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GE's 'brilliant' factory in Grove City puts new life in old engines

Before he worked at a “brilliant” factory, Bill Knight used a machine that weighed 35 to 40 pounds to tighten 16 bolts on the frame of a 41,000-pound diesel locomotive engine at GE Transportation’s Grove City plant.

Mr. Knight was supposed to tighten each bolt in the proper sequence, much like a motorist has to tighten the lug nuts on a tire in the right order, to prevent vibration that can cause problems. There was no way Mr. Knight or his supervisors knew for sure if he did that.

That all changed when GE decided to convert the Grove City plant, which refurbishes the diesel engines, into a “brilliant” factory, a technology-enabled plant where workers can work smarter, faster and more reliably.

The high-tech, 240,000-square foot plant relies on advanced technology such as sensors, digital measuring and real-time data that shows managers and workers at a glance whether they are on time or falling behind. The goal is to improve reliability, reduce downtime, and boost productivity.

Photo by Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette


For Mr. Knight, it means a new, automated way of tightening the bolts that doesn’t put him at risk of a repetitive motion injury and that makes sure the bolts are uniformly tightened in the proper sequence. The new technology won’t let him tighten the bolts in any other way.

“This doesn’t allow that to happen,” said Richard Simpson, vice president of global supply chain for GE Transportation.

The manufacturing conglomerate has had a plant in Grove City for 45 years. But about five years ago, the company decided to build a plant to separate the engine refurbishing, or remanufacturing, operations from its business of making new diesel engines.

It also decided the new facility would be one of its first seven “brilliant” factories. The original 440,000-square-foot plant, which makes new engines and tests refurbished ones before they are shipped, is among the next 10 GE plants to be converted to the brilliant concept. The process is expected to be completed later this year.

Mr. Simpson said GE has invested more than $180 million in its Grove City operations over the last five years. Combined, the operations employ more than 1,000, up from about 600 five years ago, he said. About 400 work at the engine remanufacturing plant.

The factory, formerly a food packaging plant, is dotted with huge visual displays that allow supervisors and workers to know whether work is proceeding on pace or whether there are bottlenecks that need to be addressed. In the past, managers had to tour the plant on foot to assess operations. Now they can call the data up on their tablet or smart phone and address problems sooner.

Before it became “brilliant,” every engine that arrived at the plant for work got the same treatment.

“When an engine got here, we had no idea what was wrong with it,” Mr. Simpson said.

Now, sensors attached to the engines while they are in use by railroads gather performance data that enables workers in the triage area where the engines are dissembled to determine whether a part needs a full makeover or something less.

Assembly line workers are also issued badges that allow them to quickly and securely log into computerized work stations. In the past, they had to type in cumbersome user IDs and passwords, time that could have been better spent performing actual work.

Mr. Simpson said the badges are one of many measures implemented at the plant aimed at “eliminating non valued-added work.”

Original article published: http://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2017/03/31/GE-Grove-City-General-Electric-brilliant-factory-diesel-engine-locomotives/stories/201703310175



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