Fast Company included GE in its annual list of the most innovative companies. GE is the top-ranked industrial company on the list, which includes many digital darlings like BuzzFeed (ranked at the very top), Uber and Alphabet.
The magazine recognized Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt for transforming GE into a digital-industrial company connecting machines and businesses to the cloud with Predix, its operating system for the Industrial Internet. Predix has quickly grown into a $5 billion business with $6 billion in additional orders expected in 2016, the editors noted. “The program has about 4,000 developers today, and GE is hoping for 20,000 in 2016,” the editors wrote. “And products like Brilliant Factory and Digital Power Plant are designed to drive more efficiencies in factories and power plants by using big data to help save money.”
Take a look at some of the latest breakthroughs from GE.
Last year GE unveiled the digital twin, a cloud-based simulation of physical assets that allows engineers to optimize machines based on data analytics and predict problems before they happen. There can be digital twins not only of power plants and wind turbines but also of the human body.
GE is innovating new manufacturing methods like 3D printing that add material to parts rather than cut it away. This allows engineers to create designs they couldn’t manufacture before. GE is using additive manufacturing for everything from ultrasound probes to gas turbines and jet engines including the LEAP, whose order total now stands at $145 billion. GE calls this cross-pollination of technologies across different industries the GE Store. Most recently, GE engineers shrunk a giant steam turbine (see above) and used a 3D-printed mini version of the machine to efficiently desalinate water.
Scientists at GE Global Research spent the last two decades developing a new kind of ultra-light and super-tough material called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). It allows jet engines and gas turbines to operate at higher temperatures, making them more efficient. The CMCs were originally developed for the power industry, but like 3D printing, they have applications in other businesses.
Scientist Fiona Ginty is leading a team that found a new way to help medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies better understand tumors so they can develop new drugs and therapies. “I liken the process to Google Maps,” Ginty says. “At the 30,000-foot view, you can tell there is a town. But as you zoom in, you can start to see streets, rivers, stores and other finer details. Our technology gives similar information about tumors, such as how the tumor is organized, where the blood supply is and what the pockets of cells are doing.”
Engineer Jeff Ashe (see top image) is developing tiny brain implants that could one day improve the lives of people suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or Crohn’s disease. “We’re building tiny machines using semiconductor processing,” Ashe says. “The main one is a MEMS switch. Even though it is so small, it has movable parts inside of it. We can build things that are very small and very strong so they can withstand stress inside the body.”