General Electric: a traditional leader pioneering the 3D printing industry

News from the 3D printing industry | 14 May 2018

“The future always arrives later and in unexpected ways”.

That quote from the Singularity University futurist Paul Saffo who launched the sold-out GE’s 3D Printing Summit, an event gathering Jet engine designers, automotive engineers and physicians from all over the world

If some famous companies like Boeing or BMW already took a step into AM, printing thousands of parts aiming at having more flexibility in customization, it is still very marginal compared to the event organizer.

Today, GE is seen as a pioneer in exploring 3D printing opportunities. More than 10 years ago, the company started took up the challenge of AM for its Aviation division: failing to cast a nozzle with a traditional process, GE engineers turned toward 3D printing. They realized quickly that the technology was as efficient and revolutionary as hazardous for their business if it was not correctly handled by the company.

That’s how started a long process of transformation, which turns to be now an essential part of GE technology. With a so called Additive Technology center, GE is applying 3D printing to all its departments: GE power (turbines), GE healthcare (medical scanners), GE transportation (locomotives).

So far, GE has been able to use 3D printing to produce faster, to combine parts (855 into 12 for the GE Catalyst turboprop engine), reduce weight and being more economical in term of fuel need and in term of transportation. “We can make things faster, cheaper, lighter, with super-tiny square holes.” said Jason Oliver, CEO of GE Additive, the GE unit developing 3D printers.

According to a A.T. Kearney survey, today 3D printing is used to create less than 1% of the world ‘s manufactured parts with $8.8 billion but should reach not less than $26 billion by 2021.

GE is simply leading a trend. SmartTech Markets estimated around 13,3 billion the worldwide amount of money spent on 3D printing printers, materials, software and service over the last 4 years while it should increase to $280 billion over the next 10 years.

“Additive manufacturing is at the heart of a whole new way of how we design and manufacture things and manage the supply chain. We think it’s going to be transformational.” announced John Flannery, GE chairman and CEO

And that strategy starts to scale up.

GE already printed more than 25,000 3D parts for machines like the LEAP Jet engine, one of their best-sellers.

But the company is also developing jointly with the U.S. Navy a project for approximately 1,000 metal parts by end of 2018, after creating the digital twin models. And this number should expand exponentially over the next 4 years as the project is designed to foster qualification and certification process for 3D printing. The purpose of the twin model project is to gather information about the use of a physical part (properties and performance).

The program mainly use in ships, aircrafts and vehicles, will be able to repeat the print with a more reliable process and result. Therefore, like Spare Parts 3D, the key challenge of the technology implementation into industry, after having created the digitization and industrialization processes, is to respect  the technical specification but also to certify a quality and a precision equivalent to the industry’s norms.

For that reason, GE Global Research gathered around its project several industrial partners expert in that domain like Honeywell, the Navy Nuclear Lab (NNL), or the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM)

As a leader of new technologies, GE is already in a position to foster innovation by education. With the opening of a Customer Experience Centers in the U.S.A and in Europe, and with dedicated donations to universities, the company pushes new generations of worker to understand the technology they will have to manage.

For more information about the GE event about 3D printing, please read the full  article from GE here.