Dyan Finkhousen, Director, Open Innovation & Advanced Manufacturing, GE Global Operations and President, Fuse LLC
Digitally-focused business strategies are reducing downtime, improving productivity, and driving culture change at a lightning pace. Disruption has become business-critical to maintaining the operational upper hand, which means exploring new business models throughout all aspects of the manufacturing life cycle. Faster, smarter, bolder, and more agile is what manufacturing consulting looks like in this new digital world, and Fuse, GE’s outside-the-box business model, is delivering these benefits by combining open innovation with small batch manufacturing.
Fuse is a concept that’s powered by GENIUSLINK™, GE’s effort to build collaboration among internal teams and external experts. Leveraging outside talent gives GE on-demand access to experts around the world, delivering the speed, creativity, and innovation that only collaboration can provide. It is ‘crowdsourcing’ for the digital era, and it has become a viable option in solving the engineering challenges that GE has encountered, yet does not have the time or resources to explore. The method has also been used in concert with GE’s customers, whereby a customer’s challenge is pitched to global experts at-large; customers like the idea because it enables a much broader global innovation reach and generates good, high-quality submissions.
Critical Collaboration in a Virtual Marketplace
Fuse starts with a digital community that convenes design, prototyping, and manufacturing challenges; basically, any pain point that a company is experiencing can be turned into a Fuse platform. The challenge is then turned over to the Fuse community, which includes entrepreneurs, scientists, coders, engineers, and makers from around the world.
Fuse is crowd-powered innovation at its best, not only because of traditional benefits like increased exposure and optimal collaboration, but because Fuse streamlines the crowdsourcing process. An easy-to-use interface complements tools like subject matter expert-guided discussions that provoke meaningful participation and idea development.
Launched in October 2016, Fuse’s inaugural innovation challenge was the GE-sponsored “CT Scan Image Compression.”
The microfactory system is designed from the ground up with a proactive, responsive, and adaptable framework
Collaborators were asked to help solve the complex task of making computerized tomography (CT) scans easier to store and transmit. CT is a widely-used inspection technology, but in many cases, large scans—up to 80 GB—need to be analyzed by offsite inspectors. Transferring these scans can take days, creating bottlenecks in the overall manufacturing process.
The challenge was open for two months, and while submissions are still being reviewed, the topic garnered lots of attention, an impressive amount of discussion, and more than 20 official entries. Selected winners will be awarded cash prizes and receive a boost in professional reputation.
Another GE-sponsored challenge currently being vetted is “On-Wing Engine Inspection,” which seeks a new method of aviation engine inspection that allows for repeatable, consistent images of an engine’s hot gas path hardware. “Measuring Reflective Objects” is another GE-sponsored Fuse challenge that asks the community for ideas on how to inspect and measure shiny, polished surfaces more accurately and efficiently.
Closing the Loop with Small Batch Manufacturing
The physical operation for Fuse is perhaps the most innovative, coming to life in the form of microfactories that connect the innovation sponsor to a new set of entrepreneurs, engineers, makers, and student groups. This is what takes the winning idea from concept to reality, and it’s a win-win for all involved; the innovation sponsor, again, gains access to a whole new set of resources, while the resources gain access to a menagerie of physical assets within the microfactory.
This year, GE will open its first microfactory in Chicago, focused on non-destructive testing solutions within medical equipment imaging and product inspection disciplines. The idea is to provide an environment that enables the innovation generated by the expert community in missions like the first Fuse challenge, “CT Scan Image Compression.” Methods such as rapid prototyping, small-batch manufacturing, and modular experimentation will be utilized in Chicago and in other Fuse microfactories deployed by GE in the future.
The microfactory system is designed from the ground up with a proactive, responsive, and adaptable framework. Depending upon the location of the innovation sponsor and due to the nature of consulting talent, microfactories can literally pop-up anywhere. Their scalable design is what makes the business model agile, promoting accelerated product and technology development.
Once tested and proven, a solution created within a microfactory can be brought internally for mass implementation, or it can be spun out to a customer for use in their application.
Brilliant Minds + Agile Manufacturing
Fuse is just one example of GENIUSLINK™ at work, GE’s effort to power collaboration at the digital industrial scale.
As digital and physical collide in the industrial world, manufacturing must keep pace by evolving to stay relevant and nimble. GENIUSLINK™ and the Fuse business model is helping businesses like GE tackle one challenge at a time through open innovation and collaboration.