General Electric (GE) is an American multinational conglomerate corporation based in the US. The company encompasses various segments, such as Oil and Gas, Aviation, Power and Water, Healthcare, Transportation, and Capital. The company goes back to Thomas Edison opening a laboratory in 1876, where the invention of the electric lamp took place, leading to Edison establishing the Edison General Electric Company in 1890 and the General Electric Company in 1892. GE has grown over the years from the assembly line of the industrial revolution to today’s Industry 4.0, with the understanding that manufacturing and maximum productivity go hand in hand with innovation. GE’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, want GE to be a Digital Industrial Company. To that end it is investing in technology, materials, and research in Additive Manufacturing as well in what they call the “Brilliant Factory”. The company is committed to the development and adoption of additive manufacturing, weaving it throughout the various departments, implementing in factories as well as establishing GE Additive, a division dedicated solely to the technology managed by Mohammad Ehteshami.
The Fuel Nozzle
Manufacturing a jet engine requires a long development process, including many design iterations and investments. Such a long product cycle is meant to stay on the market and be a relevant product for many years. Therefore when deciding to work on such a product, GE needed to develop a jet engine that would surpass the current alternatives as well as future ones, a few years ago they decided to focus on the fuel nozzle for the LEAP jet engine (below).
After a long process of re-design, the new and improved fuel nozzle by GE included 18 intricate components that were impossible to manufacture with traditional processes. In a collaboration between GE and Morris Technologies the 18 pieces were redesigned as one 3D printed object. By using additive manufacturing the fuel nozzle was not only possible to manufacture but also became 25% lighter and 5 times stronger. The collaborative work on the fuel nozzle and over 13,400 orders from customers such as Airbus, Boeing, and Comac led to GE purchasing Morris Technologies in 2012, the first GE acquisition of a 3D printing company, this was 5 years ago.
In what is considered the biggest move within the additive manufacturing world, last year GE purchased controlling shares in Concept Laser and Arcam, two leading metal 3D printer manufacturers. Since the acquisition of Concept Laser in December, GE has been expanding the company, pushing it forward. Last month the US Navy ordered a Concept Laser 3D printer and are planning to produce parts from stainless steel powders. Frank Herzog, President of Concept Laser, commented on the collaboration with GE‘s Additive Technology Center (ATC): “ATC is a critical piece of the puzzle for Concept Laser, we’ve been a manufacturer of the machines and materials for years, but ATC is giving us new insights into the process of product and materials qualification because GE is such an important end-user of the technology. The learning is tremendous and will accelerate the development process.” Since the acquisition Concept Laser’s workforce has grown more than 20% in just a few months.
Not Just Metal
GE doesn’t limit itself to metal and also uses other materials, like thermoplastic, in additive manufacturing. Just last month, GE added theRoboze One+400 3D printer to its Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York. One of the materials the Roboze One+400 can print with is PEEK (below), a very durable and heat resistant polymer. PEEK can become a substitute for metal in additively manufactured parts for a range of applications such as aviation where the materials require high performance. Founder and CEO of Roboze, Alessio Lorusso said: “Successfully delivering our Roboze One+400 to the laboratories of GE Global Research in Niskayuna, points to one main conclusion—our innovative 3D printing technology will be part of the global industrial revolution, offering ways to reduce manufacturing costs substantially, which is a primary goal of all large industrial corporations.”
In CATA, GE’s new Center for Additive Technology Advancement, PolyJet machines are used to 3D print sample parts that require a combination of colors or characteristics, from flexible to rigid (above). CATA is actually a facility catering to the different segments within GE, covering a range of additive and digital technologies: “By having a shared facility, they can share the cost burden and we can advance the technology across the entire company much more rapidly than if they were to invest individually.” Says Jennifer Cipolla, who runs CATA.
From End-User to Supplier
GE’s financial report for 2016 was released showing that in the 4th quarter of 2016 $480 million, meaning 255 units, of the LEAP engine were ordered. GE is anticipating to ship close to 500 LEAP engines in the coming year. With recent acquisitions, opening GE Additive and CATA, it is clear that GE is becoming a central player in the 3D printing world. By investing in additive and digital technologies GE is positioning itself not only as an end user but also as a supplier and innovation leader.
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