[Image above] GE Industrial Solutions hopes to revolutionize plant operations and slash production cycle times through work being done at the company’s new Advanced Manufacturing Lab. Credit: General Electric Company
Advanced manufacturing continues to be a priority for the public and private sectors, but which is doing more to advance it?
Government and government-funded agencies have their technology roadmapping awards, innovation hubs, funding for R&D, and legislative priorities designed to strengthen the sector.
Industry, too, offers solutions to the case for continued advancement—with more companies making strategic, long-term investments in people, technology, research, and facilities. (ACerS members: Access our members-only “Articles and Whitepapers” to revisit the April 2014 Bulletin cover story on additive manufacturing.)
Ultimately, the matter of public vs. private doesn’t matter—the two need to work together, not against one another, and so far, they seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.
Still, any new investment—public or private—is cause for celebration, and they’re certainly celebrating in Plainville, Connecticut.
The city is not only home to GE’s NPI Accelerator Lab, a space that is equal parts 3D printing prototype workspace and machine shop, but now also the site of GE Industrial Solutions’ new Advanced Manufacturing Lab (AML).
[Yep, that sleepy-eyed red robot above is Baxter, the same variety that Du-Co Ceramics Company recently added to their ceramic manufacturing lineup.]
It is there that the company hopes to advance its abilities—particularly those related to the soon-to-be-launched GuardEon molded case circuit breaker (MCCB) platform—with processes powered by “sophisticated robots and automated manufacturing systems.”
“We are making unprecedented investments in our business to deliver the global MCCB platform faster than ever before, while introducing innovative design-for-manufacturing development methods and launching a modern, advanced manufacturing plant,” says Bob Gilligan, CEO of GE’s Industrial Solutions business, in a news release. “This is a genuine vote of confidence in our ability to build a stronger, more competitive business that best serves our customers’ needs.”
Those investments include people. In 2013, GE had seven engineers working in Plainville. Today, the company has 50-plus full-time employees working on the MCCB project.
They also include the lab itself and the technologies that power it.
According to the release, the lab boasts “advanced technologies including some of the first Occupational Health and Safety Administration-approved advanced manufacturing robots, utilizing smart-response movements to help safely and intelligently work directly alongside operators in a manufacturing environment. The AML also features 4-by-6-foot ‘moonshine’ tables outfitted with programmable logic controllers and pneumatics. The tables serve as experimental design pods for inventing enhanced manufacturing operations to meet strict TAKT times, a critical measurement linking production-cycle times to customer-demand rates.”
As a result, says the company, they are able to design, build, and deliver products faster, including GuardEon, which took just three years from development to launch, “significantly faster than typical industry development time.”
GE plans to leverage these quicker-to-market methods at its new Circuit Breaker Center of Excellence (Puerto Rico) where GuardEon will be produced. (Late last month, the company announced that it is building a $32-million advanced manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania, a second site that places its employees and research firmly at “the intersection of technology and manufacturing.”)
How do you think GE’s lab—or others like it—will streamline and improve the manufacturing process? Sound off in the comments.