When was last the time you wondered how something was made? Did you know that engineers can now print machine parts, layer by layer like a newspaper, that imitate the efficient load-bearing design of human bones; that they make complicated parts for jet engines by shooting computer-guided lasers at layers of metallic dust; that they use ceramic composites, a high-tech version of the stuff that makes your coffee mug, to squeeze more electricity from gas turbines; that they make these machines talk to each other?
This is not an idle guessing game. Manufacturing is a big driver of the U.S. economy. But it needs to get bigger, and advanced manufacturing methods and innovations like the Industrial Internet, which turns big iron into brilliant iron, are potent tools for stoking economic growth and creating new jobs. “Now is the time to bring these and other efforts to scale, changing both the way we build complex machines and the entire competitive landscape,” says Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO. “The rise of analytics and software in the industrial world only multiplies the opportunity in front of us.”
Immelt will discuss the future manufacturing at the Manufacturing’s Next Chapter summit held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., today. The one-day event, which GE organized in partnership with The Atlantic, brings together executives, innovators, journalists and politicians, including MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld, Greylock’s DJ Patil, Willy Shih from Harvard Business School, and Sen. John McCain. It features conversations on the intersection of manufacturing and technology as a driver of global economic growth and productivity. It comes one year after GE’s American Competitiveness: What Works forum in Washington, D.C., which focused on manufacturing as a competitive advantage.
The speakers will address the impact that the rapidly evolving manufacturing technology has on American industry and seek to draft a policy framework for driving advanced manufacturing and U.S. economic growth. “Manufacturing excellence, forgotten for too long, is once again a competitive advantage,” Immelt says.
There are some 12 million Americans employed in manufacturing, or 9 percent of the workforce. The sector generates $1.7 trillion in value each year, and manufactured goods account for 53 percent of all U.S. exports. Slice it another way, 70 percent of private sector spending in R&D in the U.S. comes from manufacturing companies, and the segment is responsible for some 7 million American jobs in other industries.
American manufacturing workers include employees of GE suppliers like Brown Precision, PAS Technologies, and ARC Technologies, which received supplier awards from David Joyce, CEO of GE Aviation, today. GE Aviation alone spends $6 billion annually with some 1,500 large and small domestic manufacturers that employ 30,000 people.
The Alabama-based Brown Precision, which specializes in precision machining, is helping GE build next generation jet engines like the LEAP. The LEAP is first GE engine that has both ceramic and printed parts inside that make it much more fuel efficient. (Just in case someone asks you how it was made.)