GE Eyes Digital Future with Additive Manufacturing Play

 - September 6, 2016, 5:10 PM

General Electric’s $1.4 billion purchase of Sweden’s Arcam and Germany’s SLM Solutions Group on Tuesday effectively signaled its intent to establish a separate business dedicated to additive manufacturing equipment and services under the auspices of GE Aviation and its president and CEO, David Joyce. According to GE chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt, the company expects the new business to generate $300 million in revenues by next year and $1 billion by 2020, and underpin a move toward transforming GE into a so-called digital industrial company.

“We chose these two companies for a reason,” said Joyce. “We love the technologies and leadership of Arcam AB and SLM Solutions. They each bring two different complementary additive technology modalities as individual anchors for a new GE additive equipment business to be plugged into GE’s resources and experience as leading practitioners of additive manufacturing. Over time we plan to exend the line of additive manufacturing equipment and products.”

GE has already invested some $1.5 billion in additive technologies since 2010 and applied it across six of its businesses, earning 346 patents in powder metals alone during the effort. Additive manufacturing involves taking digital designs from computer aided design (CAD) software and laying horizontal cross-sections to manufacture the part. Additive components typically weigh less and prove more durable than traditionally made parts because they require less welding and machining.

This past July GE Aviation introduced into airline service its first additive jet engine component—complex fuel nozzle interiors—with the CFM Leap-1A, which powers the Airbus A320neo. So far the 50-50 joint venture between GE and Safran of France has sold 11,000 Leap-series engines, each of which contains 20 fuel nozzles, thereby establishing a foundation for sustainably high and long-term additive production at GE Aviation’s Auburn, Alabama manufacturing plant. The company expects production to accelerate to 40,000 additive-produced fuel nozzles by 2020.

GE’s announcement comes as U.S.-Israeli company Stratasys is this week unveiling a pair of technology demonstrators that it says will represent a generational advance in the use of additive manufacturing in aerospace production. According to Stratasys, its equipment will allow manufacturers to make larger, stronger parts to higher quality standards, overcoming some of the key limitations that have held back the technology’s adoption by airframers and aircraft systems manufacturers.

Stratasys already contributes multiple 3D printed parts for the Airbus A350XWB widebody airliner. In late 2015, it produced and flew a UAV made almost entirely through additive manufacturing processes (apart from its engines, electronics and servos).