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Opting for Innovative Manufacturing General Electric Taps Bavaria Over U.S., Japan for Aircraft Parts Plant

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GE makes the turbines that run the Boeing 747-8 airplane, such as this Lufthansa one that carried the World Cup winning German soccer back home from Brazil.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    G.E.’s experimental plant is unique in that it combines product development and production in a single location, saving time and money in the manufacturing process.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The U.S. industrial giant chose a location in Bavaria over ones in the United States or Japan to tap German technological know-how.
    • The new turbine blades for jet engines weight only half of what conventional ones do.
    • Titanium aluminide, the material used in the blades, has many potential applications but is also difficult to work with.
  • Audio

    Audio

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It’s an attempt to bring together the best features of three different countries. When General Electric decided to open an experimental factory a few years ago, its first step was to send some of its managers to a seminar on the Japanese Kaizen philosophy. Elissa Lee, an American, was eventually chosen to run the new plant. Her job is to optimize speed and efficiency.

When selecting the site, however, G.E. decided against both Japan and its homeland the United StatesInstead, the plant is unmistakably in the southern German state of Bavaria. Employees have even hung a photo of a dachshund on one of the robots.

General Electric decided back in 2007 that Germany would be the best place for a completely new process to develop and manufacture extremely lightweight low-pressure turbine blades for aircraft engines.

Germany offers superior engineering skills and automation expertise, and besides, the technology was originally developed in Bavaria, Ms. Lee explained. That’s why G.E. rented a building in the picturesque Bavarian city of Regensburg and invested a double-digit million-euro sum. The first blades made of titanium aluminide were delivered in 2013 and have been in use in Lufthansa’s Boeing 747–8 aircraft since April 2014.

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