1660601875426 Ge14day2manufacturing

Manufacturing in a World of Pervasive Data

Oct. 29, 2014
The Brilliant Factory Is Fast, Virtual and Rife with Culture-Change Demands
About the Author: Mike Bacidore
Mike Bacidore is the editor in chief for Control Design magazine. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or [email protected] or check out his .The GE Brilliant Factory vision is based on creating a "digital thread," a data supply chain that runs from a product's conception through design, to the field and back again (for repair, recycling or remanufacturing) in a closed-loop process. "The biggest challenge in connecting to the digital thread is culture," said Paul Boris, CIO ‒ advanced manufacturing strategy at GE. "People need to think differently about these approaches and how you can drive progress from the middle, even if you're not the CEO of your organization."

Boris is also leader of GE's Advanced Manufacturing and Software Technology Center in Detroit, and he explained how data and technology will affect the future of manufacturing in his keynote address at the GE Intelligent Platforms 2014 User Summit in Orlando, Florida. "I can see a time when we put a factory in a container and ship it somewhere," he said. "Machines will be coming in equipped with sensors and ready to plug in to the business."

"You can be as theoretical as you want, but you'll be theorizing on the way to the recruiter if you don't get product shipped." GE's Paul Boris on how advancing technology and data supply chains are changing the face of manufacturing in ways small and large.

Manufacturing continues to evolve, Boris said. Hardware is converging with software, creating a new class of innovators and entrepreneurs enabled by 3D printing, desktop design and virtual manufacturing. "We've got to stop thinking about making things just a little bit better," said Boris. "We have to think in terms of a vision that's way out—a moonshot—and then bring it back to where we can accomplish it one piece at a time." The capacity to innovate today is much greater, with faster prototyping and more creative collaborations. "But we still have to make stuff and ship it. You can be as theoretical as you want, but you'll be theorizing on your way to the recruiter if you don't get product shipped. There needs to be democratization of global and distributed manufacturing. This means engaging more innovators and showing everyone what's manufacturable and building products earlier."

The Brilliant Factory concept is intended to allow manufacturers to drive the data supply chain and make adjustments more quickly. "Think of the physical supply chain, and think of what most of us do in a manufacturing plant," advised Boris. "I shouldn't need to know or care how the data flows. It should be pervasive. The physical and digital worlds are converging, not colliding. A collaborative mentality drives the best ideas faster. We have to develop a bigger vision and collaborate across teams."

With hundreds of 3D printing machines across the company, GE already is using them to develop parts for aviation, oil and gas, healthcare, power and water. "GE is also a huge customer of GE" Boris reminded the audience. "We call it industry for industry. We have a fairly complex array of businesses. But how do we alter the marketplace and deliver differently for the end customer? How do we look at problems fundamentally differently? Technology is a tool or enabler to drive change, and we see a huge opportunity to team up to drive the change. If you can't break down the divide between information technology and operational technology, you have very little chance of taking advantage of new capabilities and driving change in the marketplace."

Boris recalled his resistance to upgrade to Windows years ago because he didn't want to pay $1,000 for 1 MB of RAM. "The next generation is not bounded by things that I'm bound by," he explained. "In emerging markets, they don't put a business plan together to put up telephone poles and string wire or set up bank accounts. They get a 4G phone, bring a cart of product into a store, and the digital transaction is handled via smartphone by the telecomm provider. This is a moonshot. It's doing things completely differently."

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