GE’s new ad campaign.
Baker says that GE is ready to scale up the power system to a large array of tidal turbines planned for the bottom of the Pentland Firth, a narrow channel that separates the Orkneys from the northern tip of Scotland. The channel has some of the fastest moving currents in the U.K.
BBC recently described Scotland as “a Saudi Arabia of renewable energy potential.” The Pentland Firth project alone could supply almost half of Scotland’s electricity needs - as much as 1.9 gigawatts.
The turbines resemble large aircraft propellers submerged in 180 to 240 feet of water. They stand in strategic “pinch points” of the firth, where the tides rush in and out at the highest speeds.
Engineers can capture energy from the vertical and horizontal movements of the tides. Some teams have also used buoys that generate electricity from the up and down movement of the waves. But “it happens to be roughly an order of magnitude more difficult to mount and maintain equipment on the surface of the sea,” Baker says. “Companies have put in wave systems only to find them dashed upon the rocks.”
Baker believes that tidal power generation arrays will start popping up in the U.K. and elsewhere in the world. “Tidal lagoon power stations could soon also become a reality in the U.K.,” he says. “They are capable of utility-scale power generation”
Thomas Edison received 1,093 patents during his lifetime for inventions spanning everything from the tattoo machine to the electric grid. His innovative mind inspired President Ronald Reagan to celebrate National Inventors’ Day on the anniversary of Edison’s birthday on February 11.
Edison’s curious spirit never the left the company he started. Three GE scientists received the Nobel Prize over the years, and three other Nobelists ran experiments at GE Global Research, the company’s flagship lab in Niskayuna, NY. Their colleagues have built the first American jet engine, designed the first full-body MRI machine, and invented the LED.
GE spends more than $6 billion annually on research and development, and its global lab network employs 3,000 people, including 1,125 PhDs.
Today, a lot of innovation involves the Industrial Internet, a digital network that links people with data, machines and software. It is changing the way we live, making everything from airlines to hospitals and power plants operate faster and more efficiently. The gains could add between $10 and $15 trillion – the size of today’s U.S. economy - to global GDP over the next 20 years.
GE has connected gas turbines (see above), locomotives, medical scanners and other technology to the Industrial Internet.
Consider that bad winter weather has cancelled 40,000 flights so far this year. We can’t control weather, but airlines can use data and software to manage their planes and minimize unplanned downtime. “The aircraft is clearly the airline’s biggest and most important asset,” says Andy Heather, vice president of engineering at Taleris. “Traditionally, however, the aircraft has not been well connected into the airlines’ digital systems, operations and maintenance to the same degree, leaving significant potential value unrealized.”
Taleris is a joint venture between GE Aviation and Accenture. It helps customers like Southwest Airlines and Etihad Airways predict, prevent and recover from disruptions like those caused by storms.
Taleris launched only two years ago, it was one of the reasons why Fast Company just put GE again on its list of the world’s most innovative companies, and named it the most innovative enterprise in Big Data. “General Electric is best known for its machine making,” the magazine wrote, “but it’s gotten smart and branded itself as a big-data company, too, by pushing its vision for an “Industrial Internet”—the notion that machines should be connected like the web in order to increase efficiency and reduce downtime.”
Edison used to say that “discontent [was] the first necessity of progress.” He would be happy to see that his legacy now resonates more than ever before.
Researchers working in GE labs have used a special magnetic material to achieve temperatures cold enough to freeze water. The breakthrough system, which is projected to be 20 percent more efficient than current refrigeration technology, could be inside your fridge by the end of the decade.
The system is using a water-based fluid flowing through a series of magnets to transfer heat, rather than a chemical refrigerant and a compressor. This significantly lowers any harm to the environment and makes the recycling of old refrigerators simpler.
“This is a big deal,” says Venkat Venkatakrishnan, a leader of the research team. “We are on the cusp of the next refrigeration revolution.”
The most refreshing place on earth? Michael Benedict (left) and Venkat Venkatakrishnan used GE’s magnetic refrigeration system to chill a bottle of Coors Light.
The new technology is taking advantage of a century-old discovery called the magnetocaloric effect. In the 1880s, German physicist Emil Warburg observed that certain metals would heat up near magnets and cool down when taken away.
Thomas Edison toyed with the concept of building a magnetocaloric heat pump, a device that takes thermal energy from a cold space like the refrigerator and moves it into a hotter environment, like the kitchen. But he could not find any practical materials for pulling it off.
When GE launched the world’s first commercial electric refrigerator in 1927, it used a compressor for removing heat from the food storage. Most modern refrigerators and air conditioners still use the same technology today.
Rotating magnets change the magnetic field back and forth and pump water-based cooling fluid between the beer can (the cold side) to the hot side.
But scientists have never stopped being intrigued by the magnetocaloric effect. In the 1980s, for example, a team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico used expensive superconducting magnets to achieve a few degrees of refrigeration. The New York Times noted at the time that the method was “more likely to be applied to specialized tasks, such as infrared observation from space, than to home refrigeration.”
