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General Electric, a long lasting story with the Panama Canal

, the world’s leading digital industrial company, is one of the few multinationals to have a century-old operation in the Republic of Panama since it already had a close relationship with the region during the construction of the Panama Canal in the beginning of the last century.

GE arrived in the region in 1906, when the company’s first office in Honduras was established, and immediately started its expansion through Central America and the Caribbean, bringing the Company to participate in high profile projects such as the Canal construction. On this project, GE contributed with the latest electric systems technology of that time; the Panama Canal used 500 GE motors to operate the locks and another 500 in other parts of the complex. GE also participated in the construction of energy generating plants that supplied the canal as well as in the design of the main control panel for the locks.

“GE supplied half of all the required electric systems during the initial construction of the Panama Canal and most motors and energy generators that were used for the different operating systems,” said Guillaume Bidan, President and CEO for GE in Central America and Caribbean.

As part of this grand project, GE also was in charge of manufacturing all the electric towing locomotives. They were produced in New York and were used in the original locks. These “mules,” as they are known, were fundamental for the operation since the ships were not allowed to use their own engines to pass through the locks.

Since then, those “mules” have run on the train tracks parallel to the canal to tow the ships. Today, they still do so. The equipment and the special electric design allowed moving the ships at the speed of 1 mph, which was the adequate speed to tow the ships smoothly.

Tugs, the main characters of the expanded canal

The story of GE and the Panama Canal is a lasting one, one century later. Today, 58 motors manufactured by GE push 29 tugs that operate at the original canal as well as in its expansion. Out of these motors, 30 are V228 model of 12 cylinders and 28 are L250 of 8 cylinders; these are part of GE’s Marine Solutions, which focuses on the development of propulsion systems for maritime transportation.

These motors have a great level of availability and operate at competitive cost throughout their active lifetime. The GE distribution network provides repair and maintenance services worldwide for all GE’s Marine Solutions motors.

Unlike the original canal, the ships positioned in the new, expanded Neopanamax locks are guided with tugs instead of towing locomotives.  The system requires that these be assembled in the ships´ fore and aft and that they come together with the ship, into the locks chambers, on both the Pacific and the Atlantic sides. 

"For over a hundred years, GE has built a close relationship with the Panama Canal, being a technology and high quality service provider that supports the process of making sure that the canal operations always run smoothly. We are pleased to be part of this new phase of the canal and participate in the growth of this project, which will bring prosperity and development to the nation,” according to Guillaume Bidan.

A story linked to innovation

The relationship with the Panama Canal is, without a doubt, an example of the innovative DNA that characterizes GE, from the conceptualization, design and manufacturing of it first light bulb to the newest aircraft turbines, medical equipment or energy generation system. The digital industrial revolution where the company stands is a proof of this. 


Christening of the first GE tug that went through the Panama Canal

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