Analysts say the global aircraft fleet will double in the next two decades to 40,000 planes. Next-generation aircraft need the most advanced engines on the market. That projected growth has spurred GE Aviation to open two new advanced manufacturing plants this week—a composite factory in Ellisville, Miss., and a “super-alloy” plant in Auburn, Ala.
GE’s locomotive assembly facility in Fort Worth is the last stop on an advanced global supply network that has the potential to change the nature of manufacturing the powerful machines. From its assembly lines, the Evolution Series Tier 3 Locomotive—the most fuel-efficient in the North American heavy-haul market—is emerging.
The Evolution is assembled in Fort Worth from some 18,000 parts brought in from all over the world. A global network of suppliers in Pennsylvania, South Africa, Alabama and Mexico, among others, sends 12,000 pieces a day to make the advanced locomotive. The parts are connected to a 120,000-pound, 73-foot-long platform that makes up the spine of the powerful machine.
“From an engineering standpoint, this [manufacturing] process has the ability to change the way that locomotives are built,” says GE’s Michael Parvaresh, final assembly quality technical advisor in Fort Worth.
Once assembled, the 15-foot-tall vehicle can travel at a max speed of 72 mph and can pull 170 Boeing 747 jets. It has been engineered to use 11 percent less than the average fuel consumption of the existing North American locomotive fleet. This can save more than $83,000 in annual diesel fuel costs per locomotive at $2.90 per gallon.
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.”