Mar 30, 2017 | By Benedict

GE’s Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Center, which opened two years ago in Waukesha, Wisconsin, is helping 70 GE factories from around the world get to grips with 3D printing, augmented reality, and robotics, all under the company’s "Brilliant Manufacturing" initiative.

Arcam 3D printer at the GE facility

In a special report published on Tuesday, GE revealed how staff at its Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Center are using new technologies like 3D printing and AR to modernize their manufacturing processes. The laboratory, located at the GE Healthcare facility in Waukesha, Wisconsin, is being used a kind of proving ground for new technologies that can be used be GE’s various businesses around the world.

Leading the charge at the Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Center is Jimmie Beacham, chief engineer for advanced manufacturing at GE Healthcare. Beacham and his team are responsible for investigating and developing processes like additive manufacturing for specific GE applications in healthcare, engineering, and elsewhere, bringing all the new technologies together to make the most out of them. “This is a whole new ballgame,” Beacham explained in the report. “For example, we can use robots to print sensors on machine parts and then analyze the data they produce to make them work better.”

Everybody knows that GE is very interested in additive manufacturing these days, a fact most clearly demonstrated by the company’s investment in 3D printing heavyweights Arcam and Concept Laser last year. But the American corporation is doing a lot of the legwork in its own quarters too: at the laboratory, the GE team has 3D printed complex parts like a tungsten collimator, a kind of filter device for X-ray and CT scanners that keeps images sharp. This collimator, which was previously made of hundreds of parts, could be made with just two parts when 3D printed.

The GE report also showed some other intriguing 3D printing projects besides the 3D printed collimator. A new “direct write” 3D printing machine is being used to fabricate “glyphs,” electronic circuits for wireless antennas and other sensors, which are made of silver or other metallic materials and which can be used in ultrasound machines and other healthcare equipment. The 3D printer mixes nitrogen gas with droplets of copper, silver, gold, and semiconductor inks, then jets them out onto a surface.

3D printed model of a human liver

The GE Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Center is even being used to advance the creation of drugs—by fabricating 3D printed chromatography columns which can separate the components of biopharmaceutical drugs. “During drug discovery, pharma companies are using customized columns to capture a small amount of the proteins they need to prove that the drugs work,” Beacham said. “3D printing changes the equation. We can now help customers translate their discoveries and form long relationships with them.”

But additive manufacturing isn’t the only exciting modern technology being put to good use at the GE facility. Augmented reality is also helping the laboratory develop new and intuitive manufacturing techniques. In the video below, Beacham shows how an augmented reality system can be used to guide a worker through a task. A projector is used to display videos and information directly on top of a workstation, visually guiding the employee through their task. But the system is more than just video: sensors embedded in certain tools can recognize the worker’s actions, and the system can then provide live feedback to make sure that the work is going smoothly.

Surprisingly, Beacham and his team have been using a very “off-the-shelf” setup for this AR system, with a Microsoft Xbox games console and its Kinect webcam tool used to monitor the workstation and worker activity. That strange but sensible repurposing of a device—in this case, one that was generally used for family-friendly dancing games—goes to show that sometimes you don’t need to invent a brand new product for every new task.

All of this technological exploration will help GE perfect its concept of the “Brilliant Factory,” a “globally scalable intelligent system” that will enable manufacturers to “predict, adapt, and react more quickly and effectively than ever before” using a combination of new manufacturing tools and GE’s dedicated Brilliant Manufacturing software.

Inspecting a circuit made on a direct write 3D printer

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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