3D printing builds objects layer by layer, with each layer based on a horizontal cross section of a 3D model of the finished item. Also known as additive manufacturing, the process can produce parts which are lighter and more durable than those built using standard manufacturing techniques, as well as reducing welding and machining, and generating less scrap material.
"Additive manufacturing is a key part of GE's evolution into a digital industrial company," said Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE. The company said its 3D printing business will grow to $1 billion by 2020 "at attractive returns" and also expects it to generate $3 to $5 billion of cost savings across the company over the next ten years.
Arcam, based in Mölndal, Sweden, invented the electron beam melting machine for metal-based additive manufacturing, and also produces advanced metal powders. Its customers are in the aerospace and healthcare industries. SLM Solutions Group, based in Lübeck, Germany, produces laser machines for metal-based additive manufacturing with customers in the aerospace, energy, healthcare, and automotive industries.
GE Aviation already uses 3D printing to build the complex fuel nozzle interiors used in the LEAP jet engine. More than 11,000 LEAP engines are on order with up to 20 fuel nozzles in every engine, and GE said production will ramp up to more than 40,000 fuel nozzles using 3D printing by 2020. It is also using the manufacturing technique to produce components in its most advanced military engines. GE has invested approximately $1.5 billion in manufacturing and 3D printing technologies since 2010, including developing 346 patents in powder metals alone.