GE teams in the U.S. and in Germany picked up the problem again 10 years ago. They decided to build a cascade from special magnetic materials, where each step could lower the temperature just slightly. “We are taking a chunk of heat and pushing it down the ladder, from the cold insides of the refrigerator to the warm room outside” Venkatakrishnan says.
It took them five years to achieve cooling of just 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Not much, but enough to show that the idea was working. “We started with a huge machine that didn’t do very much, but we’ve moved to a prototype that’s about the size of a cart,” says Michael Benedict, design engineer at GE Appliances. “The goal is to get this thing down to a size where you can put it in the refrigerator.”
That goal got closer when the team’s materials scientists developed a new type of nickel-manganese alloys for magnets that could function at room temperatures. Design engineers arranged the magnets in a series of 50 cooling stages. Today they are capable of reducing temperature by 80 degrees. “We are focusing on magnetic refrigeration as a potential replacement for all the refrigeration technologies currently in use,” Benedict says.
Time to test the results.
The GE team has run demonstrations for experts from the Department of Energy, attended by staffers from the White House and the EPA. “Nobody in the world has done this type of multi-stage cooling,” Venkatakrishnan says. “We believe we are the first people who shrunk it enough so that it can be transported and shown. We were also the first to go below freezing with the stages.”
The team is now working to achieve a 100-degree drop in temperature at low power. “We’ve spent the last 100 years to make the current refrigeration technology more efficient,” Venkatakrishnan says. “Now we are working on technology for the next 100 years.”
There few powers more potent than a child’s imagination, and GE’s new ad campaign taps deep into its reservoir.
The television spot, released this week, playfully converts GE’s trademark tag line, imagination at work, to imagination at home. It follows a 6-year-old girl who daydreams about what her parents do at work. “The idea was to create a single story that captures everything that GE does,” says Michael Aimette, executive creative director at BBDO, the creative agency that produced the ad. “A lot of it sounded fantastical, almost childlike. And yet it was all very real.”
GE’s research labs used to be called House of Magic and the ad, directed by Dante Ariola, is brimming with that sense of wonder. It features advanced technologies that make the world work better, like underwater turbines using tides to produce renewable electricity, jet engines that talk to each other over the Industrial Internet to improve air travel, and 3D printing to revolutionize design. “What surrounds the products in the the ad is imagined, like the aircraft with bird wings and the walking trees, but the rest actually exists,” Aimette says.
By using a child as the narrator, Ariola has reached beyond GE’s façade and put focus on her parents who work there. “We wanted to tell a story about the people that would resonate globally,” Aimette says.
Andy Goldberg, GE’s global creative director, says that the ad will help the company engage on a deeper level with its 300,000 employees around the world. For example, he will be collecting pictures from kids that depict what their parents do at GE. The drawings, along with art from professional illustrators, will live as a series on the online publishing platform Medium. “It all adds up to a celebration of the core of who we are,” Goldberg says. “GE on our best day.”
Liverpool musician and visual artist Reuben Wu is best known by millions of his global fans as the keyboardist in the pioneering electronic pop group Ladytron and an accomplished photographer. Last year, GE and the railroad company CSX gave Wu a chance to combine both of his passions.
Wu made the video in collaboration with director Noah Conopask, The Barbarian Group and GOODCOMPANY. Tomas Kellner, managing editor of GE Reports, talked to Wu about his inspiration, Ladytron, and making film music.
Tomas Kellner: You shot the video at a container terminal in Ohio, but it looks like it could easily be set in orbit around a distant planet. How did you come up with the concept?
Reuben Wu: Both Noah and I are really into science fiction. We were talking about Ridley Scott’s Alien, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Koyaanisqatsi, which are among my favorite films. They all portray technology, machinery, and also humanity in a very real way. This Industrial Internet technology is not that far from this future, it exists. And we realized that if we also subverted time and scale, we could produce something quite out of this world in northern Ohio.
RW: We started from a musical perspective. I think that was important. I created three musical ideas before we actually went on site. If the visuals and the music were to be synchronized together, the music really had to be there first, not the other way round.
TK: Can you describe the three ideas?
RW: The first idea combined pulsing energy with the kind of crunchiness and spiky-ness that we wanted to use for portraying the whole container yard. That’s why we decided to go with it. The second one was a little bit more minimal and smoother and utopian-feeling, I suppose, and the third one used more break beats.
TK: What happened next?
RW: We created a proof of principle, a scouting video, the basic idea of what we planned to do. We went to the shipping site and shot-handheld footage, and I patched it in with the sounds.
TK: Did you take part in the filming?
RW: The idea was I would be collaborating on the visual level with Noah, as I’m as interested in vision as I am in sound. Also the subjects that I take pictures of are generally in the realm of science, technology and nature. So I shot as much footage as I could.
TK: The terminal is huge. How did you wrap your arms around it?
RW: At that point, everything was still very loose, as far as the concept went. I captured the sounds of everything that moved, that was mechanical. Before coming to the site, I knew that there were going to be cranes, containers and trains, and they were going to be the main elements that we would feature in the video.
TK: The soundtrack is full of machine sounds.
