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For Manufacturers, Baker Hughes’ New Testing Facility a Feather in San Jose’s Cap

Post Date:12/02/2019 4:36 PM

By Nathan Donato-Weinstein

Let’s say you’ve just built a satellite, and you’re getting ready to launch the $25 million hunk of metal and electronics into geo-stationary orbit. You’ve got one chance to get this right, but even the slightest manufacturing or assembly misstep can result in disaster. Failure, as they say, is not an option.

That’s where Baker Hughes Inspection Technologies and its new Customer Solutions Center comes in. The 20,000-square-foot North San Jose facility boasts machines that let engineers, scientists, and academics peer inside industrial products to ensure quality control, without loosening a single screw. The facility adds another critical piece to the manufacturing ecosystem in Silicon Valley, and comes at a time when industries here are developing breakthrough products in the automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics and medical device sectors.

“In our San Jose facility, we’re using CT (computed tomography) and X-ray technology with machines almost like what you’d see in hospital applications,” said Jimmy Robert, vice president of North America Digital Solutions for Baker Hughes. “They’re allowing us to get into and inside customers’ devices, parts, and different components to ensure quality.”

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Nantom M X-Ray machine inside the demonstration area with reconstruction and acquisition computers on the side. 

Baker Hughes is a name well known in oil and gas industries, but the company has long been a big player in inspection technology, with customers across the tech, manufacturing and industrial spectrum. The inspections unit is part of Baker Hughes Digital Solutions, which includes sensor company Panametrics, radiation-monitoring company Reuter-Stokes, and others.

The Customer Solutions Center model is relatively new in the United States, with the first stateside location launching last year in Cincinnati. (Others exist across Europe, Asia, South American and the Indian subcontinent.) The new facility is designed to show off the company’s high-tech scanning equipment and offer opportunities to try it out, train existing customers on the machines, and offer service partnerships for companies that might not be ready to make the purchase.

Robert highlighted a couple of use cases for the equipment – and it’s not all rocket science. A consumer electronics company, for instance, may need to examine a hermitically sealed gadget before mass production. Engineers might want to analyze the quality of welds or microscopic gaps within a lithium ion battery that can affect performance. Or they may need to check the quality of a 3-D printed part. The machines can even be used to unlock the mysteries of artwork, looking underneath layers of paint to find secrets of an Old Master, Robert said.

This type of work – which combines hardware, software and engineering services – is called “nondestructive testing” because products don’t need to be disturbed to get inside of them. The big idea is to help companies ensure quality to boost safety, reliability and performance.

Such services are likely to be in high demand in the San Jose area, which is home to some of the world’s largest contract manufacturers, plus technology OEMs, defense contractors and medical device firms. Manufacturing remains the city’s largest employment sector, accounting for roughly 55,000 jobs in the city. Recently, the city and region have seen a burst of leasing from automotive startups and heavyweights alike, many of which are testing and prototyping components here. Last year, a new nonprofit called MFG:SJ launched to support the sector with support from the City’s Office of Economic Development.

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Demonstration area with (4) X-Ray machines along the wall and fabric strength walls that can open/close to gain access to the rear of the facility.

Executives knew they wanted to be in Silicon Valley because of the proximity to key customers and all the innovation taking place here. They searched throughout the region for a location before homing in on the building in North San Jose. The company early on met with City building and OED staff to plan for a successful facility build-out.

“We found San Jose was really the best value for the location and what we wanted to do in there,” Robert said. “There’s proximity to all of our customers -- no matter which part of the Bay they’re in. The size gives us space to add services, and it’s a good access point to the airport, hotels and restaurants.”

Baker Hughes will host a grand opening event Dec. 4 and Dec. 5 featuring technical discussions, product demonstrations and more. Those interested in attending can find more information here.  

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