Somebody messed up.

There is a rattle in the new turbine -- an imperceptible vibration deep down; something mute and slight, nearly undetectable.

Once it registers on the diagnostics, though, the team at GE (IW 500/6) knows what it means: It means trouble. It means that something went wrong somewhere in one of the hundreds of plants around the world that supplied one of the thousands of parts that went into the turbine. It means somebody messed up. And it means that they will have to fix it before delivery.

Just a couple of years ago, this would have been a forensic nightmare. It would have meant tearing the thing apart piece by piece, meticulously inspecting each component until they found the problem. It would have meant digging through volumes of production data and notes about each step of the process to find where the problem began and figure out how far it stems. It would have meant months of work, months of delays, months of lost time.

But that's not what it means today.

"We've digitized the manufacturing process," explains Don Busiek, general manager of Manufacturing Software at GE Intelligent Platforms. "The performance of every manufacturer or every piece of our turbines can be tracked online. So if there is a problem like this, I can have answers in seconds, not months."

See Also: Manufacturing Industry Technology News & Trends

Sujeet Chand, chief technology officer, Rockwell AutomationDiagnostic teams at GE, he says, now have information on every handler, every process and every quality check performed on every part of every machine right at their fingertips. And that's just one piece of the high-tech toolbox they have on hand to help create operational efficiency and performance -- just one of the countless high-tech tools coming out every day to help them make better high-tech goods.

"We are at an inflection point from a technology perspective where we have the opportunity to do things we've never been able to do before and to manufacture things better than we ever could before," Busiek explains.

What's more, this inflection point marks a significant change in the manufacturing leadership hierarchy.

Efficiency and productivity, maintenance and quality have always been operational issues -- what we have always looked to the COO's department to bring. But as manufacturing gets digitized, the new time-saving and efficiency-boosting tools are now coming from a powerful new (or newly powerful) manufacturing leader: the CTO.

"We're no longer looking to operations for help," Busiek says. "It's the CTO that has stepped up as the new hero on the plant floor."