RW: I was recording absolutely everything during both the scouting and the shooting trips. I wanted to end up with a comprehensive library of sounds to pick and choose from as I composed the music. That’s exactly what I did.
TK: Did you have a system to organize the sounds?
RW: Once I had recorded my samples, I categorized them into groups. I had crane, train, and container sounds. Those could all be separated within sub-categories as well; sharp percussive sounds, drones and bass sounds, for example.
TK: The machines seem to be playing a melody.
RW: Yeah, I was able to break the sounds down into musical elements as well. I found that a lot of the sounds of the cranes moving across the yard, for example, were almost melodic. They produced hydraulic hums and vibrations, which I thought worked on a different level than the percussive sounds.
TK: Like those made by the containers?
RW: The video really was all about the container. It was our building block for the whole video. It was important that there was a very simple, almost primal, sonic and visual language so I used the sound of the container hitting the ground. It’s the first thing that we see and hear when the music kicks into play. We wanted that to really drive the visual language which develops over the course of the track.
TK: How long were the samples you recorded?
RW: All of the sounds are quite short and many of them are repeated quite a bit throughout the music. They make up about 65 percent of the audio content.
TK: How did you splice the samples into the original track you composed?
RW: I kept the music track intentionally basic, so when I introduced the samples, the samples would form a large portion of the musical backbone as well. I ended up doing a lot of swapping things in and out. Some samples I decided I needed to enhance with analog synthesizers. I spent some time complementing some of the samples with further electronic layers.
TK: Can you share an example?
RW: In the very first part of the piece you have a visual of a train whizzing past. It’s a quick horizontal movement. I layered the train sample going from left to right in stereo with Korg MS-20 synthesizer sounds. A lot of the soundtrack elements are this combination of real and synthesized sounds.
TK: I can also hear voices.
RW: Yes, we recorded them in the control cab slung underneath the wide-span crane. Everything inside is computerized and there was a continual radio feed from operators at the terminal. We thought that it was important that we incorporated the human element within the whole piece.
TK: How did you synchronize the soundtrack with the film footage?
RW: We started with the music. Alex Hammer, our editor, imported the music into the editing suite and I provided him with my thoughts on phrasing, that any movement on screen would need a sound to go with it. I didn’t want it to end up as a mishmash of sound effects. I sat with him and the director and there was a lot of going back and forth in iterations. What I really enjoyed about the process was that the editor had done some things on screen, which I hadn’t anticipated. We had some really effective happy accidents.
TK: I like happy accidents.
RW: There is a bit where everything goes quiet after the sunset. It appears that all is quiet and calm, but things are still moving and the facility is still operating. The section that comes directly after that is the finale. There needed to be something just before the finale, like a big drum fill, so Alex cut in a crane shot that shows the cab from underneath. It’s been cut in a quick, staccato way. At that moment, the music is actually mirroring the visuals with a synchronized sequence of beats and samples.
TK: You make it sound easy. Is there a film soundtrack in your future?
RW: I’ve always been interested. The GE project was my first commercial venture combining music and visuals. I am hoping that I’ll be able to do a lot more in this field.
TK: What’s happening with Ladytron?
RW: I’ve been concentrating on photography and projects like this one, but the plan is to do a new album this year.
Mid-size American companies grew their revenues five times faster than their much larger counterparts in the S&P 500 and posted a five percent revenue growth in 2013, according to the latest survey of the business segment. They also blew past both smaller and larger companies in hiring, creating 1.2 million jobs last year, and plan to add another million in 2014. But healthcare costs remain the most challenging issue. They have been the top concern for more than a year.
The numbers come from a quarterly survey called the Middle Market Indicator (MMI). The survey polls 1,000 top executives from the roughly 200,000 U.S. businesses with annual sales between $10 million and $1 billion that make up the middle market.
The middle market is an important economic bellwether. Although it represents just 3 percent of American companies, the segment employs a third of all U.S. workers.
Despite the growth, almost 60 percent of middle market executives say that federal government regulations and uncertainty, such as the Affordable Care Act rollout, had negative effect on their business planning in 2013. The MMI found that 63 percent of mid-size businesses have discouraged hiring and 56 percent reported lower likelihood for capital investments. “The growth we’ve experienced this year has occurred in spite of Washington, not because of it,” says Rick Cope, CEO of NanoLumens, a manufacturer of large LED displays and digital signage based in Atlanta, GA.
A new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office released on Tuesday said that the new healthcare law would result in the equivalent of 2.5 million fewer full-time workers by 2024. The key reason was people getting health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and working fewer hours.
Middle market companies anticipate revenues to increase by 4.3 percent over the next year, mainly due to slower retail growth. That’s below the 5.0 percent growth reported in 2013, but still above broader market projections.
The MMI is published by the National Center for the Middle Market. The Center 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 promotes academic research in areas such as globalization and innovation.
Hardly a week goes by without news of cancer breakthroughs or promising new treatments. In December, for example, scientists at the Karolinska Institutet and Science for Life Laboratory in Stockholm found gene-coding regions possibly linked to cancer in parts of the DNA that were long considered gibberish.