Interview:Lorrie Norrington, president, ceoGE Fanuc Automation


Lorrie Norrington, president, ceo, GE Fanuc Automation, began in that role in April 2000 . Excerpts from a July 11, 2000, conversation with Control Engineering follow.

Q. Sometimes reflecting on past strengths can provide insight into where a company is going. What in GE Fanuc's past has become vital in where the company stands today, and how it's positioned for the future?

Success and commitment to solutions are critical. It's not only hardware or software or networks. All contribute to bringing solutions to the factory floor. Today's solutions link control and production to ERP [enterprise resource planning] and tie it all together with different businesses to provide what customers are looking for in productivity, capacity, or whatever they need. Our mindset is looking into customers' specific needs, using automation and other resources to bring it together. For example, we can go outside to bring in partners.

Saturn, in Springhill, Tennessee, was having a tough time with wasted materials, productivity, and downtime in its paint lines. Goal was a turnkey solution with automation and MES [manufacturing execution systems] to automate the line and tie the plant floor with business and reporting systems. GE Fanuc Cimplicity Tracker human-machine interface software brought substantial savings in usable inventory, productivity, cost savings, and reduced scrap... our team was able to bring together the total solution.

Our legacy really is in hardware, but the good news-as we expand in software and networking-is that we're our own customer. As GE Fanuc has moved up the value chain, we've evolved into a solutions provider, getting our people as close to customers as possible. If we don't have the hardware, software, or other part of the solution, we'll get what we need for the total automation solution.

Q. What are the major things in customers' environments today that influence how GE Fanuc's goes to market?

It's key for customers to drive productivity. B-to-B, e-business, and e-commerce models require lowering costs and increasing productivity. They have to have improved communications. They have to tie the control system and production management into ERP. Through our open-system initiative, we've pushed use of the Internet to a higher productivity standard in March of this year. Real-time plant-floor data flow in 100 megabit per sec communications, a critical link for web-based solutions.

E-business models will transform our whole approach to the marketplace and continue to accelerate through the supply chain, with hardware, software, and by putting tools on the web. The e-business promise is to seamlessly share info and link with the supply chain. As customers are driving to find competitive advantages, our focus has changed from automation to productivity.

Q. What major technologies or products highlighted recently most influence how customers think about and implement automation and control solutions?

Web-enabled technologies are driving our industries and their future growth by allowing access to the process beyond the organization, around the world. This provides power and promise for customers. We're web-enabling PLCs. The high adoption rate of the Internet will make this transition a faster one than the move from PLCs to PCs. It's similar to changes in the telecommunications market, where I came from. High-speed Ethernet, proven in business and office environments, will be applied quickly to industry.

PCs are important, even if they're not deeply accepted in traditional machine tool businesses at this point. We helped Mori Seiki combine PC and CNC in a vertical machining center to increase productivity 40%. They're remotely monitoring and controlling machines from a central site. A single operator can service entire system, review production logs, and review the control and production system. Just a few years ago, most wouldn't have thought of using PCs in conjunction with CNCs. We have to push new technologies beyond the comfort level.

In networking, with the GE/Cisco Systems agreement , it's clear that we believe Ethernet implementation can be robust enough as a control standard, with the advantage of direct connections to information networks. Customers fear their competitors are figuring things out in Internet time. We have to help them move ahead with this technology, using e-commerce models.

Q. How does this influence your sales channels?

Sales channels have undergone a retooling, a re-education, in total solutions, including both software and services.

Q. What are the most difficult challenges for customers today? What advice can you offer?

The rapid speed of e-business requires internal changes to accommodate higher productivity, open systems, and open solutions. This can be a major challenge. Very few enterprises have open products in place that can communicate from the plant floor to upper levels of business. Once the web-enabled tools are in place internally, it's a great opportunity to look at supply-chain management. Clearly, most trying to do both at the same time, adding to the challenge.

Q. What are the most difficult challenges for GE Fanuc today, and what advice do you offer employees?

Challenging and pushing beyond your personal comfort level has become even more necessary today. GE's continuous improvement quest has accelerated, so we're really pushing our people to use the new technologies and think about how to increase personal productivity. We can't win unless we use the Internet to drive leading-edge technologies. One of the things I've done to improve internal communications is to post weekly updates on my own intranet page. Giving people payroll and benefits information on the intranet is another way to make it more personable. Sales engineers, for instance, can pull down market information. Getting into it helps people on the way to making e-business a way of life internally and better understand customers' needs.

Our move to combine multiple software units and related solutions in one unit ( Control Engineering Online Exclusive, July 13 ) aims to leverage strengths, more easily offer solutions, augment ease of use. Customers will benefit through faster integration of those products. This will also facilitate development of new software, ensuring customers will have a clear migration path.

Q. Are the market trends similar globally?

We've integrated support services globally. Worldwide, the emphasis is more on customer solutions, than individual devices. Asian markets have recovered. We've seen good projects in Mexico. There's strong activity in Europe. Levels of awareness about newer technologies vary, but customer needs converge across the globe.

Q. Do you have anything else to add?

This is an exciting time for this business to deliver a lot of value, cost effectiveness, and flexibility to customers.

About Lorrie Norrington,
president and ceo, GE Fanuc Automation

Lorrie Norrington is vice president of the General Electric Co. and president and ceo, GE Fanuc Automation, a unit of GE Industrial Systems. GE Fanuc Automation employs approximately 1,600 people worldwide. Both its world and North American headquarters are located in Charlottesville, Va., and the company is represented in over 55 countries with major operating subsidiaries in the Americas, Europe, and the Asia Pacific.

Previously Norrington served as president and ceo of General Electric's Commercial Shopping Network,, an online commercial shopping network. She was responsible for the development of the company's e-Business strategy.

Norrington began her career in 1982 on the FMP program at GE Information Services in Rockville, Md. She held finance, marketing, and business development positions in GEIS. In 1987, she left GE to pursue her MBA at Harvard Business School. Upon graduation, Norrington joined GE Medical Systems in Waukesha, Wis., and ran the X-Ray Service Business. Subsequently, she ran both the domestic Vascular X-Ray Business and Global Cardiac X-Ray Business. In 1993, Norrington moved to Electrical Distribution and Control in Plainville, Conn., and held several positions of increasing responsibility in the Commercial Operation of ED&C - Pricing Manager Process Improvement, Customer Service and Logistics. In 1996, Norrington led the Equipment Operation, a $280 million switchgear business in Mebane, N.C. In 1998, she returned to Plainville to run the Components Operation, an $850 million business with more than 3,500 employees in 15 facilities.

Norrington holds B.S. degrees in Finance and Marketing from the University of Maryland and a M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. She is the co-chair of the GE Women's Network and is active in GE Elfun, a community service organization.

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