Product Lifecycle Report

Smart Factories Boost Economic Growth at Home

Greenville, S.C.—one of the fasted growing cities in the Unites States and a major manufacturing hub—is home to GE’s latest project, the Brilliant Factory.

Set to open its doors this month, it’s hoped the $73-million facility will reduce design expenses and save on sourcing and manufacturing to the tune of $100 million over the next three years. GE will mix advanced manufacturing techniques with the latest materials science and production processes, as well employ state-of-the-art data analytics, it says.

The Greenville plant is GE’s version of the smart factory—which extends from design through manufacturing and supply chain—and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The company could be eyeing as much as $10 billion productivity savings globally through its various smart factory initiatives. It’s already opened brilliant factories in Poland and India.

Like other manufacturers worldwide, the company is utilizing 3D printing as part of its smart factory mix, and it’s also experimenting with ceramic matrix composites—or CMCs—to replace the nickel super-alloys in its gas turbines.

But other less tangible technologies are at play.

The Internet of Things, the cloud, big data, and plant floor analytics are all players on the Brilliant Factory floor.

In fact, connecting machine to machine, machine to network, and machine to human is creating a whole new world of opportunities for a vast number of manufacturers.

“IoT really provides visibility,” says Jim Heppelmann, CEO of PTC, a Boston-based IoT company that recently partnered with GE to help support it’s Brilliant Manufacturing Suite.

“A Brilliant Factory is a place where all the assets are being completely managed, and like any value that’s created in the industrial internet, it starts with asset performance management.”

That, says Heppelmann, who recently co-authored two landmark papers on IoT with Harvard’s Michael Porter, means knowing every single thing about your asset. It’s being able to do analytics on top of data to drive insights that can change your behavior and maintenance schedules to eliminate downtime.

This type of connectivity is set to drive tremendous value.

McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the IoT will have a $1.2 to $3.7 trillion economic impact on factories by 2025, $1.7 trillion in operations optimization alone.

“Now is the time to act,” says Bill Ruh, vice president of GE Software. “But if you don’t have the right sensors and the right data you can’t even begin to get on this journey. The data is where the insight is going to come. The technology price has come down substantially. The cost of computing has become very low, the cost of storage low, and our ability to integrate machines has become much greater.”

Easy for the $250 billion GE to say, perhaps.

Realizing value from IoT depends on how effectively manufacturers can connect their factory floor machines. For starters, connectivity requires investing in high bandwidth industrial networks—costing upwards $200,000—and deploying tens of thousands of sensors. It also requires aggregating, storing and analyzing vast quantities of data.

According to a recent study, only 35 percent of U.S. manufacturers collect and use data generated from sensors to improve manufacturing and operating processes, but despite obvious challenges, another 41 percent have plans to use sensors to collect data.

A thousand miles west of GE’s Brilliant Factory, food giant Tyson, is one such company.

Its Fort Worth T.X.-based factory has already installed 1,500 sensors to collect data on everything from raw meat inventories to wastewater and electrical usage, and it’s partnered with Rockwell Automation to give remote plant managers access to that data anytime they choose.

Using IoT technology, any Tyson plant manager has the ability to troubleshoot production delays from his mobile device before they become a serious issue, saving valuable time and costs. And while the thought of efficiently made chicken nuggets might not set the heart racing for some, remote operations is a lucrative proposition, particularly when the “factory” environment is inhospitable, far-flung, or dangerous. Energy, mining, and agriculture are three that spring to mind.

Rockwell chief executive Keith Nosbusch says about 14 percent of U.S. manufacturers—including GE—have synced their production equipment into automated networks like those at Tyson, leaving massive room for growth.

In a new era of manufacturing, remote operations and predictive maintenance are perhaps two of the more obvious money makers, or, more accurately, money savers.

“We can drive massive amounts of waste out of everything,” says competition expert Michael Porter. “We don’t need to fix products before they need to be fixed anymore, we’ll know to the second how much a product is being used per day.”

A world of smart connected products, which begins on the factory floor, Porter says, “Is lean on steroids.”

But this is just the beginning.

“Over the next 10 years we believe there is going to be a major change in the way manufacturing is done,” says GE’s Ruh.

With changes driven by software and technologies like 3D printing, GE is bringing design and manufacturing closer together, producing and testing designs more quickly with fewer errors, Ruh says. “So too, we are completely rethinking what we do inside the factory – which is all based on data and the ability to get insight into processes in real-time.”

Connectivity throughout the entire lifecycle, including supply chain, is crucial, Ruh says.

This is the second installment of a four-part blog series taking a deep-dive into smart factories and the technological, operational and strategic changes necessary for success. Next, we’ll highlight Europe as we continue our global view of trends and outlooks.

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Photo courtesy of GE.