GE’s Solution to Legacy Processes and the Skills Gap

GE Measurement & Control has a new tech solution to address the skills gap and traditional processes.
Published: Tue 22 Apr 2014

The “Baby Boomer Generation” is coming into retirement age and this is presenting a major challenge for utilities. Firstly, these employees have a wealth of industry knowledge and special skills under their sleeves but the traditional processes that they have adhered to for many years are no longer working for today’s utility which is under a lot more pressure to perform in a highly competitive industry.

Traditional processes are not as efficient as customers expect them to be. Also, technology has changed and the ageing workforce may not know how to operate these new technologies.

Compounding this problem is the introduction of a new (and younger) workforce that will not have as much experience on their side.

In response to this dilemma, GE has launched a handheld electromagnetic technology with a real-time data stream to guide technicians during critical inspections, regardless of skill level and experience.

The first of its kind integrates testing intelligence and deep industry experience into an easily adaptable platform. For the first time, technicians can immediately access the critical information and guidance they need to perform efficiently.

Old processes not efficient enough

The work of eddy current technicians, who specialize in the electromagnetic modality, is highly critical, performed in challenging conditions and calls for extreme accuracy.

In the past, technicians relied on service bulletins or paper-based instructions that outline each step of the test to ensure accuracy and their own safety. This, however, can add to the complexity, cost and timeliness of the testing. This can result in errors which may require a second technician to read the instructions and record the result. This, in itself, is an error trap.

By reducing the need for paper-based service bulletins and lengthy manuals, the new GE Mentor EM technology replaces legacy processes and takes full advantage of the power of the Industrial Internet. The new technology makes eddy current inspections easier, more accurate and faster than ever before. Technicians are given instant access to critical information by simply connecting to a local network to share data, immediately download up-to-date procedures and workflows and collaborate with Level-3 experts in real-time. This is all received directly from the device.

Additionally, reports can be generated on the spot, from the site of inspection. The GE Mentor EM application-specific user interface makes it easy to use across multiple industries, such as oil & gas, aerospace, automotive, power generation and manufacturing. By placing workflows directly on the device, GE Mentor EM helps to ensure strict compliance with codes, guidelines and standard practices.

Saving time and money

We asked GE how much time and money utilities can expect to save through the use of this technology. According to Robert Ward, an expert in Ultrasonic Testing (UT) and Electromagnetics (EM) Innovation at GE Measurement and Control, a division of GE Oil & Gas, the greatest value comes from the ability to bring less experienced and new technicians up to speed quicker than before. He adds that Mentor creates a 3 month experience advantage per technician or about US$20K in savings for each new hire.

Mr Ward points out that the device allows for rapid field data sharing. which limits false calls. “This can be as little as a few hours of work lost, to as much as a plane ticket and a full day of work for an expert – and sharing field data to make fast dispositions of data – depending on assets, for example this could involve a plane operating at $1.5 M per day or a gas turbine at $50K per hour in lost production.”

When asked about return on investment, Mr Ward explains that it is comparable to competitors in this space and that customers will see a good return on their investments even if they decide not to take advantage of all the available features, such as the training and help features.

Easy to use

Leveraging innovative GE Mentor Create software, manufacturers and service providers can create customizable, on-device inspection workflow applications that provide consistent, up-to-date and easy-to-follow instructions for technicians of all levels. Inspection technicians gain easy access to on-device photos, procedures and videos for reference while setting up, acquiring data or analyzing data. By limiting the range of adjustments available to the operator, the opportunity for error is substantially minimized. Depending on skill level, operators can select to use the device in “Expert Mode” or “Workflow on Device Mode.”

The battery life of the device is four hours under normal circumstances but it can be augmented by an external battery. To download and access a guide takes a few seconds, according to Mr Ward.

Mr Ward points out that their customers , all with diverse work forces, have found value since incorporating the technology into operations.

“In high consequence inspection environments, it is essential that technicians have access to the information they need, when they need it,” explains Dave Jankowski, North American Commercial NPI Leader, GE’s Measurement & Control, a GE Oil & Gas division. “GE Mentor EM with Mentor Create eliminates the cumbersome paper trail traditionally associated with electromagnetic eddy current testing, dramatically improving the safety, efficiency and accuracy of the testing process. Additionally, GE’s innovative technology will help transform the industry by bridging the skills gap and addressing the current global shortage of experienced inspection personnel in the workforce today.”