Sparking Innovation in MENAT, GE Champions Localized Research, Innovation Challenges, Research Centers and ‘Garages’
What does “innovation” mean for GE in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT)? It means developing patented technology in Saudi Arabia. It means creating innovation centers that nurture collaborative thinking within the region. It means launching innovation challenges that address issues with specific relevance to MENAT.
For GE in the region, innovation means sharing the disruptive potential of the “Future of Work” with government and private sector customers and other partners. This future is defined by innovation-inspiring forces that GE has identified as Advanced Manufacturing, the Industrial Internet, and the Global Brain. By working to harness these forces, GE is driving its own innovation, and that of its partners — helping them to be nimble enough to thrive in a 21st century world characterized by constant flux.
First, the Industrial Internet is the meshing of the physical and digital worlds and can be considered the next big revolution in human history, after the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Revolution.
Secondly, Advanced Manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing are changing the way we make things and are democratizing manufacturing, so that economic efficiency no longer hinges on mass production of identical goods in a faraway place.
Finally, the Global Brain is about the digital connectivity and access to smart, skilled people around the world through virtual networks that is already revolutionizing the way we do business, accelerate ideas, and solve problems.
GE embodies these three Future of Work pillars in its diverse innovation initiatives around the MENAT region. We explore a few of these below:
Regional Innovation Centers
GE has opened local, customer outcome-focused Innovation Centers across the region: the Saudi GE Innovation Center, where a patent for a turbo-machinery software solution was recently developed; the GE Ecomagination Innovation Center in Masdar City in the UAE, which looks at sustainability across sectors, including water, energy, lighting and transportation; and soon, the GE Turkey Innovation Center, which will include a GE Healthcare Life Science Lab and access to the GE Patent Library.
Other regional GE contributions to innovation include a $100 million investment in the Hot and Harsh Center of Excellence, an Energy Efficiency Hub within the Oil & Gas Research Program, and a dedicated Industrial Internet software lab. Among other things, research at these facilities will address factors such as efficiency, temperature, dust, corrosion and fuel harshness — all of which are major factors for power plants in the region.
GE also is demonstrating the potential of Advanced Manufacturing and sparking the imagination of students, academics and professionals through the GE Garages initiative, at the Innovation Centers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Garages workshops and events, such as this one held in partnership with the GEMS school system in the UAE,  explore the possibilities opened up by Advanced Manufacturing technologies and processes such as 3D printing, localized manufacturing, and rapid prototyping.
Great examples of the Global Brain at work are the three innovation challenges held over the past two and a half years in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Algeria — in fields ranging from health care and energy, to sustainable seawater desalination and manufacturing for the energy sector.
The 2013 challenge in Turkey received nearly 1,000 entries from more than 90 universities and other organizations and addressed issues in rural health-care access and energy efficiency in industry. The 2014 Ecomagination Innovation Challenge in Saudi Arabia was focused on energy-efficiency solutions for seawater desalination. That challenge received 108 entries from 32 countries. Four winning teams from five countries, including Italy, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands and the United States, were awarded cash prizes and the opportunity to collaborate with GE, Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship and others to potentially develop and deploy their proposed technology.
The 2015 Algeria Supplier Challenge sponsored by GE and Sonelgaz created an opportunity to boost the local supply chain by identifying promising local suppliers for the two companies’ new multibillion General Electric Algeria Turbines (GEAT) gas turbine manufacturing facility. Six phase 1 winners were awarded $50,000, while the Phase 2 winner was awarded over $20,000 and can potentially supply parts to the new plant.
GE also has furthered localized innovation in the region through original research on relevant topics such as the Future of Work in MENAT, energy-efficiency policies in the UAE, and water scarcity solutions in Saudi Arabia.
A white paper issued in late 2014 on the Future of Work in MENAT explored how the Industrial Internet, Advanced Manufacturing, and the Global Brain are changing the nature and structure of work in the region, and showed how it could be leveraged to overcome longstanding regional challenges. In April 2015, co-authors Rania Rostom, Chief Innovation Officer for GE MENAT, and Marco Annunziata, GE’s Chief Economist, issued an updated 2015 outlook.
A study conducted jointly between GE and Masdar Institute and issued in January 2015 looked at how the adoption of energy-efficiency technologies in the UAE could strengthen the country’s long-term energy security, while increasing national wealth savings, and decreasing the carbon intensity of the electricity value chain.
A research paper released in February 2015, called “Addressing Water Scarcity in Saudi Arabia: Policy Options for Continued Success,” provided an overview of these issues, along with four specific policy options to help increase water reuse in the Kingdom.
And most recently, a joint research project signed between GE and the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) will look to improve power plant availability and strengthen their electricity generating potential. GE and KAUST will co-fund the project, whose results will be evaluated by GE experts to determine the impact of using heavy liquid fuels on advanced gas turbines.
GE’s commitment to localized innovation is driven by a focus on customers and their unique challenges. This requires an understanding of their context and their environment, and listening to their needs. Guided by customer ‘pain points,’ GE supports work and actions that ensure innovation moves in the most effective direction.
These MENAT-based efforts both reflect and draw on GE’s renowned global research resources, which have benefitted from a huge jump in spending — from $2.3 billion in 2001 to $6 billion today, a figure that now represents more than 6% of GE’s industrial revenues. There has been an equal boost in the number of scientists, technologists and engineers at GE, exceeding 50,000 in 2012, up nearly 60% from 2006. They enabled GE to file more than 3,522 patents in 2012 alone.