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Waste Not: This App Just Solved A Manufacturing Riddle - Part 1

GE Reports

P.D. Olson

GE Reports

General Electric


The team figured out there were more ways of making those 600 pipe cuts each month than there were atoms in the universe — roughly 4×1079 possibilities. (P1)

This article was reposted from GE Reports. We have split the original article into 2 parts to make it easier for our readers. Part 2 is here.

Uhde’s plant in Aix-les-Bains, a thermal spa town in eastern France, builds components for gas-insulated substations, which transform high voltage on the electrical grid. As part of the process, he cuts and assembles aluminium pipes for substations working around the world. These pipes come in two sizes: 9 and 11 meters long, and the plant makes about 20 kilometers’ worth per year for these substations.

Uhde’s challenge was really a math problem. The small team that handles pipe cutting must make on average about 600 cuts to fulfill orders each month, or 150 cuts per week. The problem for years had been that about 10 percent of those cut pipes ended up wasted. That’s not because the workers make mistakes but because of the challenge of calculating exactly how to cut up the standard pipe sizes to leave close to zero remnants. It’s the same problem that comes with figuring out exactly how many floorboards you’d need to put down for a room and how best to cut them to avoid squandering your material. The plant can sell the leftover pipe pieces as scrap, but for less than 30 percent of their wholesale price.

The process used to be completely manual,” Uhde says. One worker would spend at least an hour making calculations and trying to optimize the sequence of cutting, including; how many pipes were available to cut, what their sizes were and what sizes were needed by the end of the day. “We’d done it like this for 30 years and tried to find improvements,” he says.

Part 2 is here.

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