Lean Manufacturing is About to Become Brilliant
Jul 11, 2016
Alan Swade

When we think ‘lean’ we think diet and exercise. We think about losing the bulk, building muscle, getting fitter, being faster, building speed and stamina. We also think about what we can and can’t consume. When we apply ‘lean’ to production, it’s the same game. It means removing what does not add value in a process, moving production lines faster and more efficiently, where less becomes more. And like the lean approach we apply to ourselves, lean manufacturing most often translates into getting smaller.

Originally designed by Toyota, lean manufacturing has been applied by organizations worldwide. Since the 1990s, lean manufacturing has been gaining popularity as one of the performance improvement programs adopted in the global manufacturing industry. Not limited to assembly line production, lean has manifested into lean thinking, lean design and lean management just to cite some examples. Customers today want high quality specially configured products with the shortest lead times, delivered on time, every time. The aim is to always do more with less, to produce quicker, with less rework and less waste.

Today, lean processes are still at the heart of most manufacturing facilities worldwide and gaining popularity in other industry sectors such as distribution and financial services. However, what began over 30 years ago has now undergone a facelift especially considering the advancement of manufacturing technology and the availability of the Industrial Internet.                

Let’s get digital

To get and stay fit, athletes today use several digital options available to track progress, such as heart monitors and step count devices, so they can modify and adapt their training to achieve the best results. Digitalization has changed the way we live and operate. We are communicating more digitally today than any other way.  We’ve gone from books to e-books, from mobile phones to smart phones. We are constantly ‘connected’ to the digital world. The World Economic Forum (WEF) calls it hyperconnectivity, where technological innovation and digitization are changing our public, personal and professional lives.

With the digital world influencing our lives more and more, it should come as no surprise to see that it has shaped how we look at lean manufacturing.

Enter the fourth industrial revolution

Building up from the third, the fourth industrial revolution is driven by advances in technology combining the physical, digital and biological worlds. According to Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman, the speed of this change is unprecedented, and it brings forth the “transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance”. The possibilities are endless, multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of Things to name a few. This is where Advanced Manufacturing meets the Industrial Internet. GE conceptualizes this in their Brilliant Factories – and the facility down in Clearwater Florida – is one of them in the making.

Lean by design, the Clearwater facility features sensor enabled machines, automated robotics, andsophisticated drying ovens that helpimprove time and increase productivity.  It boasts a reduction in manufacturing time, but with enough flexibility within the process to produce various types of capacitors from high voltage to Direct Current (DC) traction to water cooled. These capacitors are used in a range of industries apart from energy, such as railway and induction heating & melting, serving customers from all over the world.

Embracing the world of the Industrial Internet, it will be one of the first sites to embrace GE’s Predix™ Edge software. This software will use real-time data obtained from the sensor enabled equipment, providing the ability to predict outcomes at every stage of the manufacturing cycle. Bringing all this information together, the factory is able to help improve throughput, and help ensure that value is added to the right products as they move along the manufacturing cycle, enhancing our processes. The manufacturing process is also vertically integrated, with every inch of the capacitor made and put together by GE, from start to finish.

From Advanced to Brilliant

With GE’s continued investment, Clearwater is well on its way to becoming a GE Brilliant Factory.  Leveraging intelligent devices and software such as Predix™, creating a digital thread that connect GE manufacturing sites and people, to customer and community networks throughout the world.  Leaner, we can go even further.

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Alan Swade

Alan is the General Manager for Grid Solutions’ Capacitors product line. In this role, he has the responsibility for the profit & loss and product management of the combined $250 million portfolio. He leads teams of enablers, who manufacture and produce capacitors that maximize electrical transmission capacity, improve efficiency as well as reduce the cost of generation and transmission. Alan has nearly 20 years of experience in GE, holding Sales and Quality positions in Industrial Systems Solutions, as well as P&L leadership roles in Engineering Services and Water & Process Technologies. He holds a Six Sigma Black Belt as well as a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Marquette University and an MBA from the University of Detroit Mercy.