Innovation Stressed at GE Fanuc Users Meeting

Glen Graney, GE Fanuc Automation director of integrator relations, had the unenviable task of kicking off the second company user conference at about 7:20 a.m.

Bill Estep
Bill Estep

on May 31 in Orlando, explaining the conference theme of “Discover” and having “Ah Ha” moments.

Maryrose Sylvester, president and chief executive officer, gave the opening keynote. She has 20 years with GE but only two months with GE Fanuc (www.gefanuc.com), based in Charlottesville, Va. She noted that what keeps GE Fanuc executives awake at night are the same things keeping customer executives awake. It begins with “delivering the perfect order.” Other key items noted were regulatory demands, product quality, performance improvement, product development and accountability.

The strategic plan for GE Fanuc this year is innovation, and therefore, it is investing heavily in new products. The company doubled the size of the technology team in key areas last year. “GE Fanuc will grow through innovation and expanding product breadth,” concluded Sysvester.

The GE Value Proposition enumerated by GE Fanuc CEO Maryrose Sylvester is:

· Optimize your operations

· Drive results

· Meet compliance requirements

· Gain insight into your operations

· Support your business.

Innovate, acquire

In an interview with Automation World later in the conference, Sylvester and Vice President of Product Management Bill Estep expanded on the remarks by saying that innovation, along with continuing the strategy of prudent acquisitions, will be business drivers. Two areas they focused on were the manufacturing execution system (MES) layer of software and embedded systems. The first area was jump-started by the acquisition of Mountain Systems Inc. in 2003, and the second with the 2001 acquisition of VMIC, along with the soon-to-be-completed acquisition of SBS Technologies Inc., of Albuquerque, N.M. The Mountain Systems products are well on their way to integration into GE Fanuc’s Proficy platform. Meanwhile, a team is in place to plan the integration of the embedded systems business.

In response to a question regarding long-rumored turmoil in the company’s distribution channel following its 2002 acquisition of Intellution, Estep admitted that “some uncertainty always follows an acquisition as people wonder what may happen. That uncertainty may get further stirred up by competitors seeking to gain an advantage.” But such uncertainty has been laid to rest and the channel is now stronger than ever, said Sylvester and Estep.

The company announced attendance (non-GE Fanuc) at more than 600. Integrators and end-users provided detailed information about how to be successful with an automation project during many sessions. Several end-users told Automation World during the conference that many sessions were informative, but that they also appreciated the opportunity to talk with other users and get unbiased views about what worked, and what didn’t work.

Centocor, Dell, Lafarge North America, Nissan North America, J.M. Smucker and Timken Co. anchored the program, emphasizing real-world solution discussions. A broad range of training was available in hands-on workshops with products ranging from controllers to production management software to motion control to machine control and embedded systems. The conference concluded with an interactive “Town Meeting” discussion with customers, GE Fanuc executives, product managers and engineers.

Elements of the Proficy RX application include:

· Standardized control and networking of multiple instruments

· Preprocessing of captured analytical data

· Plant data archiving and repository

· Methods development

· Interfaces to commercially available chemometrics packages

· Designed for 21 CFR Part 11 Compliance.

Enhanced PAT solution

The company also announced the next iteration of its Process Analytical Technology (PAT) solution for the life sciences industry. Proficy RX, based on technology from Symbion Systems Inc. (www.gosymbion.com), of Irvine, Calif., allows for production connectivity, data collection and analysis, and provides a solid foundation for companies seeking to better understand and improve their processes.

PAT is a system for designing, analyzing and controlling manufacturing through timely measurements of critical quality and performance attributes of raw and in-process materials. The goal of PAT is to ensure final product quality. The GE Fanuc/Symbion agreement was announced in March 2006 at the Interphex pharmaceutical manufacturing conference and exhibition.

- Gary Mintchell

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