Feb. 27, 2015

GE Oil & Gas uses the latest in metal laser sintering hybrid milling machines (metal 3D printers) at its Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture, Japan, to manufacture GE's Masoneilan control valve parts with special configurations for use across various applications across the Energy industry.

The final 3D-printed metal control valve. Image credit: GE Oil & Gas

GE acquired the Kariwa Plant in 2011, and two years later it started testing 3D printers to manufacture special control valves.

The valves include arrays of tiny holes and flow channels, which had been difficult to make and had to be assembled from many parts. The use of metal 3D printing allows GE to manufacture control valve parts with complex shapes, such as hollow structures, curved shapes, and meshes, which are difficult to make using conventional additive manufacturing methods. Another benefit is that it makes integrated molding possible, which reduces the steps required for processing mould dies, realizing faster manufacturing times and lower cost when compared with conventional methods.

“Existing methods require processes such as brazing or assembling multiple components to produce complex shapes,” says Eiji Mitsuhashi, the industrial designer who started experimenting with the technology in 2013 and is leading the project. “The metal 3D printer allows us to make a single component, simplifying the process and dramatically increasing what we can do.”

GE's Jun Ishikawa (left) and Eiji Mitsuhashi, who led the project. Image credit: GE Oil & Gas

An example of the substantial contribution that the metal 3D printer can make to reducing delivery times is that it allowed for a specially shaped component, which would have taken an estimated three months to produce using conventional manufacturing methods, to be manufactured in about two weeks.

Alvin Jeffers, Senior Executive for GE Oil & Gas' Global Supply Chain said, "A completely new form of product manufacturing has been realized through the advanced technology of the metal 3D printer and the full utilization of that technology through the outstanding creativity of Japanese designers. Advanced manufacturing has changed the conventional definitions and mechanisms of manufacturing, namely design and production, while offering an abundance of merits to customers, such as faster manufacturing times and greatly reduced costs. I am confident that it will become a new standard in the manufacturing industry in the near future."

Mitsuaki Sakonju, the Kariwa plant Director, said, "We consider this metal 3D printer to be the best means for delivering high-grade products that meet the customer's individual needs in the shortest amount of time and with increased cost competitiveness."

The Kariwa plant uses the LUMEX Avance-25 metal 3D printer, manufactured by Matsuura Machinery Corporation, and is the first in the world to combine both additive manufacturing processes using a fiber optic laser and milling processes by a machining center into one unit.

While existing 3D printers can only produce objects at accuracies of up to about 0.1 millimeters, Kariwa's printer can work with a precision up to 100 times greater. The company is using them to develop optimal designs that minimize the need for finishing after printing and speed up prodction. "Through the years of experience, I can tell an error of about one one-thousandth of a millimeter by how it feels in my hand," said one Kariwa technician.

Mitsuhashi says that the workers’ skill will allow him to take 3D printing to next level. “They show designers where our blind spots are, or provide us with hints for making the products even better,” Mitsuhashi says.

LUMEX Avance-25 Metal 3D Printer Specifications:

  • Laser type: Yb fiber optic laser
  • Laser output: 400W
  • Max. workpiece size: 250mm x 250mm x 150mm
  • Outer dimensions: 1800mm x 2050mm x 2500mm
  • Weight: 4500kg

Until now GE has used metal 3D printers at its headquarters in the United States to manufacture parts for its jet aircraft engines. However, this is the first time that GE has introduced a metal 3D printer at one of its locations in Japan.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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