Michael Eilers, digital thread leader CMCs, GE Aviation

Fast 5: Threading Data for GE Aviation’s Ceramix Matrix Composites

Michael Eilers, a digital thread leader for GE Aviation’s ceramic matrix composites (CMC) group, talks about stitching the data fabric underpinning Digital Twins for this high-tech area. Forbes named Eilers a 30 Under 30 in Manufacturing & Industry for his work in connecting data from 12 factories in three countries to save $4.4 million per year for the CMC group.

You’ve got an interesting title: digital thread leader. What do you do?

I locate information and data that’s in a variety of different sources and stich it together—that’s where the thread piece comes in—and relate it to a given part. For example, we might have cost information in one system, quality information in another and production information in a third system. My job is to collect it and tie it together so we can see the cost, production and quality information of a part on one screen.

Data is rarely in the same format. How do you stitch it together?

Data is never in the same format, so that’s one of the challenging parts—figuring out a way to compile it so it makes sense. That’s where some data engineering, or the data stitching, comes in. It’s writing the code and coming up with the logic to say, ‘How do I relate these pieces of information together?’

Our industry generates a lot of data in a lot of formats, which can be a hurdle. But you do it every day. What’s the secret?

There are two pieces to that. There’s the coding piece—you need the skills to write code and put data in the format you need. But there’s also the functional part—you need to know the data you’re looking at. That’s where having experience working with the product, material or systems you’re using really comes in handy. You need to be familiar with the information you’re looking at before you can really figure out the best way to format it.

Can you provide examples of how the CMC group uses the information you provide?

We’re constantly working on the code and the stitching in the background. We add new information, bring in new data sources and modify the code to make sure we’re delivering the right information to people. So it’s an ongoing process. As part of that stitching, we automate it. Once we have the code established and it’s in the format we want, we create automated links to the sources so that they’re updated constantly—whether it’s daily or hourly. Once that data is available, the CMC community uses it for a variety of functions, depending on their need. For example, quality engineers use it to take a quick look at all of the different quality requirements for a given part. We have folks in finance who get financial data updated on a near real-time basis. Data scientists are looking at the raw data or using the stitched information to try to understand our products better. Because CMCs are still relatively new, understanding our material system better is one of the main outcomes of all this data stitching.

What’s your background and how did you get involved in this?

My background is in operations and manufacturing. I started at GE about eight years ago on the shop floor. Part of that time was spent working in CMC production in our Newark, Delaware facility. I helped with some of the first CMC shrouds that went into commercial engines. While I was working there, we were collecting tons of information on these parts—inspecting them and trying to understand the material to make it better—but all of that information was hard to get our hands on. An inspection result might be stored away in a shared drive folder and the data we entered from the shop floor was someplace else, so we were spending a lot of time just trying to compile information. I knew there must be a better way to use all of this information—and other people were realizing the same thing. That’s why the CMC digital team was formed and why GE Aviation started the Digital League. We have a wealth of information, so we came up with tools and techniques to compile it together to learn about our products.

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