rocky-III-clubber-rocky-final-fight-united-artists United Artists

For Knockout Product, Lean In

FastWorks is GE's new customer-focused methodology to create a lean, mean products and services. GE Energy Connections used it to build the most flexible and collaborative power panel on the market.

If you develop products at GE, it’s a good bet that you subsist on a diet of Lean Six Sigma, which sounds like the most boring breakfast cereal ever, but as you may know, is a methodology companies use to achieve manufacturing perfection, which equates to no more than 3.4 defects per million.

With these expectations in mind, Jason Newby, the senior product manager for power panels at GE Energy Connections, was tasked with overseeing the creation of a new low-voltage power panel from the ground up.

“Unless you have been in the industry forever and know the hearts and minds of your customers, you don’t know how to do that,” Newby says. “Normally, you don't involve customers deeply in the design phase. The technology team will do all that work almost in a vacuum, unless the product manager tells them specifically what they want.”

Newby hasn’t been in the industry forever, and working in a vacuum inevitably leads to a product that, well, sucks. So instead, the team employed GE’s new product development weapon: FastWorks.

Think of FastWorks is the maturation of Lean Six Sigma, the marrying of GE’s 100+ years of expertise “with the speed and agility of a start-up.”

“It’s something to get products out to the customer faster — and actually deliver what the customers are asking for,” Newby says.

It’s the giant conglomerate version of Rocky III – you know, the one where Rocky becomes rich and lazy, gets his butt kicked by Mr. T and then trains in a humble L.A. gym, and of course, the beach, to regain the “eye of the tiger.”

FastWorks may or may not have been inspired by this scene in Rocky III.
Image: United Artists

We won’t ruin the end of the 35-year-old movie for you, but spoiler alert: Newby’s crew knocked their project out.

The final product is called the EntellEon LV power panel, and the versatile electrical component made our cover last issue. It should also make any contractor’s day a lot easier, due to lightning fast installation and unprecedented versatility in breaker placement and overall electrical room design.

Check out the GE EntellEon Low-Voltage Power Panel on the NED directory.

In one video demonstration, one installer carried in and hooked up the lightweight, modular EntellEon in a little over eight minutes, while a trio had to carry a comparable conventional panel, which took 27 minutes to install.

To get to this point, the product design team had to identify the critical-to-quality (CTQ) attributes, or those the customers believe are most important. It’s one of the Six Sigma core tenets, and the foundation of FastWorks.

Newby says more than 500 customers were involved in the rigorous design process, and the approach taken was that of a hungry entrepreneur who needed to wow prospective buyers, not shareholders or higher ups.

“My direction to the design team was customer first, manufacturer second, technology last,” Newby says. “If it’s a customer requirement, we have to do it. If a manufacturing requirement doesn’t violate that, we'll do it.”

And many of those customers don’t just get a quick phone call or fill out a survey, but rather join in the design room virtually.

“There’s a constant feedback loop until you get the finished product,” explains Newby, who says this included sharing CAD files, brochures, and the physical prototype. “And I’m not only talking about the distributor. We hit everyone in the value stream: contractors who do the install, end users who finally used it, and manufacturers building it. Everyone had a say in how [EntellEon] came together.”

 “Everyone” included the factory workers in Edessa, Mexico, who made the panel easier to build and supply chain workers who contributed to optimizing the packaging for easier shipping and storage.

But it’s the customers who will most appreciate the details that seemingly address any potential headache.

Newby says one complaint was that many panels are custom-ordered, and have to be junked if something is not right. The EntellEon works more like Legos, where circuit breakers, which plug directly into the bus, can be easily swapped out. And if you have a type A breaker on the left, you don’t need to mount the same on the right. Also, the panel is reversible, so it doesn’t matter if the power cables are bottom or top-feed.

The EntellEon LV power panel can be installed in minutes by one worker with one tool.
Photo: GE

Inventory has also vastly been simplified, as you would only need to stock the breakers, as opposed to an entire panel. Panels can be designed and ordered through the GE empower portal.

Packaging has been simplified so it takes up less room on a jobsite and you need only to stock additional breakers as opposed to a whole new panel.

One of the first Entelleon power panels was installed at GE Healthcare Life Sciences Headquarters in Marlborough, Mass, and the installing contractor noticed instant results.

“Working out in the field, you really appreciate innovation, especially when it makes our work easier," says Jeff Walker, general foreman, Wayne J. Griffin Electric. "Our entire installation crew was impressed with the flexibility Entelleon offers us in the field. With the reversible top/bottom feed, simple, yet robust packaging, and ease of circuit breaker installation, Entelleon delivers additional autonomy to get the job done, especially when you run into those obstacles that don’t always show up on paper.”

So far, FastWorks, which began in 2013, has helped speed up 300 projects across GE’s divisions, from medical equipment to gas turbines.

“It's the wave of the future,” Newby says. “I personally don't want to see other people to do it because it will be much more competitive.”

C’mon, Newby. That’s how you keep the eye of the tiger. Maybe we’ll send him a copy of Rocky III.

 

 

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