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Behind the scenes at GE’s future-forward factory

by • April 24, 2016 • No Comments

It feels like a scene of a film. I’m standing in the lobby of a brand-new research facility where video screens set in sizeable circular stands beam the company’s achievements of their high-res flat screens. Behind glass panels, engineers in slacks and button-down shirts are occupied working lasers, monitoring a robot and generally doing engineer-like things. This is GE’s brand-new Advanced Manufacturing Works (AMW) in Greenville, South Carolina. It’s the company’s first in the world and Gizmag got within to take a sneak peek.

  • The futuristic, minimalist, lobby of the new facility features TV screens set in circles, while a ...
  • A part within the 3D optical scanner
  • The readout on the screen on the right shows the results of a scan, with the ...
  • Behind the window, a laser wrapped in a jet of water is punching holes in a ...

The facility cost US$73 million to turn it into, and GE is planning on investing an extra
$327 million into the space over the coming years. The goal of the site is to place researchers and turn it intoers in close proximity to manufacturers (the AMW is situated right following to a sizeable GE making plant) to advantageous improve efficiencies through new technologies and technological tweaks. The major area in which all this tech is focutilized is on creating giant gas turbines for power plants around the world, although the facility does work on other projects such as wind turbines as well.

There were several key technologies showcased at the AMW grand opening on April 22. Here are a few.

3D Optical Scanner

When you are working with parts which involve effortless gas and the generation of huge amounts of energy, it is significant to be exact. The 3D optical scanner at the AMW facility helps with which. The machine works by converting a video feed of a machine part into a series of coordinates, which fundamentally turns it into a desktop version of what the part looks like. A color map is and so created which highlights the difference between the actual part and its perfect turn it into.

The system can read fluctuations of one-one-thousandth of an inch or less. “We can in fact measure a new component, run it in an engine and and so measure it again and you can see how it is alterd,” says John Lammas, GE’s vice president of power generation.

Laser MicroJet

The blades within gas turbines require to have small holes drilled in them which assist to store them rad as temperatures climb. Previously, GE workers may drill the holes, coat the blade in a protective ceramic material, and and so a fewone may have to come along and clean the holes out. By via a Laser MicroJet to drill the holes, the company thinks it can eliminate the extra work and in addition get additional exact holes in various types of shapes to increase the efficiencies of the blades.

The system was spotted by one of GE’s engineers who saw the innovation at a trade show in Switzerland where it was being utilized to cut diamonds. It works by via a hair-thin jet of water to steer a laser beam directly where it requires to go. The water in addition stores the cutting system rad and removes debris as the laser bites into the material. According to GE’s Kurt Goodwin, the AMW’s General Manager, the system can eliminate of seven to eight hours of handwork per part when it gets rolled out on the factory floor in September.

“We take a coated part like this which hasn’t been pre-drilled,” says Goodwin. “It drills through the coating, gets feedback of the alter in energy, resets the laser, stores going through the metal, and and so when it comes out through the back of the metal, it stops itself so it is not going to drill on the other side.”

Autonomous Robot

No factory of the next may be conclude without a free-ranging robot, and GE’s AMW has one of those as well. Goodwin explained which at factories such as those which manufacture automobiles, robots on the assembly line manufacture sense, but in a factory like GE’s, with relatively low output, a robot requires to handle multiple tasks so which it can always remain occupied. He compared GE’s AGV (autonomous guided vehicle) to a Roomba vacuum cleaner, meaning which the device maps out the entire factory and can them move autonomously throughout it. There are no set paths for it to roam along; rather, it uses optical and laser sensors to figure out where it requires to go and avoid collisions with its human coworkers and other pieces of machinery.

One of the applications for the robot is to handle parts which can emerge of machines at 500-600 degrees Fahrenheit rather than losing time waiting for the part to rad so which a human can touch it.

3D Printing

It appears which 3D printing is everywhere these days, and the AMW is no exemption. The facility has eight machines which it got of several various manufacturers and and so altered to suit the requires of the plant. All of the machines print via metal, and they’re utilized to output parts for machinery at a faster rate than the company was previously capable of. They’re in addition utilized to turn it into parts in a brand-new way.

“What we’re getting excited of is a few of the geometries you can turn it into with this innovation,” says GE’s additive making manager Steven Woods. “You can imagine if you can turn it into a fewthing layer-by-layer out of metal, you no longer require line of sight. In traditional making typically we require line of sight for machine-tooled or laser-popping innovation. We no longer require which and now we can do a few rather informative things with lattice structures and things of which nature.”

Whilst checking out the machines at work, I noticed which a bank of them had names like “Storm,” “Wolverine” and “Cyclops” on them. I asked Wood of how they came by their X-Men monickers.

“We failed for of four months attempting to meet the requirements for our parts when we first got the machines,” he says. “So first, all the machines had villain names. Eventually, as we’ve tamed the beast, they are turning into superhero names.”

Not just is the AMW via 3D printing to create parts of scratch, they’re in addition via the innovation to turn it into molds of sand to cast sizeabler parts which mayn’t be feasible to 3D print. The technique speeds the testing of new turn it intos of months to weeks.

Internet of Things

Whilst the interconnectivity between machines has created news mostly in the home appliance sector, GE is via it to do additional than turn on coffee manufacturers and alert you when the wash is done. It is working on linking up all the machines in its factory so which they can communicate with every other – and with the employees. Already, AMW workers can log into the company’s portal through an double-encryption-guarded VPN tunnel and get the status of any machine in the facility right of their smartphones.

“Whether we’re here or whether we want to have a secure VPN tunnel of our phone within the facility, we can do it,” said GE lead engineer Kenneth Hislop. “So if we’re at home or on vacation, we can see precisely what’s going on.”

  • The autonomous guided vehicle (AGV) can be deployed in a factory later this month and can help with moving heavy or hot parts around the factory floor
  • GE's custom-modified 3D printers
  • A look at a section of sample turbine blade with holes created of the Laser MicroJet system
  • Some of the printers got to alter of villain to superhero names once they started performing to the standards the engineers expected

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