ProjectX is a new series taking you inside GrayMatter projects to get a real sense of what we do. In this installment we’ll take you behind-the-scenes of the Brilliant transformation of GE Transportation.
General Electric has 500 plants worldwide in a variety of business units, ranging from transportation, power, healthcare and more. The company realized it needed to streamline processes while adding real-time data analytics to predict equipment and hardware problems. That’s when they brought in GrayMatter to increase manufacturing quality control.
What started out as 14 pilot sites transformed into seven GE plants globally that have earned the Brilliant designation, one of which is a GE Transportation plant in Grove City, PA.
GE Transportation, a unit of General Electric Company, is headquartered in Chicago and has over 11,000 employees responsible for producing freight and passenger locomotives, signaling and communication systems, information technology solutions, marine engines, motorized drive systems for mining trucks and drills and more.
In 2011 GE decided to build a facility dedicated to remanufacturing engines in Grove City: a new 246,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility that would utilize 400 employees.
GE Transportation had a great, new facility but was still using very manual processes to remanufacture engines. An engine would arrive at the plant and workers would have no idea what was wrong with it. It would get physically torn apart in an attempt to diagnose the problem, which had workers manually using machines that weighed sometimes 35 to 40 pounds to tighten bolts on an engine that would weigh 41,000-pounds. It took a physical and mental toll on employees while burning resources and man-hours. The operational technology and informational technology people weren’t communicating, which is a common problem. Security concerns have these systems and departments working in silos, preventing them from working together and build a system that overlaps on common ground and develop solutions that benefit everyone. Then, it became Brilliant.
“Downtime was reduced by 20-percent.”
GrayMatter came in with a 14 people team and helped convert the manual-process plant into a technology-enabled space where workers were able to work smarter, faster and more reliably.
It began with a half-day walking tour of the facility to see how the operations worked and taking inventory of equipment, identifying which machines were critical and what was being dealt with in terms of age and technology.
“I’ve never seen a plant like that,” said Andrew Drake, Digital Industrial Architect at GrayMatter and a team leader on the project. “It really ran the complete spectrum from new equipment on one end to some equipment that was first bought in the 1940s. We actually had one drill press that was about 100-years-old.”
The master plan was developed where it was decided that about 400 machines needed to be monitored. Some of the equipment had nothing and needed sensor installation, others machines just had to be connected and integrated.
Once the hardware was installed, GrayMatter tested to validate software and data. The data was then analyzed, optimized and visually communicated to plant employees through intuitive and easy-to-understand dashboards and screens.
“In the implantation phase, we strategically matched resources and technology to produce value without disruption,” said Drake. “We operated as a one-stop-shop where we did everything from writing new software or taking existing software and making it work, to tearing apart and setting up PLCs, to backfilling some of GE Transportation’s other needs. Our philosophy is simple: if we do what’s best for the client, everything else takes care of itself.”
Hundreds of machines now have sensors to monitor operations and productivity, identifying potential problems before they occur. It flipped the maintenance model to be based on dynamic data to head off problems, keeping machines operating and reduced downtime by 20%. It created a system that operates on real-time needs.
Tod Virden, Controls and Integration Engineer at GE Transportation, said. “Take pistons for example. For many years there may have been a problem on the manufacturing floor that would take weeks to discover. As a result, GE Transportation may have produced over a hundred faulty pistons. Today, we would become aware of a problem within a day or even hours. So there might be only 10 bad pistons produced before the issue is corrected.”
With the help of sensors, the areas of OT and IT are finally merging.
“We have worked hard to get IT and OT people communicating and working together. We are now tearing down the remaining walls between IT and OT. It’s really a new era of manufacturing and can really be considered a revolution,” said Virden.
He added, “Once the IT and OT people were talking more, common ground and solutions were developed that everyone is comfortable with in terms of providing safety and security while delivering the necessary data to impact productivity, which is our top concern.”
Through implementing Brilliant Manufacturing, the GE Transportation team also learned a lot from the process.
“We got people engaged early, and created a culture that if each person wins, everyone wins,” said Virden.
“We were also able to experience early wins and did a good job of declaring these small victories and getting word out to the rest of the company. Now we have real-time data that is visualized in a way that helps us be more productive while laying the groundwork to move into other areas of our operations like quality control in the near future.”