The vision of much smarter aerospace factories is already being realized by GE Aviation at its new, self-named “Brilliant” facility in Muskegon, Michigan. The 35-million-ft.2 facility includes vertical machining centers, conventional electrical discharge machining, speed drill electrical discharge machining, welding and a vacuum braze furnace. This equipment will manufacture critical parts for the GE90 engine: first- and second-stage high-pressure turbine nozzles and shrouds; and low-pressure turbine nozzles. It will also help develop other GE engines as needed.

But what makes the new Muskegon plant actually brilliant is a collection of new technologies, including advanced analytics to monitor machine performance, 3D printing of parts and collaborative robots that will work side by side with GE staff.

“Muskegon is leading the way for GE’s transformation, in the way we use big data to run our plants more efficiently and effectively,” explains John Bowman, general manager of GE Aviation’s supply chain. GE’s Brilliant factories will link design, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, distribution and services into one intelligent system. This system will analyze data from all departments to make the factories smarter, using sensors, digital design and optimization of production and supply chains to improve quality, output and economics.

For example, by equipping machines with sensors and analyzing the data in real time, GE can determine when a machine might break, well before it fails. Sensor-enabled manufacturing has helped reduce unplanned downtime on the shop floor by up to 20%, improved product reliability and reduced costs.

By using sensors and analytics to monitor machinery, the biggest gains so far have been predicting when a machine is going to break down or make a bad part. This helps GE avoid scrapping parts out and to decide when equipment should be repaired, rather than waiting for it to break. Some of the important machine-sensor data and performance metrics include fluid levels, pressures, temperatures and conductivity, cycle times, product rework frequency, run times and voltages.

GE stresses that anticipating breakdowns is just one of the gains. Monitoring processes and visualizing performance also improves problem solving and other enhancements. And under the new approach, a digital thread runs through the factory, GE Aviation and its value chain, which gives an integrated view of the factory’s products throughout their life cycle.

All of GE Aviation’s manufacturing plants are now moving toward being Brilliant factories. An assembly facility in Lafayette, Indiana, and a plant in Asheville, North Carolina, that manufactures ceramic matrix composite components will be next up as GE seeks to become a completely digital industrial company.