Additive manufacturing has begun to generate real excitement within the larger manufacturing community. For a long time in many industrial sectors, additive has been known as a great tool for rapidly prototyping new design concepts. But today, the technology is on the cusp of reaching a new, critical level of innovation.
GE has been developing additive technologies since the early 1990s, but within GE’s research labs, the first real signs that additive was about to take off appeared about 5 years ago. GE’s served industries were experiencing much greater pressures to go faster and push design concepts to levels that conventional manufacturing processes could not easily meet.
Over the next few years, for example, GE’s Aviation business will introduce more new engine platforms than it has in the last few decades. This requires a whole new level of capability in the speed of innovation and design of new parts and components. Increasingly, we have turned to a new toolkit of additive technologies to help address these challenges.
Most often when you hear about additive, it’s synonymous with 3D printing. But for GE and many industry insiders, we know 3D printing is one of a broad suite of creative tools that you can work with in additive manufacturing. Laser sintering, coating processes like cold spray and electron beam technology are all other additive processes being focused on by GE scientists and engineers.
Without a doubt, additive technologies will help us go faster and meet shorter cycles for new product lines. But they give us something else. Additive technologies give us the ability to develop advanced materials concurrently with design. This is radically changing how manufacturing is done. It no longer has to be a sequential process where you wait for the design to be completed before determining your material selection and manufacturing approach.
In 2016, GE will enter a new jet engine into service called the CFM LEAP—the first in GE’s line to incorporate 3D-printed parts. Specifically, it will be a combustion component that would not be possible to make using conventional processes. By 2020, more than 100,000 additive parts are expected to be in service. GE also has plans to produce a low-cost ultrasound transducer for Healthcare through additive manufacturing, and expects to find more applications through other businesses, which will add significantly to the workload within our production facility.
As we look to the future, it’s clear that additive’s role in manufacturing will only grow. It won’t entirely replace conventional manufacturing, but its footprint will continue to build layer by layer in the manufacturing of new parts and products.