Life today often feels like a science fiction movie, with current and emerging technologies empowering us to solve great challenges and create new opportunities to do things that weren’t previously possible. Autonomous driving, reusable rockets setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight, face-detecting systems to authorize payments or brain implants to bypass damage to the nervous system, are examples of what would pass for science fiction just a decade ago, and are laying the foundation for further innovations.

The technological space is bursting with new developments but few of them hit the mark.  Over the past few years, there have been enormous technology advances in the power services industry – some that will have major impact for years to come, and the capacity to redefine operational excellence.

Disruptive technologies in the power industry

As in many other sectors, high-performance operation is one key driver for technology investments in the power generation services segment.  Plant operators aim to increase safety, cut costs through predictive maintenance, reduce downtime, and enhance economic output. To help achieve these operational and business goals, a range of new tools, materials and insights are already expanding the limits of service capabilities that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago.

Advanced Manufacturing Works

Additive manufacturing is revolutionizing the way products and services perform, and the way they’re manufactured. It’s essentially 3D printing which can now produce geometries that before could only be drawn –such as heavy-duty gas turbine (HDGT) components with additional features and capabilities compared to traditional parts including cooling shrouds. 3D printers that create turbine engine parts can cut down on production time as well as develop lighter components. But the real beauty of this technology is that it also helps speeding up innovation by allowing engineers to test new configurations and ideas faster.

In Europe, GE has already tested at a real plant gas turbine parts accumulating more than 11,000 operating hours, and the results have shown considerable benefits. The 3D printed parts incorporated new cooling features that drove performance improvements – total cooling air mass flow of a first stage vane was reduced up to 15%, which, depending on engine and operation mode, can lead to fuel savings of up to $3 million in costs annually.

In the collective mind, 3D printing is often pictured for very small and complex components, but GE has proven that manufacturing large parts for turbines is also possible. In fact, GE will introduce several new gas turbine upgrade solutions in 2018/19 that feature additive manufacturing technology.  

Robotic inspection tools

Robotic technology can check for critical issues in various plant components with great precision, which translates to more cost-effective condition-based maintenance, while controlling risk.  As an example, GE’s robotic inspection tools for generators can be deployed to help avoid the costs and time associated with removing the generator rotor, and can examine the iron core, radial wedging system, and retaining rings. The combination of this type of innovative technology with field services expertise makes these tools an ideal option to reduce maintenance costs as much as 60%, while increasing operational confidence between outages.

A less obvious use of robots in the power services arena are those that fly. Routine inspections at power plants can be slow, costly, and dangerous if not performed properly. Workers typically collect the data by hand and results can take weeks. Inspection drones can make this process more efficient. They can examine assets under dangerous conditions without interrupting operations. Drones can lower inspection costs by as much as 25%; that’s significant when considering that some power producers spend $100 million annually or more in maintenance.

GE is also investing in robotics, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics technologies to help to make sense of data sent from sensors located on flying and crawling drones. The data from hundreds of hours of video, images and measurements of key metrics ranging from temperature to metal corrosion, are processed through Predix – GE’s cloud platform for the industrial internet. This is helping GE customers move away from rigid inspection schedules, and into cost-effective operational and predictive maintenance decisions to help avoid costly forced outages and emergency repairs. At GE, drones are regularly used to check Heat Recovery Steam Generators (HRSGs), inlet filters and gas turbine exhausts.

 And it’s just the beginning

The power industry is being disrupted- but in very beneficial ways with these service technology innovations, and yet we are still in the early stages of this segment. Additive manufacturing, drones, big data, AI and robotics are some of the key enabling technologies leading the way but innovations in this space will have impacts beyond manufacturing and service platforms, potentially changing entire business models. As we get smarter about new ways of applying these technologies, being able to tailor parts and repairs to specific customer needs becomes less of a fantasy and more of a reality.

To find out more about GE’s total gas plant solutions, please contact us here.

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