Oct 7, 2015 | By Benedict

Back in November 2014, multinational conglomerate General Electric (GE) announced their plan to build a $32 million additive manufacturing research centre in Findlay Township, Pennsylvania, USA. As the opening of the centre draws closer, GE staff remain confident in its profitability.

The facility, which will measure 125,000 square feet, will be principally used to train designers and engineers in additive manufacturing design and production techniques. GE intend to work closely with nearby Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh.

GE, the 14th most profitable firm in the USA as of 2011, is constructing the huge to site to function as a testing ground for several of its businesses to explore the potential of 3D printing and additive manufacturing technology, for use in a wide range of fields. One area that is certain to receive much investment is that of aviation, but technological development is likely to occur throughout a diverse spread of GE businesses.

A 3D-printed fuel nozzle for the LEAP. Image credit: CFM International

“We want to light the fire behind additive,” explained Cincinnati-based Greg Morris, Head of Additive Manufacturing research at GE Aviation, earlier this year. “This is still a young tool, but it’s also a very powerful and disruptive tool. We want to maximize its use across all of GE’s businesses. The idea is to bring everyone together, share costs and explore our common needs. It will also help us keep certain intellectual property in house.”

“We made a big bet that Additive Manufacturing is not a flash in a pan,” added a confident Morris back in February. “We know this is a way we are going to make various parts in the future. We are now in the process of training people and building awareness throughout the company. Engineers need to realize that they have this very powerful and enabling tool at their disposal.”

The facility is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2016, and will have 3D printers and other additive machines that can work with both plastics and metal. Having this centralised additive manufacturing hub will, as Morris explains, likely prove more economically efficient than providing individual machines to each of GE’s many businesses far and wide for them to experiment with. These businesses will be able to access the Pennsylvania-based 3D printers and other machinery to make parts, produce prototypes, and perform various other tasks. 50 engineers will be employed at the facility, who will work on developing new additive materials as well as making parts for the various GE businesses. 

"From prototyping to tooling there are many opportunities to use additive throughout GE's business to make us more efficient and reduce overall costs," Morris told the Pittsburgh Business Times last week, suggesting that the project remains on course and that the company’s philosophy is unchanged. "I think it's going to allow for a more fundamental look as an emerging capability to think about how we can design parts differently.” 

Greg Morris speaking at a conference hosted by Catalyst Connection, October 1st. Image: Scott Dietz

"Additive is another tool in the toolbox that allows for greater creativity, whether you're leveraging the technology to launch or start a small company, or it's enabling the largest of corporate entities rethink they way they do things,” Morris added.

GE Aviation are already utilising additive manufacturing to produce a 3D-printed fuel nozzle for their CFM LEAP jet engine. The part originally needed to be assembled from twenty separate components. 40,000 3D-printed nozzles will be produced each year at GE’s facility in Auburn, Alabama.

The Pennsylvania research and education centre will be the sixth advanced manufacturing centre opened by GE in the last two years. Preceding facilities have been constructed in Greenville (Power & Water), Asheville (Aviation), Auburn (Aviation), Jacksonville (Oil & Gas) and Rutland (Aviation). Dan Heintzelman, GE Vice Chairman, explained the economical motives behind the huge investment: a recent $75 million upgrade of the Rutland centre has reportedly allowed GE Aviation to save $300 million by applying new advanced manufacturing technology to jet engine production. The conglomerate see further opportunity for profit in other areas, and this expansion reflects that belief.

3D printing allows designers to create parts like this jet engine combustor that would be very difficult to make on conventional machines. Image credit: GE Aviation.

Petra Mitchell, president and CEO of Catalyst Connection has also spoken of her confidence in the investment being put into additive manufacturing, commenting on both GE’s endeavour and the recent $60 million investment made by Alcoa Inc. into their own additive facilities. ”If you look at Alcoa's investment, GE's investment, and the fact that the National Additive Manufacturing Institute, America Makes, is so close by, this region becoming a hub for additive manufacturing," she said. "I think the initial investment is in learning and evaluating what this means for their particular business," she said.

In 2012, the Forbes Global 2000 listed GE as the fourth-largest company in the world. The Nobel Prize has twice been awarded to GE employees: first to chemist and physicist Irving Langmuir in 1932, then to physicist Ivar Giaever in 1973. Perhaps the new Pennsylvania facility will provide the means for an additive manufacturing engineer to follow in their footsteps.




Posted in 3D Printing Companies





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