GE Aviation soars in Muskegon area

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GE Aviation’s recently opened $14.5-million, 35,000-square-foot facility in Norton Shores is part of its efforts to double down on new technology.

The newly opened “brilliant factory” — one of seven across the broader company — incorporates various technologies to improve efficiency and increase production.

“A brilliant factory is one where lean manufacturing is embraced and digital technology is leveraged to deliver superior customer outcomes and continuous improvement,” GE Aviation Supply Chain General Manager John Bowman said during last week’s ribbon cutting celebration at the facility.

He said advanced analytics, 3-D printing and at least 20 collaborative robots are among the newest technologies available within GE’s brilliant factories.

“We are actually linking machines together and taking that information and putting it in front of people,” Bowman said. “We have real-time information, and that allows us to make better decisions and increase our productivity.”

GE said the idea behind the brilliant factory is to link design, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, distribution and services into one “intelligent system” that collects and analyzes data from all these disciplines to make factories smarter. The system combines things like sensor enablement, digital design, and factory and supply chain optimization to improve quality, throughput and yield.

GE said sensor-enabled manufacturing lines already have reduced unplanned downtime on the shop floor by up to 20 percent and has improved overall product reliability and cost.

GE’s new facility, located at 6120 Norton Center Drive, makes stage 1 and stage 2 shrouds and nozzles for the GE 90 engine, which is found on the Boeing 777.

GE said there are approximately 2,500 engines in service currently with plans to build another 150 new engines this year — all of which will include parts produced at the Norton Shores facility.

Chris Beckley, operations leader at GE Aviation in Muskegon, said the shrouds and nozzles have a series of pinholes that allow air to pass through, keeping the engine cool, and previously, all of those holes had to be manually checked for blockages, which took seven-and-a-half minutes per part.

Now, the operators only have to do a manual pin check if the machine indicates there might be a blockage.

“It errs on the side of caution, but the average is less than 10; that’s down from about 3,600 holes in a shift previously,” he said.

Beckley said the shrouds and nozzles are important to overall engine performance.

“They’re right behind the combustor — the hot section of the engine. The cooling holes push air through, and it keeps that area cool so it doesn’t overheat,” he said.

If enough of the holes are blocked, fuel performance could be impacted. He also said the heat in that portion of the engine means parts wear out quickly.

“The more we can keep the engine cool, it burns less fuel and (the parts) last longer,” he said.

GE’s Muskegon facility also is responsible for yearly service checks.

Bowman said he expects the location to perform 400 of those checks annually for “quite a few years.”

He added, “This hardware, since it operates in such a hot environment, we typically have a lot of spare part demand.”

He also said stage 1 shrouds typically are replaced 100 percent during each service visit.

That means the facility should be busy for several decades, according to Bowman.

As part of the $800,000 it received from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the 50 percent tax abatement for 12 years from the city of Norton Shores, GE committed to hiring 100 new employees.

The company said it has hired close to 90 employees thus far and is running three shifts at least five days per week.

GE has over 800 employees at its three facilities — two in Norton Shores and one in Muskegon. The new building brings its total square footage to 220,000.

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