Top 10 digital factories: General Motors

By Georgia Wilson
After featuring in our latest Top 10, Manufacturing Global takes a closer look at how General Motors is adopting smart manufacturing technology. When i...

After featuring in our latest Top 10, Manufacturing Global takes a closer look at how General Motors is adopting smart manufacturing technology.

When it comes to widespread adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies, General Motors (GM) - while looking to accelerate its adoption of advanced technologies - has taken a more selective approach.

“There will be technology that will transform our business,” commented Dan Grieshaber, Director, Global Manufacturing Integration, GM. “But we won’t do it just because we can.” Grieshaber calls this approach smart manufacturing, where the company is harnessing certain aspects of Industry 4.0 such as data, artificial intelligence and robotics to drive efficiency, productivity, quality and safety. “We’ll apply it where it works best, and is needed most, and integrate the new technologies with existing ones,” added Grieshaber.

Dating back to 1961, GM became the first automotive manufacturer to harness robotic technology, today the company has between 800 and 1,200 robots in a single assembly plant, working with the  likes of Fanuc to further develop its collaborative robotics’ capabilities.

GM has also been working with NASA and Bioservo Technologies to develop what is known as the ‘Robo-Glove’. THe technology gives the user a stronger grip to use tools more safely and comfortably, reducing repetitive injuries. Pressure sensors in the glove detect the grip motion and synthetic tendons automatically retract to pull the fingers into a grip, holding them until the sensor is released.


In addition, GM is harnessing drone technology to perform equipment inspections in environments where it might be unsafe or time consuming for maintenance employees. 

3D printing

Within many of its manufacturing facilities, GM has adopted 3D printing technology to create on-demand parts to assist employees. The printed parts - which can also be sent to suppliers for mass production - have saved $300,000 for the company over 24 months, at its facility in Lansing, Michigan.

Advanced software design

Leading the industry into a new generation of vehicle lightweighting, GM has over the last two years been harnessing advanced software design technology, to develop its components. Partnering with Autodesk, GM has been harnessing cloud computing and AI-based algorithms to rapidly explore multiple permutations of a part design.

The technology generates hundreds of design options based on goals and parameters set by the user who can then determine the best part design option that fits those requirements. 

“This disruptive technology provides tremendous advancements in how we can design and develop components for our future vehicles to make them lighter and more efficient, said Ken Kelzer, Vice President, Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems, GM. “When we pair the design technology with manufacturing advancements such as 3D printing, our approach to vehicle development is completely transformed and is fundamentally different to co-create with the computer in ways we simply couldn’t have imagined before.”


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