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Waste Not: This App Just Solved A Manufacturing Riddle - Part 2

GE Reports

P.D. Olson

GE Reports

General Electric


“Running a plant, you try to improve productivity all the time,”Dirk Uhde says. “And then comes a tool like this which is a quick hit. The key was to bring an expertise into the process which we didn’t have, which was digital.” Image credit: GE Digital

This article was posted on GE Reports.We have split the original article into 2 parts to make it easier for our readers. If you haven’t read it, check Part 1 here.

In late 2016, GE’s European Digital Foundry contacted Uhde as part of a pilot project to see whether industrial businesses could use software to improve performance. When Vincent Champain, general manager of the European Foundry, arrived from Paris at the plant along with his team of four other digital mavens in January 2017, he had grand plans to fix things. But the two worlds, manufacturing and software, found it difficult to communicate with each other. “My team was looking at them and saying, ‘This cannot work,’” Uhde recalls.

Understanding emerged when both teams put on helmets and safety goggles and moved down to the factory floor where workers were cutting and welding aluminium pipes. For some of the digital team, this was the first time they had actually been on a manufacturing floor. “It was amazing,” says Igor Dniestrowski, a project manager for app development at the Foundry. “This is the moment where we saw the field reality, the production process as well as the people dedicated to their jobs. It is when the concept becomes a true digital industrial application.”

For example, being able to see how heavy the pipes were and how difficult it would be to shift them from the bottom of a pile to elsewhere in the production hall helped the digital Foundry team to start improving the cutting process.

The most efficient method would be to test all the possible solutions first. But that would take a huge amount of time and processing power for any computer. 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, Champain says.

work on factory floor

The problem for years had been that about 10% of those cut pipes ended up wasted. GIF credit: GE Digital

Yet calculating all those options was possible thanks to cloud computing and Predix, GE’s digital platform for the Industrial Internet. After their tour of the plant, Champain, Dniestrowski and the others went back to their office in Paris. Within just four weeks — by the end of February — they had built an app that calculated how and where to cut each pipe at the Aix-les-Bains plant for maximum efficiency.

Now Uhde uploads his daily pipe-cutting requirement to the app, and it’s just a few seconds before Predix spits the results out,” he says.

Crucially, the app has reduced scrap waste from 10 percent to 4 percent, which should save the plant an estimated $200,000 this year alone.

Down the line, the app can be revamped to cut waste in other parts of the plant too. Developers at the European Foundry are now working on an algorithm that can suggest the most efficient way to pack the finished pipes into shipping crates. Dniestrowski says it should take about a month to upgrade the app, which Uhde estimates could double or even triple the annual savings from the pipe-cutting algorithm.

“Running a plant, you try to improve productivity all the time,” he says. “And then comes a tool like this which is a quick hit. The key was to bring an expertise into the process which we didn’t have, which was digital.”

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