Crowdsourcing Solutions to Engineering Problems
Ian Wright posted on March 17, 2017 |
(image courtesy of GE.)
On-wing engine inspection. (Image courtesy of GE.)
  • What’s the best way to conduct on-wing inspections of jet engines?
  • How can we identify weld seams in pipes using non-destructive testing?
  • How do you measure defects in shiny surfaces in hard-to-reach places?
  • How can we speed up CT image transfers?
  • What would a universal adapter for scanning x-ray plates look like?

If you think you can find solutions to engineering challenges like these, GE can make it worth your while.

That’s the basic idea behind Fuse, an online platform that aims to bring together engineers from all over the world to solve real problems from GE customers.

Crowdsourcing Engineering

Fuse is essentially crowdsourcing engineering, as GE Fuse community leader Amelia Gandara explained:

“GE’s worked with crowdsourcing solutions before, but this model is more integrated. There’s an online platform where we’ll post a challenge, but we’ll also have a subject matter expert who will partner with us through the challenge.”

“We’re hoping to form a more collaborative community, where someone can help with challenges in their area of expertise, or if they just want to learn more about the technology behind, say, the x-ray scanner, without participating in the challenge, they can do that too.”

(Image courtesy of GE.)
Not all weld seams in pipes are visible to the naked eye. (Image courtesy of GE.)
Participating in the Fuse community is simple by design: sign up on the website and start reading and commenting on projects. There are currently five projects on the site, corresponding to the questions above.

“I think there’s certainly a future-of-work element to this,” said Gandara. “We’re trying to be very open to the types of business relationships that can come out of these challenges. We’re modelling this after Local Motors—we’re under the same umbrella in terms of the online platform.”

Flex Your Engineering Muscles

Fuse projects give rise to unique challenges. Participants who submit solutions to those challenges have the chance to win prizes in the form of cash, business opportunities or an exchange of intellectual property (IP).

The Fuse team is aiming to post a new challenge on the website every four to six weeks.

“We’ve had three different challenges and the prizes have been structured a little differently each time—some of them having large dollar amount and potentially an exchange of IP,” explained Gandara. “In our most recent challenge—the universal x-ray plate adapter—there is the same dollar amount for the top five contributors with no exchange of IP, but there is the potential to enter into a business relationship if there’s an opportunity for further development.”

(Image courtesy of GE.)
Measuring reflective objects. (Image courtesy of GE.)
In addition to the potential for material rewards, Gandara emphasized the less tangible benefits of participating in the Fuse platform:

“We’ve talked to some of our super-users, and they’ve said that they enjoy their jobs day-to-day, but they’re looking for something else to do. One of our community members is a PhD in materials science, and he’s not able to work all the time—he’s a stay-at-home parent, so he mostly does contract work—but this is his chance to continue to learn and use his knowledge.”

“We’ve seen that in multiple instances,” she continued. “People who are great mechanical or electrical engineers who do enjoy their jobs, but this is a chance for them to flex their muscles in another industry that they’re passionate about but maybe don’t get the chance to work in.”

The Future of Engineering?

The fact that all of the projects thus far involve inspection is no coincidence, since Fuse is being tested under GE’s Oil & Gas division; specifically, GE Inspection Technologies.

However, as with the on-wing engine inspection challenge, Fuse projects are not confined to the oil & gas industry. “The anticipation is that, in the future, Fuse will host challenges from other GE businesses as well, such as healthcare, power or transportation,” said Gandara.

(Image courtesy of GE.)
Detecting weld seams in pipes. (Image courtesy of GE.)
Eventually, prototypes originating from the Fuse community will be developed at one of GE’s microfactories—collaborative work spaces furnished with prototyping and manufacturing equipment.

“The first microfactory is in Chicago,” said Gandara. “We’re operating out of the mHub space—it’s a manufacturing co-working space we’ll be working out of with other hardware start-ups. It’s a souped-up maker space with a variety of different tools—3D printers, laser cutters with more to be added as we figure out what we need. There’s anticipation for more microfactories to spring up.”

Does this hint at a possible future for engineering, with designs from all over the world feeding into distributed, on-demand manufacturing hubs?

“I think there certainly is a potential,” said Gandara, “In the same way that you see more freelance design work and freelance engineering work on the software side, there’s potential for more of a freelance culture to develop on the hardware side as more tools become available.”

For more information, visit the GE Fuse website.

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