Why you should care
Because 3D printing might be a big part of your next job.
OZY and GE are partnering to bring you an inside look into how additive manufacturing is changing the way things are made across industries and across the world.
When many people think of 3D printing, they think of 3D printers that build prototypes out of polymer, says Laurence Vigeant-Langlois, executive marketing leader of GE’s Additive division.
“The average person doesn’t know yet what ‘additive’ means. There’s a lot of basic education to be had,” she says. “Unless you’re at an industrial company or an engineering school, you might not have ever seen a metal 3D printer.”
Additive manufacturing technologies are evolving at an exponential rate.
Janelle Bernales, Boeing Research and Technology
Additive manufacturing refers to using 3D printing to produce metal parts layer by layer, in contrast to the conventional method of making industrial parts by subtracting material. A computer controls the addition of each and every layer. Layers can be a wide range of thicknesses, made from different types of materials and using different energy sources. These days, additive manufacturing is revolutionizing how American industries make and test products.
GE taps into the advantages of additive manufacturing for various industries it builds products for as well as others it now serves with GE Additive, such as automotive and jewelry. This includes everything from aircraft engines to hip implants. Vigeant-Langlois says GE uses additive manufacturing to accomplish everything from simplifying supply chains to making more durable and better parts.
“We are not only a machine-maker but also a machine-user within the corporation,” she says, something that makes GE stand out — most companies in additive are either one or the other, seldom both. “That gives us unique advantages.” She describes the company as “one of the bearers of [additive] adoption.” At present, additive represents a mere 0.03 percent of production, according to Vigeant-Langlois, but she says that is about to change in a big way.
Today, GE Aviation and GE Power already use parts made through additive manufacturing. GE Additive’s customers are using the technology to make their own parts, molds, and tools across a diverse range of industries: medical, dental, aerospace, automotive, power generation, oil and gas. Research organizations are experimenting and learning from this new way of making things, too.
GE’s multipronged approach to the technology demonstrates that 3D printing’s far-reaching disruptive potential is here to stay. The aerospace and medical industries are ahead of the adoption curve due to the high value of the parts they use, but lower cost is only the beginning of the advantages offered by additive manufacturing. The additive process allows for shorter production timelines, easy customization, complex structures, and the ability to combine several parts into one piece - resulting in lighter, more durable parts that perform better than the traditional versions.
“Additive manufacturing technologies are evolving at an exponential rate, and interest has increased dramatically in the aerospace manufacturing industry during the past few years,” says Janelle Bernales, communications specialist for Boeing Research and Technology. “The manufacturing flexibility of [additive] offers the potential to reduce the cost and weight of airspace structures and increase the ability of engineers to design optimized parts purely for their eventual function in a vehicle system.”
Bernales explains that Boeing concentrates its additive strategy in three areas: tooling, flyaway parts and interiors.
“Boeing also uses additive manufacturing processes extensively for rapid prototyping across the company and continues to facilitate the adoption of the technology for these applications,” she says.
Lockheed Martin Corporation has seen promise in the use of the technology too. Krista Alestock, a media relations representative at Lockheed Martin Corporation, confirms that the company most often uses this technology in the creation of custom tools and jigs for the manufacturing floor.
“Lockheed Martin can be classified as a high-mix, low-volume manufacturing company,” Alestock says. “That is, we produce low quantities of a vast array of different products. With such a large variety of products, we are constantly seeking ways to drive affordability in our factories, and 3D printing allows us to quickly and affordably create highly custom fixtures and other tooling that significantly enhances productivity.”
Additive manufacturing has the power to transform the food industry too. In the last couple of years, Michelin-decorated restaurants across Europe have used the technology to serve intricate culinary sculptures to their diners. But 3D printing is slowly starting to shake up the food space outside of haute cuisine. Recently, food and beverage company Nestlé has started employing the technology for research, though it’s not yet at a stage where it’s creating the finished product with additive.
“Nestlé uses some 3D printing in confectionery R&D [research and development], including for fast prototyping,” says a Nestlé spokesperson. “We are very interested in the further potential of 3D printing in confectionery going forward.”
Vigeant-Langlois says currently there is a challenge in finding people who are trained in additive, and who know how to design and bring parts to production.
“The market for additive manufacturing is still significantly underdeveloped relative to its potential, in the US and around the globe,” she notes, adding that some companies are also keeping their additive activities under cover, because it gives them a competitive edge.
“They’re keeping it a secret,” she says.
Still, with additive already disrupting industries, its language cannot remain a secret code forever.
“There’s this misconception that [additive] is ‘not yet for my industry,’ ” she says. “But it’s here for production across more than fifteen industry verticals. People’s eyes open wide when they realize the unmatched benefits that additive brings to engineering design and innovation.”
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