To build a better wind turbine, General Electric built a global team of researchers in Germany, China, India, and the U.S.
By Patricia Sellers

(FORTUNE Magazine) – When Jeff Immelt became chairman and CEO of GE in 2001, the company had only two R&D centers. One, in the tiny upstate New York town of Niskayuna, hailed back a century to GE's founder, Thomas Edison. The other, a new lab in Bangalore, was a bid by the company's reinventor, Jack Welch, to tap talent abroad. Now, under Immelt's watch, two more research centers have been opened--in Shanghai and Munich. "We did it," Immelt says, "to access the best brains everywhere in the world."

Today GE, long viewed as a global leader in terms of where it makes and markets its products, is also a global innovator. Its in-house model is its wind-energy business, which it bought from Enron in 2002. GE has quadrupled the unit's revenues to an expected $2 billion this year. Key to growth: GE has ramped up development of the towering 92-ton turbines by seeking expertise from all four labs. Chinese researchers design the microprocessors that control the pitch of the blade. Mechanical engineers in Bangalore devise mathematical models to maximize the efficiency of materials in the turbine. Power-systems experts in Niskayuna (which has researchers from 55 countries) do design work. And technicians in Munich have created a "smart" turbine that can calculate wind speeds and signal sensors in other turbines to pitch their blades to produce maximum electricity.

GE is also reaching beyond its home base for help from universities, including the Technical University of Munich. It's all in the spirit of "opening up the doors" of GE research, Immelt says. --Patricia Sellers