Skip to main content
extreme engineering

Move It! How GE Gets Tech From Point A to Point B

John Paul Mangalindan
September 11, 2019
What do human organs and critical wind farm parts have in common? Neither is of much use if they can’t get to where they’re needed.
Moving a human kidney, a wind turbine blade or a 400-pound nacelle requires a deep understanding of your precious cargo and some creativity when it comes to employing planes, trains and automobiles (or in this case drones, trucks and boats). Here’s a look at how GE got three important parcels from point A to point B:


Make It Quick (And Safe)

 width=Top and above images: Transplant physicians and researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore; aviation and engineering experts at the University of Maryland; and collaborators at the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland successfully delivered a human kidney inside a special container attached to the belly of the drone from Baltimore’s St. Agnes Hospital to the University of Maryland’s medical center 2.7 miles away. Images credit: AiRXOS.

What is it? A drone speedily delivered the first organ for transplant — a human kidney — to a team of surgeons and a 44-year old patient awaiting a transplant procedure. The drone traveled with its precious cargo the 2.7-mile distance between St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and the University of Maryland Medical Center in just 10 minutes.

Why does it matter? Nearly 35,000 organ transplants take place each year in the U.S., and time is of the essence getting those organs to their destination. Take too long, and the organs become unusable for transplant. According to a report from the United Network for Organ Sharing that tracked 2,445 organ deliveries, 1.2% of those deliveries were failures either because the shipments were delayed or the shipment didn’t arrive at all. Drone delivery has the potential to help widen the donor organ pool and access to transplants.

What’s the big deal?  The University of Maryland (UMD), aided by AiRXOS, GE Aviation’s autonomous division, monitored a UMD drone built specifically for the flight using AiRXOS’ Air Mobility Platform. At its core, the digital platform helped monitor the route for this particular unmanned drone so it could fly safely to its destination without running into interference. Organ, tissue and medical supply delivery by drone could become a regular occurrence in five years or less, thanks to this April’s historic maiden flight.


Wind It Up

Top image: Jose Luis Grau, LM Wind Power’s Castellón plant director, and his team spent 13 months working with state and local governments and the port authority to figure out how to move the first monster blade 29 miles from the factory to the port on Spain’s Mediterranean coast north of Valencia. Image credit: LM Wind Power.

What is it? Spain’s largest wind turbine blade needed to catch a lift to Germany. Spanning 241 feet, the blade is four times longer than a bowling lane and seven times longer than a telephone pole. The Spanish plant director and his team spent 13 months working with state and local governments and the port authority to figure out how to move the first monster blade 29 miles from the factory to the port, located on Spain’s Mediterranean coast north of Valencia before loading it on a ship bound for the Netherlands, ultimately to be installed on an offshore wind farm in Germany.

Why does it matter? The longer the blades, the more power a wind turbine generates. This wind turbine blade, manufactured by GE’s LM Wind Power, is four times larger than the average blade made in the 1980s and capable of producing 100 times more electricity. Moving the giant blade from factory to port in October 2017 was a major undertaking that meant paving throughways across roundabouts and taking down lampposts and street signs.

What’s the big deal? Longer blades like the one from LM Wind Power make it possible for Europe to power homes and facilities with renewable energy in a more cost-effective fashion, allowing for wind farms to generate the same amount of electricity with fewer turbines. Wind power currently accounts for more than 11 percent of Europe’s electricity. But Europeans might start seeing more blades on their roadways — that number is expected to reach 25 percent by 2030.


Five If By Sea

 width=The nacelles rode on specially manufactured platforms that protected them from high waves while on the Brave Tern in Saint-Nazaire harbor. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy.

What are they? Five 400-ton nacelles, each roughly the size of a bus and loaded with power-generation components for a wind turbine, crossed the cold waters of the north Atlantic Ocean on a ship on their way to a new wind farm.

Why does it matter? Manufactured by GE Renewable Energy and capable of producing 6 megawatts of power each, the nacelles traveled 3,300 miles in 2016 from the port of Saint-Nazaire in France to Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. But getting there required the aid of Brave Tern, a 433-feet-long, 127-meter-wide wind turbine installation ship. Once the nacelles arrived, a Transformer-like robot, that changes from a ship into a construction platform, hung and secured the nacelles atop wind turbine towers.

What’s the big deal? The Block Island Wind Farm, which went online in May 2017, generates roughly 125,000 megawatt-hours of electricity — enough to produce 90% of Block Island’s energy — and helped shut down a diesel plant that previously provided electricity to the area.