Case study: General Electric talks digitisation

General Electric (GE) continues to witness robust growth within the Middle East's power sector. Bhanu Shekhar tells Jochebed Menon how the company’s regional portfolio is shaping up, and why digitisation is so important

Marafiq Independent Water and Power Project in Saudi Arabia.
Marafiq Independent Water and Power Project in Saudi Arabia.

Multinational US-based conglomerate, General Electric (GE), is establishing a strong foothold in the Middle East. During the last year, the company has secured a number of key partnership contracts in the power sectors of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt.

Bhanu Shekhar, chief digital officer, GE Power Middle East and Africa (MEA), says: “The Middle East is very important for GE. We continue to grow in the power, and oil and gas sectors. After acquiring Alstrom, GE has gained a much larger footprint in the region to service. Recently, GE also announced the acquisition of Baker Hughes.”

Baker Hughes is one of the world's largest oil field and industrial service companies. Along with Baker Hughes, GE will bring together a collection of competencies spanning oilfield services, equipment manufacturing, and technology.

“We strongly feel that digitisation will be of optimum use in the service industry. Many inefficiencies can be taken out using digital technology in the service sector. This is one of the biggest reasons that GE decided to merge with Baker Hughes. This region continues to be crucial for GE.”

In the region, GE presses on with adding capacity and increasing efficiency on projects, particularly in the energy sector.

“We’re adding additional volume to new machines in Qatar and Saudi. In the UAE currently, we’re adding supplementary capacity to Takreer’s [Abu Dhabi Oil Refinery Company] project.”

Shekhar points out another project GE is presently involved with, a multi-year agreement with Iraq’s Mass Energy Group Holding. The $520m contract includes operation and maintenance (O&M) services, as well as GE’s advanced digital industrial solutions for the three gigawatt (GW) gas-fired Basmaya Power Plant.

In addition, GE has a contract with Sonelgaz, Algeria’s national electricity and gas firm, to supply heavy-duty gas turbine combined-cycle and aeroderivative gas turbine technology for nine power plants. GE is also working on power projects in Egypt. Shekhar elaborates: “We signed a contract with the government of Egypt to deliver 2.6GW of power generation capacity.”

He notes that GE Energy won the complete plant control system for the largest combined power and water facility in the world, the Marafiq Independent Water and Power Project (IWPP) in Saudi.

On the digital front, the company is heavily investing in digital technologies, Shekhar says: “Many of our customers, [like Saudi Electricity Company and Qatar Gas] are already on Predix, which is GE’s software platform for the collection and analysis of data from industrial machines. We are also working actively with other clients to make Predix their platform for the Internet of things (IoT).”

He adds: “If you look at what we are doing in different markets – be it Saudi, Qatar, or the UAE – we’re facilitating digitisation, which brings in additional capacity and competence [on projects]. Even if this additional capacity is 5%, it helps with proficiency and reliability.”

Elaborating on the process, Shekhar explains: “Equipment is generally built on a standard platform, which gets shipped all over the world, with each country’s operational environment being different.

“What we do is put a digital twin – which is more of a mathematical model of a particular power plant – and make equipment more responsive and aware of the environment it resides in.

He continues: “In some of the projects we’re engaged with, we’re delivering focus-ended additional efficiency, which is worth millions of dollars. When equipment becomes more reliable, it further saves costs and time. That’s what we are targeting, making machines more efficient and decisive.”

The company is also working with industries that are power intensive. Shekhar notes: For industrial companies that are completely power-driven, such as smelters, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and power plants, GE is focussed on delivering “energy-potent” technologies.

“We are applying our digital technologies in multiple building blocks, which help a construction process overall, making it more productive.

“We are in talks with many megaproject developers in the region, which include smelters, nuclear power plants, and metro projects, to put in a digital model in the construction phase itself.”

Elaborating on the time frame of megaprojects, Shekhar says: “A nuclear power plant takes approximately eight to 10 years to be constructed, which includes a lot of variability. So, at GE, we are looking to cut down variability. We work with engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) teams and developers to make projects more competent and easy to maintain once constructed.”

Shekhar also explains how digital technologies used in megaprojects reduce variation during the construction period.

“The first thing digitisation does is narrow variation, making projects more economical. It makes information available to everyone involved in real-time,” he says.

For GE, digitisation is the way forward, and the company hopes to transform industries with software-defined machines and solutions that are connected, responsive, and predictive.

In November, the company launched its new Fleet360 platform, showcasing its enhanced total plant capabilities to service both GE and cross-fleet power generation equipment for utility and industrial plant operators.

Fleet360 applies to services, upgrades, repairs, parts, operations, and maintenance–as well as GE’s advanced digital solutions–for assets supplied by GE and other original equipment manufacturers. The Fleet360 services portfolio was built on the integration of GE and Alstom’s expertise over the past year.

Representing the first integration of GE and Alstom Power’s steam turbine technologies, GE introduced its new Enhanced Steam Path (ESP) upgrade solution for D-10 and D-11 steam turbines operating in Europe and other 50-hertz regions, following the ESP introduction in 60hz countries. ESP was introduced to help utilities and industrial operators boost the efficiency and output of their existing combined-cycle power plants.

Concluding, Shekhar says that GE is not only helping its clients get on the bandwagon of digital transformation, but is also getting itself “digital transformed”.

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