As Part of Digital Industrial Evolution, GE Corporation Lays Off an Undisclosed Number of Scientists in New York

As Part of Digital Industrial Evolution, GE Corporation Lays Off an Undisclosed Number of Scientists in New York February 1, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

As part of its shift to become a “digital industrial company,” General Electric announced it had laid off anywhere from “several dozen” to 160 researchers at its GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York.

GE has been discussing this transition since at least 2015. The company’s chief executive officer, Jeff Immelt, held a lengthy interview with McKinsey & Company in October 2015, where he discussed it in depth.

Immelt said, “You think about a jet engine today or a locomotive or an MRI scanner. A new jet engine might have a hundred sensors on it. These sensors have the capability to take continuous data about the heat of an engine, fuel consumption, the wear of the blades, the environment it’s taking off in—a series of things. And one flight between New York City and Chicago produces a terabyte of data. So industrial companies are in the information business whether they want to be or not.”

So, as part of that evolution into a digital company, GE is making shifts in the makeup of its research staff, investing deeply in software, robotics and artificial intelligence.

“With GE’s transformation to a digital industrial company, we are evolving our research skill set to meet the needs of our customers and industries,” Todd Alhart, GE Global Research Spokesman said in a statement. “We are limiting research that is not central to GE’s strategy and investing in key areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning. These changes are taking place across our global research centers. The shift is essential to keeping GE at the forefront of innovation and manufacturing into the future.”

Currently, GE employs about 2,000 people in Niskayuna. In the Albany, NY region, it employs more than 7,000 people.

In mid-January, GE announced it was cutting 35 jobs in Schenectady, NY, and a total of 41 jobs in its clean energy business known as “Current, powered by GE.” In its Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) filed with the New York labor department, GE indicated the economy as the reason for the job cuts.

It also laid off staff at its fuel cell startup in Saratoga County starting in November 2016. GE Fuel Cells, as part of a strategy shift, was moving from being a standalone company to being part of GE Global Research. It laid off 27 employees as part of that change. GE Fuel Cells develops fuel cells for commercial and residential power applications. Sixteen remaining technical staffers of GE Fuel Cells joined GE Global Research under its new Product Breakout Lab.

“The team has achieved many critical technical milestones, and we believe we can accelerate more rapidly through the new Product Breakout Lab,” said Alhart in a statement at the time. “We’re bringing the technology back in house to the Product Breakout lab to work on the development and commercialization.”

These changes will not have an impact on GE’s collaboration with SUNY Polytechnic Institute, a $500 million partnership on silicon carbide power electronic chips. GE refers to this as a “core breakout technology” central to the company commercializing cutting edge energy devices.

In the 2015 interview, Immelt said, “We want to treat analytics like it’s as core to the company over the next 20 years as material science has been over the past 50 years. We can hire the talent. We can evolve our business model accordingly. We need to treat our service agreements to share outcomes with our customers the same way an IT company might approach that in the future. So, in order to do that, we have to add technology, we have to add people, we have to change our business models. We have to be willing to do all those things.”

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