Here’s how the world’s oldest startup relentlessly innovates

GE’s H System™ is one of the most advanced gas turbine combined cycle systems in the world – powerful enough to provide the electricity needed…
GE’s H System™ is one of the most advanced gas turbine combined cycle systems in the world – powerful enough to provide the electricity needed…
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This article is part of an ongoing BULLETIN series exploring GE’s innovation, technology, and manufacturing initiatives in India.

One hundred and fifteen years later, the mission remains the same: drive innovation that grows business and makes for a better world. That mission is inspired by no less than Thomas Edison, founder of the General Electric Company, and inventor of the first practical incandescent light bulb. “I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent it,” he said, offering GE a vision to build upon its early, life-changing innovations in domestic appliances, medical imaging systems, and the basis of the modern electrical grid.

From the beginning, the world’s needs were heard. In 1902, India’s first hydropower plant was installed by GE in Karnataka. The locks for Panama Canal, which opened in 1914, incorporated a control system designed by GE. And in 1918 GE innovation led to the first trans-oceanic radio system. These great technological advancements were made possible through GE’s unwavering commitment to scientific research.

What started with a single, three-person laboratory, established in 1900, has grown into eight research labs worldwide housing high-end scientists and engineers comprised of 68 nationalities and 48 technological disciplines. With the aid of an annual R+D budget of $5 billion—a figure that’s doubled in the last decade—GE’s Global Research team is transforming how we live in the 21st century, with a particular focus on energy, advanced manufacturing, and the Industrial Internet.

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Diverse and renewable energy sources

GE’s advancements in energy tech date back to 1879, when Edison and his team developed the first dynamos—devices that convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. These machines were capable of powering neighborhood-wide lighting systems. Today, they’re developing new technologies to promote the production and delivery of oil and gas, and wind turbines that meet the unique needs of their environment.

Currently under construction is GE’s new, $125 million Oil & Gas Technology Center in Oklahoma City in the United States, where a team of 130 high-tech specialists in geosciences, petrophysics, petroleum, chemical, mechanical, and systems engineering will work to develop new technologies like advanced drilling systems and to enable smarter, cleaner, and faster ways to produce, transport, and use oil and gas.

Engineers working at GE India Technology Centres have collaboratively developed the 1.7-103 wind turbine, that suitably tailors the existing wind turbine platform to capture more wind efficiently at India’s low wind speed conditions. As part of GE’s brilliant wind turbine platform, the 1.7-103 helps to manage the variability of wind—in India and beyond—to provide smooth, predictable wind power to the world regardless of what Mother Nature throws its way.

Manufacturing for the 21st century

“In four years, our new aircraft engine, the CFM LEAP, will fly with parts made from 3-D printing,” says Mark Little, SVP, Director of Global Research and Chief Technology Officer for GE. “Four decades from now, we could be printing an entire engine this way.”

That statement perfectly encapsulates GE’s forward-looking commitment to using advanced materials for advanced manufacturing and their heritage as an early innovator of the jet engine. GE also engineered the world’s first turboprop engine.

GE is investing in more than 100 advanced manufacturing projects, like the CFM LEAP, that make manufacturing leaner, faster, and more efficient.

Another fascinating project in the 3D arena is GE’s cold spray, which creates 3D shapes by spraying metal powders onto a surface at thousands of miles an hour. Cold spray can restore jet engine blades, rotors, and other components. Because it doesn’t use heat, like welding does, cold spray can restore components very close to their original state.

The Industrial Internet

The industrial world is embracing the power of computing, software, and analytical tools to both accelerate the innovation process and revolutionize what we are able to create and build. GE is bringing together minds and machines to lead the evolution of this Industrial Internet movement.

In 2011, GE hired Bill Ruh, a 30-year veteran of the software industry, to head up its software and analytics business. According to Ruh, GE plans to develop the Industrial Internet to create more efficient technology. “We are not selling software,” he says, “we are selling services wrapped around our machines that make them more efficient.”

Combining software innovators with world-class scientists in Global Research is where the magic can, and is, happening. GE has introduced wind turbines that talk to each other and react to feedback, outfitted a rail yard network with software and analytics, and reinvented the manufacturing floor of their battery plant with an elaborate sensor network that has improved technology and product.

In every instance, GE scientists and engineers display an unwavering commitment to innovation. This commitment has enabled GE to adapt and grow the company over many decades. It has positioned the company with the unique ability to be a first responder to what the world needs and a creator of a world that works better.

This article was produced on behalf of GE by the Quartz Marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.